Salsa Loca: Amor Con Amor
(Salsa Loca 2003 - Mini-CD with three songs)
CD Review by Rob Lücking (DJ Zorro)
Centuries ago, Afro-Cuban music emerged from a mixture of African rhythmic and European harmonic elements. Percussion and improvisation combined with marching drums and brass instruments. The perfect mixture that culminated in a musical genre that ultimately conquered the world: Salsa! That Salsa eventually went back to Africa was only a logical development, and for the past decade, African Salsa made by Orquestre Baobab, Africando, and Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca, has been the hit on the dance floors from New York to Berlin, from Paris to Tokyo.
On the other hand, the number of Salsa bands now active across Europe comes as a surprise to many, but isn't that only logical, too? Essential elements of Salsa music, such as the brass (trumpets, trombones, flute) and rhythm section (piano, bass), and the timbales, go back to European musical traditions. No wonder that European style Salsa goes heavy on these elements. And I am not talking about Latino musicians living in Paris, London or Berlin. No, I am referring to those Salsa bands that are largely formed by local musicians, such as Scotland's Salsa Celtica, Finnland's Salsamania, and Germany's Salsa Picante.
Indeed, there is a characteristic European flavor to these bands. And while part of it is genuinely European, the other part is what we would normally expect from a Latin band, but which nowadays is often missing in Salsa coming from Puerto Rico, Miami, Colombia, and even Cuba and New York. What I mean is musical versatility, experimenting with different styles and elements, and merging all this into something that is strictly for dancing. Bands playing this kind of music, such as Puerto Rican's Truco & Zaperoko, are well-kept secrets usually unknown to the larger Salsa community. Most Latin Salsa has converged into a flat, commercialized music that heavily relies on standard arrangements, and most records labels won't take the risk of a Salsa band experimenting with styles like Bomba and Plena, Pachanga and Charanga, and even Caribbean Calypso and Brazilian Samba. But this was the essence of New York Salsa in the Seventies, of the music by Willie Colón and Rubén Blades! Now it seems to be the essence of European style Salsa!
Reason? While Latin musicians grow up with Salsa and related genres, and most are quickly forced into mainstream music to be able to survive, European musicians often come to Salsa like the virgin to the child. It is something new for them, and this explains their urge for and also their ease at experimenting. And we notice that in bands such as the French Fatal Mambo, Scotland's Salsa Celtica and London-based Snowboy And The Latin Section. It is not that they just play Tito Puente or Fania style music. No, they add spices unknown to traditional Salsa, either modern, folkloristic, or both. And this makes European style Salsa not only particular, it makes it highly innovative and competitive among a genre which has gained immense popularity across the world.
One of the newest elements in the European Salsa scene is the Kopenhagen-based Danish band Salsa Loca. As you can understand from this review, I am very grateful to Berlin's DJ Michael, who recently performed in Kopenhagen, to have drawn my attention to this orchestra. Salsa Loca might not be the most innovative name for a Salsa band, but listen to their music! Wow! This is not only European style Salsa at its best, it also rocks the dance floors in Chicago, where I just recently tested Salsa Loca's El Amor De Mis Sueños from their Mini-Album SALSA LOCA with a local DJ. He even wouldn't believe that this was a Danish Salsa band playing, thinking that I was making a joke. No, this isn't a joke! This is modern, orchestral Salsa as good as it gets! I have my personal label for this kind of Salsa: "Salsa con Clase". And some time has passed since I last put this label on a Salsa band.
Now, what makes Salsa Loca "Salsa con Clase"? First of all, this is not just a three piece Salsa band covering Cuban classics. No, this is a full size orchestra, in times where even small Salsa bands struggle for survival. And both the elaborated arrangements and the brilliant sound underline the qualities of these musicians. Even in MP3 quality, you clearly recognize each and every instrument! And you hear the fun all over the place. It swings! Descargas in Salsa Romantica? Yes, they are doing it. And you actually hear the clave in Amor Con Amor. The last time I heard clave in romantic Salsa was in the late eighties and early nineties, when Eddie Santiago, Frankie Ruiz and Edgar Joel dominated the scene. El Amor De Mis Sueños is likely to match my all time favorites in innovative Salsa Romantica, Fatal Mambo's Mi Hombre and Malavoi's Ti Djo. Why? Because Salsa has so much more to offer that clave and tumbao. Listen to the African tribal dance intro of El Amor De Mis Sueños. What band would add such an intro to a romantic salsa song? Probably almost none, being afraid it might empty the dance floor. And this is partly our fault: why do we run away when we hear something that sounds unusual and which we cannot quite put into a category? Just listen and enjoy, move your body, and wait for what's coming! In the case of El Amor De Mis Sueños, it is nothing less than highly energetic "Salsa con Clase"! Salsa purists are often reluctant when it comes to blending Salsa with elements of contemporaneous pop music, such as rap and electronic effects. And often, they are right. Because it requires a lot of understanding of the different musical elements to successfully bring them together, and only few arrangers and mixers have this talent. Don't get me wrong, Salsa Loca is not into the rap and electronic business. They play straight Salsa. But here and there they experiment with such effects just at the right balance. Check out the fantastic Salsa Loca, and you'll hear what I mean.
Needless to mention that those three songs are all original compositions by the band members. And needless to say that, even if the band is Danish (with some British and South African influences), the female lead singer must be an extremely talented voice from either Cuba, Venezuela or Colombia, with some ties to classical music and opera. I was of course unsure about the classical music thing. I couldn't have been farther from the truth! The lead singer has indeed strong ties to classical music. But her name is Signe Asmussen... and she is as blond as it gets... couldn't be more Danish! Right now I am listening to Amor Con Amor again, and I just can't believe it. But then, the Danish Cubans say about her "Esa rubia tiene tumbao!" And that's definitely an understatement, as front man Tonny Pedersen tells me.
And here comes the best: instead of reading this review all over again, you can actually download the three songs Amor Con Amor, El Amor De Mis Sueños and Salsa Loca from Salsa Loca's website at www.salsaloca.dk and make up your own mind. For free! This is of course great, but while it helps them to make their music widely known, it doesn't actually support them playing. So if you prefer, you can also buy their mini-CD at their website for about 7 Euro. Yet, this band is worth a full album for a decent price! And we, the dancers and Salsa lovers, should be ready to pay our share for high quality music that is the result of lots of talent and hard work. There's not a lot of this music out there...
* (if this were a full album of the same quality, I would give it a 5 Congas rating!)
Thanks to Salsa Loca for offering the songs linked above for free on their website.Dänemark Dinamarca
Text: Copyright 2004
Layout: Copyright 2004 Klaus Reiter (firstname.lastname@example.org). Letzte Änderung: 19.02.2004.