Meridian Brothers mastermind electrifies Roots salsa
His effort is part of a decades-long Bogotá-based nation-building mission to harness the music of coastal areas, spearheaded by artists like Ivan Benavides, once a member of the band Carlos Vives; Richard Blair, a British expat who founded his band Sidestepper with Bogotá-based musicians; and Bomba Estéreo, whose keyboardist and programmer Simón Mejía recently created “El Duende”, a short documentary about a family of African descent who make marimbas and live on the Pacific coast of Colombia.
“Meridian Brothers and El Grupo Renacimiento” has a stripped-down aesthetic, which is the essence of salsa itself – an urban, urban genre born after the decline and fall of the flashy era of big-band Palladium Mambo, a much like punk was born in the wake of bombastic British progressive rock. Álvarez focuses most of his attention on a dubby, echoing psychedelic electric guitar and metallic keyboards, complemented by a synchronized rhythm section of timpani and congas. You can hear hints of West African highlife and Congo-derived soukous, a hybrid of Cuban rumba.
With his skanking guitar marking time in the center of the riffs, Álvarez’s lyrics comment on police brutality (“La Policía”), the purity of roots salsa (“Poema del Salsero Resentido”) and the concern over guns. nuclear (“Bomba Atomica”) . “Descarga Profética,” which imagines a salsa jam from Bogotá like an ancient Greek algorithm with African influences, dizzying riffs on the 1930s Cuban classic “El Manisero.”
In the mockumentary, Artemio Morelia says his bandmates’ interests ranged from vallenato to Italian ballads, but he felt compelled to play the kind of lo-fi, rootsy salsa practiced by ’60s Venezuelan band Federico y su. Combo (who released a song called “Llegó la Salsa”, one of the first to mention the term, in 1967). He also cites Ray Pérez, legendary Afro-Puerto Rican bandleader Rafael Cortijo, and most importantly, the Lebrón Brothers of Brooklyn, a central group in the creation of salsa that evolved from early experiences with the original boogaloo. Cuban in English and took off. with “Salsa y Control” in 1969, but had little commercial success.
“I identify with the rejection that the Lebrón brothers experienced in their time,” Álvarez said. “I was attracted by their way of playing, the aggressiveness, but also their slowness, their introversion.”