It's time for Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment. This week music journalist Steve Hochman joins Alex Cohen in the studio to talk about his picks.
Artist: Bomba Estéreo
Songs: "Fiesta," "Soy Yo"
Notes: The song “Fiesta,” which opens the new album "Amanecer" by Colombian act Bomba Estéreo, starts as an Afro-Latin carnival parade stomp and then moves the fiesta around the world and out to space, those traditional rhythms to electro ambience to hip-hop power in its seamless march, all-encompassing, all-embracing in a joyous party. Well, the act’s name literally means Stereo Bomb, but it’s also Colombian slang for a wild, cool party. But with its fourth album, the group, revolving around the partnership of founder Simón Mejía and personality-plus vocalist Liliana Saumet, is parading that party out into the world.
"Amanecer" feels like the start of something new, something big, something very bright and fresh. And, in fact, the album title translates as “daybreak.” Not coincidentally, Bomba Estéreo has moved with this album from the world of indie record labels to the global powerhouse Sony Latin. The album was produced by Ricky Reed from the Oakland hip-hop collective Wallpaper, and comes in the wake of appearances at festivals all over the world, from Coachella to Glastonbury to Roskilde, with all that reflected in the new music. But it’s been accomplished without losing any of that coolness and sense of colorful invention that has marked it from the start.
Of course, Colombia’s music scene has long been among the most vibrant anywhere, from the psychedelic adaptations of traditional cumbia rhythms in the ‘60s and the rock ’n’ soul infusions from the essential recordings of the Discos Fuentes label in the ‘70s. At root, Bomba Estéreo is an extension of that. But with such songs as the frisky, hip-hoppy "Soy Yo," the group stands apart from the tradition, setting new standards all its own.
Bomba Estéreo will be at the Fonda Theater on June 6.
Album: "Monoswezi Yanga"
Songs: "Matatya," "Lobola"
Notes: Monoswezi’s name explains a lot, a combination of Mo for Mozambique, No for Norway, Swe for Sweden and Zi for Zimbabwe — the four countries from where the musicians in the group originated. The project incorporates things from all four places, African rhythms and melodies woven with cool Scandinavian jazz, though it was recorded in the rather otherworldly setting of a small, isolated island off the coast of Sweden, and sounds like that too.
But at the center of the group’s second album is Hope Masike, from Zimbabwe. Her songs, interpreted from traditional Shona lore, make up the bulk of the repertoire, with her understated vocals leading the way. Though just as crucial to the sound is her mbira, the metal-tined thumb piano that is key in Shona traditions on a musical-spiritual level. The chimes-like patterns mark some of the album’s most compelling songs, such as "Matatya," the tale of a young girl looking for her prince in a world of frogs. It also adds a lively sense of hope and promise to "Lobola," celebrating a marriage.
The jazz elements, most explicitly held in Hallvard Godal’s saxophone, generally serve the African-derived rhythms and melodies, but also steer things into new territories. And at times when the balance is flipped, the results are some rather seductive Scandinavian atmospheres. It’s a perfect blend of worlds that don’t seem primed for blending. The result is less a mix of worlds than the creation of a new musical world, not the sum of the four countries involved, but a musical nation unto itself.
Artist: Ola Fresca
Songs: "El Niño de la Clave," "Pollitos de Primavera"
Notes: From Ola Fresca comes traditional sounds of another vibrant country: Brooklyn — though by way of Cuba and Miami. In a series of exciting albums over the last decade or so, group leader, singer and guitarist Jose Conde has explored a variety of musical combinations inspired by his New York neighborhood. On recent solo albums he’s taken more of a world pop approach. On "Elixir," reviving Ola Fresca for its first album since 2008, he’s very much, as one song puts it, "El Niño de la Clave," the son of the clave, the wooden-rod percussion instrument that are the heartbeat of Afro-Cuban music. This song imagines a baby born with that rhythm beating in his chest. Well, that’s Conde.
While much of his work takes a pan-Latin approach, drawing on styles from throughout South and Central America, the Caribbean and associated communities in North America — from African-rooted rhythms to electronic funk and modern jazz — with Ola Fresca he’s focused on his own Cuban roots, as came to him growing up in his native Miami.
"Elixir" sees him bringing together Cuba’s son, rumba and timba styles with elements of New York’s Puerto Rican salsa. In his time in the Miami and New York musical communities, he’s been dismayed by divisions between those respective cultures. This album is meant as, well, an elixir to heal that divide. Throughout the album, the band swings, truly, back and forth across that border, or more accurately, ignores it, blaring trombones and burbling percussion obliterating any supposed differences.
But enough with the philosophizing. Ultimately this is music for dancing and for, uh, other things. And if it didn’t succeed on that front, there’s be no point in us talking about it here. Take the song "Pollitos de Primavera," which features guest Juan Carlos Formell of controversial Cuban band Los Van Van on bass. The title means "Spring Chicks." And while this is just a guess, it might be possible that the song is not about poultry.