Sofrito: International Soundclash

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Various artists
Sofrito: International Soundclash
Strut (

The second release in the resurrected Strut label’s series of DJ-curated Sofrito releases continues to explore how rhythms from Africa and the diaspora mesh with Caribbean and Latin influences, and how older recordings naturally allow for new recordings based on the grooves of the old. DJs Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis show the seamlessness with which the older recordings can blend with tracks put to tape as recently as 2011, that is, if the right ears make the cut choices. Here we have a smorgasbord of tracks from Haiti, Kenya, Colombia’s Pacific coastline, the French Caribbean and elsewhere. Beguines find themselves alongside Kompas, Latin/soukous hybrids share space with Calypso inspired funk and steel drum re-workings of 70s US jazz fusion. It’s a smartly edited collection, no doubt inspired by the dance floor and focused on showing the connections between Merengue, Cumbia, afro-funk and other styles, by making a musical Sofrito- or a variously spiced combination, with one base ingredient, groove.

This is indeed a collection for a party, and there are a number of 30 to 35 year old tracks here. Afro Festival’s “El Manicero Se Va,” led by Fantastic Tchico Tchicaya, is clearly rooted in the kind of samba-influenced Nigerian Highlife made famous by musicians such as Chief Stephen Osita Osabede. In fact, the vocal phrasing often ends in the same languid, smoky held notes Osadebe relied on. But elements of soukous, as well more latin-inspired call and response find themselves into this mid-tempo club stomper. The Melodica Teens Band, featured on Abdul Karim’s 70s-era Kenyan label, Melodica, deliver perhaps the most pensive track on the collection, a slow, cyclically rhythmic tune, “Mwekuro Muthao.” Elsewhere, Calypso musician Lord Shorty, rants and raves about soca over a straight-up funk pulse that features his band, Vibrations International.

However, the recently recorded amalgamations are just as deep. Owiny Sigoma Band’s “Nabed Nade El Piny Ka,” released in 2011, brings together players from London and Nairobi for a track that pits a traditional Lua groove underneath a sparse electric guitar phrase for something that defies ready categorization. Guadeloupe-based carnival musicians Mas Ka Kle rely on nothing more than heavy street party percussion, choral voices responding to a staccato lead, flute and rara-like horn. It’s a track that could have probably been played at any point over the last half century, but managed to make its debut in ’08. DJ and record fanatic Will “Quantic” Holland has recently had his focus set on Colombia’s coastline, and one result is Grupo Canalon de Timbiqui. “La Zorra y el Perol,” a tune written by band leader/vocalist Nidia Gongora, sounds more West African than Latin, with a calm marimba rhythm carpeting Gongora as well as a chorus of harmony vocalists.

Ultimately, Mendez and Francis act as conduits for pocketing more recent, roots based performances within the context of older tracks in order to show, not only that the resurgence of interest in the West for this music, thanks to Strut and a host of other labels and the crate digging DJs who own them, has had consequences in its places of origin, but that the party continues, in Western Europe in NYC clubs, but also in Kenya, Colombia, Nigeria and elsewhere. - Bruce Miller

You can hear some songs from the CD online here

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