Latin Salsa Gain on World Music Scene

<i> Don Snowden is a Times free-lance writer. </i>

Ironically, one international style that hasn’t benefited from the current world-music surge is the one perhaps most closely connected to the American pop world: the Afro-Cuban sound that most fans identify as salsa.

Such celebrated veterans as Celia Cruz and Tito Puente have largely remained heroes within their own sphere. There were occasional breakthroughs--Ray Barretto’s “El Watusi” in 1963 and Joe Cuba’s “Bang Bang” in 1966, Santana’s blend of Afro-Cuban rhythms and American blues, and most recently Ruben Blades’ politically spiced salsa.

Maybe the pendulum has swung again--Latin music is an integral element of the European world-music scene, and Urban Dance Squad climbed the pop charts here with a version of Barretto’s “Deeper Shade of Soul.” Latin music is the focus of this edition of “On the Off Beat,” a periodic review of roots, ethnic and non-mainstream pop music from around the globe.


*** 1/2



Fania/Sonodisc import


“Hanging Out”

Caliente/Charly import

This pair of reissues spotlights two leaders of the mid-'60s Latin soul sound blending Latin pop and American R&B; elements. Conguer Barretto went for a softer sound on several albums following his hit “El Watusi,” but 1967’s “Acid” was a return to that punchy, physical sound.

Drawn from several of Cuba’s late-'60s albums, “Hanging Out” is an equally vital shot of that horns-piano-chant recipe. A couple of expanded compositions again give the players a chance to stretch out between shorter riff tunes.

** 1/2 / ** 1/2 VARIOUS ARTISTS

“A Carnival of Cuban Music”

“Cuban Dance Party”


“Carnival” and “Dance Party” are both drawn from music recorded for the recent “Routes of Rhythm” PBS documentary on Cuban music.

The historically oriented “Carnival” runs the gamut from percussive chants to Ruben Blades, Bing Crosby with Xavier Cugat to Chano Pozo with Dizzy Gillespie. The selections dash so haphazardly between eras there’s little sense of chronology or musical development.

“Dance Party” lives up to its upbeat name, but here too, the compilation starts with such contemporary performances as Los Van Van’s “Muevete” and moves backwards to the older style of Septeto Nacional de Ignacio Pinero. Both “Carnival” and “Dance Party” are solid and interesting--they’re just not all they could be.



World Circuit import


“En Accion”

Discos Fuentes import

Joe Arroyo is one popular dude--the World Circuit album collects his best ‘80s material but he’s now signed to Mango in Europe and remains on his home label, Colombia’s Discos Fuentes, here. The singer/songwriter/arranger has tagged his hybrid sound Son Caribeno, a salsa-based mixture encompassing several Caribbean styles.

“Rebellion” is a superb showcase--the arrangements beneath Arroyo’s high-pitched voice retain the basic salsa outlines but continually confound expectations with great twists. The unpredictable title track, stop-time riffing slicing through “Bam Bam,” the slow groove of “Mary” and the spare “Echao Pa'Lante” are all highlights.

“En Accion” is a live recording, but this 1989 album doesn’t duplicate anything on “Rebellion” and features spare arrangements and the wide dynamic range that makes Arroyo such a force.


“Acuarela Del Caribe”

CBS Discos International

Recorded in Miami, the Dominican Republic and his native Puerto Rico, Chirino’s album reflects the ongoing cross-fertilization between salsa and American pop. “Yo Soy Un Tipo Tipico” reflects a bicultural musical identity--"My heart is divided between Tito Puente and the Rolling Stones” goes one line--by incorporating snippets from the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Trio Matomoros and other rock and salsa artists. Chirino deserves credit for stretching salsa’s horn-dominated grooves into more intricate arrangements, but he goes a bit overboard--the music could stand a little more snap.