The fermentation of Cuban ingredients into salsa may have been fused in the barrios of New York and Puerto Rico, but Colombian musicians have added considerable contemporary spice to generic Latino dance music. Mixed with modern cred and folk rhythms that reflect the country’s geographic and ethnic diversity, 21st-century Colombian salsa is a sizzling hotpot — as exemplified by La Mambanegra and Systema Solar. The spirit of “verbena” (popular street parties) inhabits both bands and their new albums. El Callegueso y su Mala Mana ricochets off the streets of Cali, the salsa capital of Colombia near the country’s Pacific coast. Rumbo a Tierra is more reflective of the Caribbean coast, where Barranquilla-based Systema Solar crosses styles such as champeta and cumbiabased bullerengue with animated chants, electronica and hefty beats. Although they hold nothing back, La Mambanegra has a more organic sound that melds classic 1970s-style Nuyorican salsa, James Brown soul and R & B via driving jazz-charged brass and keyboards, pulsating percussion (timbales, congas, bongos, et al) and a handful of ebullient singers led by an MD, vocalist/saxophonist Jacobo Velez, who would make St Vitus seem sedentary. Their electrifying groove induced even inveterate non-dancers to shed their inhibitions at the recent WOMADelaide festival. La Mambanegra’s polyrhythmic break salsa might be best absorbed in a live situation, but there’s no shortage of energy generated in its latest studio production. There’s also no mistaking the high quality of musicianship on El Callegueso y su Mala Mana La Mambanegra Movimientos/Planet Rumbo a Tierra Systema Solar Nacional Records offer, from the killer brass groove of set opener Puro Potenkem to the Cuban tres guitar-enhanced sign-off Barrio Caliento. In between tracks feature the chops of such wellconnected guest instrumentalists as Cuban trumpeter Yasek Manzano Silva (Celia Cruz, Los Van Van, Irakere) and New York-based Colombian pianist Eddy Martinez (Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente). Bandleader Velez shines as a singer on the Afro-heavy call-and-response romp La Fokin Bomba and as a saxophonist via a screaming solo on set standout Me Parece Perfecto.
While it might lack its compatriots’ sophistication, Systemo Solar has an idiosyncratic, incendiary style that’s consistent with sound system/DJ culture. The band’s self-tagged Berbenautika detonates AfroCaribbean folkloric roots with rapping, toasting, programming, a battery of percussion and political commentary. Even the most FM radio-friendly number, Rumbera —a song selected for the official FIFA 17 soccer soundtrack — contains scratching in tandem with cumbia cowbell. Blues harmonica and a heavy rock beat crash against the champeta rhythm of Champe Tabluo. Wheezy accordion chords associated with vallenato (a Colombian folk genre) vie with thumping beats and clamorous vocals in Somos la Tierra. A traditional cane flute competes with electronic drums, scratching and pitched-up vocals in Aguazero. In the opening cut, Tumbamurallas, supercharged cumbia cross-rhythms combine with electronica, scratching and chanting.