Batata y Su Rumba Palenquera - Radio Bakongo
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Batata y Su Rumba Palenquera
Radio Bakongo
Network Medien

cd cover Afro-Colombian music has come into its own in recent years, a welcome development in a country that has long heralded its "white" European heritage at the cultural expense of the African-descent population concentrated in the coastal regions, where their ancestors literally slaved in the busy ports of the colonial Spanish empire. As throughout Latin America, post-WWII economic development and commerce brought urbanization, tourism, growing inequality, guerrilla warfare, the distortions of the international drug trade, and the burgeoning influence of national and global mass media. Not coincidentally, the latter perpetuated old prejudices that read Afro-Colombian music and dance as sensuous, licentious, forbidden.

Historically, Colombia's Caribbean coast provided refuge to blacks who fled enslavement, and living in defiant palenque (Cimarron or escaped slave) communities, and in the face of Colombian racism, its inhabitants have sustained the vocal, dance and percussive sensibilities of their West African origins. Paradoxically, Colombian urbanization also has created a social and political context in which black musicians and music have come to signify an overarching sense of national identity. Afro-Colombian music thus both sustains blacks' unique cultural sensibilities in the teeming barrios of Cartagena and Barranquilla, and offers a ready vehicle of national self-identification that Colombians as a whole, at home and abroad, now increasingly embrace as their own.

Singer-percussionist extraordinaire Paulino Salgado "Batata" hails from San Basilio de Palenque, a community fiercely proud of its African heritage of resistance. Batata grew up in a family of drummers that for generations has played a central role in the community's spiritual life, and he brings the energy and vision of that heritage to his anointed role as the King of champeta criolla music, a volatile mix of traditional cumbia, Afro-Cuban, salsa brass, Haitian, soukous, calypso, West African highlife and sundry other influences. Now in his seventies, Batata heads an energetic 14-piece ensemble comprising a small armament of percussion, trumpet, trombone, flute, clarinet, saxophone, accordion, Hammond organ, tiple, guitar, bass and a powerhouse of backing vocalists. There's a bit of everything here, an expansive blend of Cuban rumba, charanga and son, cumbia, Lagos, Fela Kuti, Kinshasa, Papa Wemba, Paris, Tabu Ley and way more. Simply put, Radio Bakongo is a most original and soulful offering, performed with passion and a deeply lyrical sense of rootedness in the contradictory traditions that comprise the many strands of the African Diaspora embedded in the New World experience. - Michael Stone

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