Bio Ritmo - Dina's Mambo / La Muralla - out on Electric Cowbell Records
Bio Ritmo - Dina's Mambo / La Muralla
(7") Electric Cowbell ECR 009, 2010-11-30
Quickly approaching their 20 year anniversary, Bio Ritmo unveil their latest offering and debut release for Electric Cowbell. Bio Ritmo is a one of a kind phenomenon in today's hard-bitten indie salsa world - a band with both a healthy adventurous streak and a solid underpinning of authentic sabor criollo. In a rather hostile environment that makes getting gigs difficult and playing this type of music more a labor of love and endeavor of pure artistic expression than a simply commercial endeavor, Bio Ritmo continue to delight and amaze with both their talent and longevity, consistently pushing the envelope, tearing down walls between categories and defying pigeonholes. The A-side Dina's Mambo is a slab of tropical funk that showcases the band's playful instrumental side but also reveals a muscular cinematic swagger. Consequently there is a pleasingly Persian flavor to the proceedings (in keeping with the band's previous leanings towards minor-key tunings), as well as tasty hints of progressive Afro-Cuban funk of the 70s by the likes of Los Van Van and Chucho Valdes' Irakere. The B-Side, La Muralla, is a seemingly straight up salsa dance track with a dark underpinning that makes for goose-pimple dancing at the same time.
Bio Ritmo - Dina's Mambo / La Muralla
(7") Electric Cowbell ECR 009, 2010-11-30
45rmp on Electric Cowbell Records by Bio Ritmo
A1. Dina's Mambo
B1. La Muralla
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Electric Cowbell Records : official | facebook | twitter | bandcamp
Liner notes by DJ Bongohead :
Warrior Cats and Tearing Down Walls
Bio Ritmo is a one of a kind phenomenon in today's hard-bitten indie salsa world - a band with both a healthy adventurous streak and a solid underpinning of authentic sabor criollo. In a rather hostile environment that makes get- ting gigs difficult and playing this type of music more a labor of love and endeavor of pure artistic expression than a sim- ply commercial endeavor, Bio Ritmo continue to delight and amaze with both their talent and longevity, consistently push- ing the envelope, tearing down walls between categories and defying pigeonholes.
While it may have been more common place in the 70s, you won't find too many tropical Latin bands today that combine traits seemingly at odds with each other and the mainstream marketplace: original, edgy and experimental on the one hand, and steeped in classic salsa dura chops on the other. How does this translate for the dancers and consumers of Bio Ritmo's oeuvre? A chance to both expand the mind and move the body, with a product that exists on both a spiritual and a carnal level. This is a role that traditional ritual communal music and dance has historically played in Africa and its New World Diaspora, but that gets co-opted pretty much any time the capitalists sniff money and decide to step in and call the shots.
Luckily, the band themselves are controlling their own destiny, and with contributions and support from like-minded people like mixers Aaron Levinson and Brian Ritrovato, engineer Lance Kohler, and the folks at Electric Cowbell, this new 45 is a case in point for why Bio Ritmo is a treasure to cherish as well as a fetish for setting your next fiesta in motion. They always "keep it real" - nothing artificial or enhanced - and this time around what you get is unadulterated creativity but still within the context of recognizable Cuban and Puerto-Rican roots based forms. Add to that the always excellent cover art by the band's talented vocalist and frequent song composer Rei Alvarez, and you have a very worthy addition to the group's already impressive catalog.
The A-Side, "Dina's Mambo", is a slab of tropical funk that showcases Bio's playful instrumental side, with the masterful keyboard artistry of Marlysse Simmons brought to the fore. According to Marlysse, she over-dubbed two different sounds from the Farfisa to have them going simultaneously, creating an interweaving drone at times, with the "bottom tier emulating that weird harpsichord like sound in middle and end" of the piece. Consequently there is a pleasingly Persian flavor to the proceedings (in keeping with the band's previous leanings towards minor-key tunings), as well as tasty hints of progressive Afro-Cuban funk of the 70s by the likes of Los Van Van and Chucho Valdes' Irakere. This is achieved through the interlocking drum and bass patterns of Giustino Riccio and Eddie Prendergast respec- tively. Simmons mentions that Riccio rarely plays drumset, but that his doing so here "really makes an awesome groove" that "definitely inspired" Pendergast's bass playing. One also hears echoes of favorite rare groove Caribbean Latin funk acts like Joe Bataan's Salsoul era recordings, Cortijo's Time Machine project, Eddie Palmieri's Harlem River Drive, Mandrill, and Seguida to mention a few, so this side should be a favorite with DJs and dancers who dig that kind of vibe.
Pretty heavy company for this song to be riding with you say? No te procupes - no worries - soon as you put the needle to the platter you'll understand, the band can mix it up with the best classics out there. I've always felt the Bio crew had this kind of song in them, and I am practically jumping out of my skin now that dreams have become reality with this song seeing the light of day on 7" plastic. And to think it was inspired by Marlysse's cat (hope she isn't as giant and feisty as the feline warrior on the record cover).
The delightful Ms. Simmons has this specifically to say about the track:
"Dina's Mambo" is from a riff I started playing which turned into a jam at one of our late night rehearsals. I had just gotten my first Farfisa - the grey compact model. By the time the recording was made I had sold the compact (too many broken keys) and bought the deluxe green VIP 600 off of a Craigslist ad in Long Island. It is "dual layer" - the bottom layer emulating that weird harpsichord like sound that's featured at the end of the keys solo and at the end of the song.The farfisa sound is something I've always loved. It reminds me of a lot of music we all like from the 60's, especially stuff out of Latin America, Greece, and the Arabic-speaking worlds.We are continually amazed by recordings by Abdel Halim Hafez who used an array of weird keyboards over a setting of classical instruments.
The jam was long forgotten and then two years later I was reviewing old rehearsal recordings and got really excited when I found this 20 minute jam. I had just gotten the VIP600 and was super anxious to record a song featuring its wacky organ sounds, and from there came "Dina's Mambo". "Dina" (pronounced "dee- na") is one of the affectionate names I've bestowed upon my cat and I guess I kind of imagine this song as a sound track to "a day in her life". Probably she was just hanging around in the room while I tried to come up with a name for the song. I added "Mambo" to the title just because I love instrumental mambos. There's an all instrumental mambo I especially love by the great Roger King Mozian that fuses Latin and Greek rhythms, featuring the sound of an electric bouzouki. It was found in a thrift store about 10 years ago and I haven't seen or heard it anywhere since."
The B-Side, "La Muralla" ("The Wall"), is a seemingly straight up salsa dance track with a dark underpinning that makes for goose-pimple message listening and cross-body groove dancing at the same time.The electric keyboards have that frosty metallic tremolo sound that evokes late night palm-tree bars by the beach, the brass is exciting and punchy with some tasty solos (Bob Miller takes a nice one on trumpet at the end), while the percussion is of the hard-core bangin' type that will keep your feet busy on the dance floor. The whole ensemble syncopates along in perfect tight unison with the discipline of Tito Rodríguez' or James Brown's orchestras. Interestingly enough, subtle baby xylophone hits were also added to the mix ("Stereolab-ish, maybe..." suggests Simmons). As on the A-Side,Tobias Whitaker takes a super-duro 'bone solo that thrills like the best Willie Colón. Simmons states Tobias "also wrote that kick-ass arrangement [for the song], which inspired more of those poetic life lesson lyrics by Rei."
Like I said, there is definitely a 'dark' minor key mode to some of Bio's songs, and that's what makes them feel so emotionally resonant and contemporary - almost like they have more in common with some rock acts these days than your typical salsa bands of yester-year - hence the Stereolab reference. Most tropical music seems to cloak whatever darker-themed lyrics there may be with happy care-free musical arrangements, as opposed to the more nakedly Gothic moments found in Bio Ritmo's arsenal. With the exception of kindred indie bands like La Excelencia and Grupo Fantasma, that also reflect some of today's heavier moments in their arrangements and lyrics, it would seem that Bio Ritmo is blazing this sort of trail practically on their own in the world of salsa - as they have been for two decades. In this particular track, these anguished emotional strains heard in the music are perfectly appropriate to the subject matter of the composition, and lend a powerful feeling of deep and authentic emotion to the lyrics - check Rei's cry towards the end as it's echoed in the brass charts and brilliant ensemble arrangement. Rather than go on about it any more though, why not let Rei speak to the song's themes in his own words:
"Most of the time, certain chords or melodies will paint a picture or feeling for me. Such was the case with "La Muralla".The feel- ings I almost always associate with the music I love are usually those of sadness, longing or despair. Sometimes, positivity or con- fidence. Sometimes both.The song is basically a cry for help, for I've built a wall out of self-hate and negligence that I've fallen behind. Since pity strengthens my negativity, I'm calling for those to help me that won't feel sorry for me, but will care enough to wait for me to help myself."
With that I will leave it up to the listener and dancer to get up and play this thing LOUD over and over again, until the next full length player comes along from this exceptional band - mambo on, bioritmo children!
Pablo E. Yglesias a.k.a. DJ Bongohead is a DJ, writer, and graphic designer based in the USA. Check out his blog at bongohead.blogspot.com