Double Review "Fatal Mambo"
CD-Review by Rob Lücking
Salsa is timeless music. And we Germans do have a strong need to catch up on Afro-Cuban rhythms. Therefore, it is sometimes worthwhile to pick up things that are not necessarily the latest craze. As an example of such "older" stuff, today I present Fatal Mambo with their two (and only) releases RUMBAGITATION and FATAL MAMBO, published in 1996 and 1997 by Tinder Records (re-issued from Blue Silver). So not at all outdated!
Why exactly Fatal Mambo? Well, first of all because this group is not from Latin America, the U.S. or the Caribbean, the usual home of salsa bands. In fact, they are from Montpellier in southern France, the same region that is home to the Reyes and Gipsy Kings. Okay, nowadays there are Salsa bands throughout the world, from Finland to Japan. But the music of Fatal Mambo is different, unique. On one hand because the lead vocalists, Jean-Francois "Oscar" Hammel and Sonia Sala, sing what they have to say in French. And this sounds almost as good as Spanish (at least with Fatal Mambo), and much better than any Salsa in English. On the other hand, because these crazy Frenchmen mix up Salsa, Son, Bolero, Cha-Cha-Chá, Boogaloo, Cumbia, Merengue, Flamenco, Reggae, Jazz, Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop and Arabian sounds to a musical firework which is without equal. Each piece is a new surprise, and even listening to the CD's a hundred times, one always discovers previously unheard details. George Graham, North American radio host, music reviewer and producer, puts it in a nutshell: "The result is enough to make your head spin if you weren't so busy dancing around and grooving on the music's irresistible beat." This is a further point: from the first second, the music goes directly to hips and feet. And not to speak from the excellent musicians which provide a brilliant sound.
Fatal Mambo call their music "Salsaïoli", a combination of Salsa (Spanish for "sauce") and Aïoli, a tasty mayonnaise spottled with garlic. And with this intensive blend, one finds it difficult to go into detail when looking at RUMBAGITATION and FATAL MAMBO. To every song, one could write half a page alone. And even so it would be impossible to convey the essence of this phenomenal music. Still, it might be pointed out that both releases are different in their style and character. Apart from the unusual acapella piece La Medina, RUMBAGITATION is pure dance music. If to pick out something, one would certainly consider the "straight ahead" Salsa Probleme! with a stunning Mambo section, the Cumbia-Salsa blend Rumbagitation (already one of my Top Ten favorites as Salsa-DJ), the Reggae-Salsa Magot Tcherí (a refreshing version of the Mungo Jerry classic In The Summertime), the Boogaloo C'Est Ici and the more romantic Salsa Mi Hombre (the only piece sung in Spanish) with a groovy brass section. In contrast, FATAL MAMBO is much more jazzy and experimental and, at first glance, thoroughly enjoyable just by listening alone - apart from La Tête À Gaston, a Cumbia version of the Son classic El Negro Bembón that immediately causes this irresistible urge to move to the dance floor. However, after some time also other pieces reveal their qualities for the "salsoteca", especially the Salsa-Descarga Malediccion (a tribute to Eddie Palmieri), the weird and groovy Latin-Funk-Rock Salsaïoli, the superb Montuno-Merengue L'Apero and the Pop-Salsa piece Assez. For the rest, one finds a dash of Matt Bianco here and there. But the courage for improvisation and experiment with rhythms and arrangements clearly dominates this production which should become firmly established in the world of Afro-Jazz.
The history of Fatal Mambo reminds one of the Japanese Orquesta de la Luz. Also "Oscar" Hammel, founder and leader of the band, was attacked by the Salsa fever after having attended, at the tender age of 17, a concert of the legendary Tito Puente. And immediately had the brilliant idea to create Fatal Mambo. Although their first album in 1993 was only a local success, the band hit the international audience 1996 with RUMBAGITATION and was praised even by the U.S.-American media which normally are rather restrained against non-English stuff. Public Radio International and The World made the album their "Pick of the Year". And the Latin Style magazine stated quite to the point: "Fatal Mambo is not an imitative but a creative force whose music should be taken seriously by all lovers of Latin Music." Unfortunately, Fatal Mambo did not comprehend their own success, as it seems. "They like it over there?" Hammel asked in disbelieve when told about the reactions of the U.S.-American public. And in the meanwhile, as I was told by Emmanuel Nado from Tinder Records, the band ceased to exist, to my great regret and certainly that of fans all over the world. Although "Oscar" Hammel will continue solo, it seems questionable whether he can keep up with the quality and success of the earlier productions. So RUMBAGITATION and FATAL MAMBO might become classics even soon after their release.
For those who have got the Fatal Mambo fever now: both CD's are available at several internet CD shops, for example Amazon, Descarga, Songsearch, Tower Records, with varying prices between 13,-- 17,-- US$. I have not found the releases in most German CD shops; only JPC has RUMBAGITATION for unbelievable 37,-- DM.
|Text: Copyright 2000
Layout: Copyright 2000 Klaus Reiter (email@example.com). Last update: 28.4.2000.