Latin Reggae

Putumayo is a funky label out of NY specializing in Folk, Latin, Afro-Cuban and pretty much anything falling under the flag of ‘World Music’. I own a couple of Salsa, Rumba and Latin compilations by these guys and like them very much.

With an extensive catalog of almost 200 compilations ranging from Acoustic French to Native American to Jewish to Arabic and Celtic, these guys have more selection than a Starbucks, but I like to think of Putumayo as the Peoples Coffee of music labels with their stance on giving back to the community, claiming to donate 1% of proceeds from sales to charitable organizations of the respective countries. These guys are so on to it they even include band/song information in Spanish and French as well as English, and phonetic pronunciation of artists names and song titles!

Now to the comp itself, as you can imagine by the title Latin Reggae, this is a selection of reggae bands from places like Spain, Argentina, Canada and Chile and if you like world music with a skank you’re gonna love this, whereas if you’re a bit of a reggae purist you might find a few of the Latino elements a bit distracting. Reggae likes being quite simple and repetitive, no crazy bass lines, while Latinos just cant help being flashy and extravagant with their cascading pianos and guitar solos. It does however all meet somewhere in the middle and works so well you may find yourself humming or singing choruses without an idea of what they mean.

This package has quite a bit to offer, with tracks ranging in style from Lovers Rock to Ska to Dub to Roots with bands like Los Cafres from Argentina, who released their first album on Tuff Gong in 1995, preaching a philosophical life of truth, knowledge, understanding and justice in La Receta (The Recipe), with their front man almost toasting the verses. There is not one track that falls off the wagon on this lineup, they are, as they should be, individually great songs by very talented musicians, most of which I had never heard off before!

There was a couple of songs that stood out for me; Reggae Rustico by Cultura Profetica is a chant up to Reggae Music, its power to heal and educate, to build bridges and unify communities, to uplift – the quintessence of the Reggae style. Cultura Profetica formed in 1996 in Puerto Rico and also recorded at Tuff Gong working alongside Errol Brown.

Si Hecho Palante (very loosely translated to, ‘if I look/move forward’) is the story of a woman cleansing herself in a ritual to protect herself from the envy and greed of others. Featuring the stunning vocals of Mayra Vega and produced by Ticklah who is also a member of the soul band The Dap Kings, this song starts off with some somber horns leading into a hypnotic voice over a dub groove so infectious you don’t even notice the Latin piano solo until its just too late. Si Hecho Palante  was released in 2007 on Ticklah’s album Ticklah vs Axelrod and is a fantastic cover of  Eddie Palmieri’s salsa tune from the 60’s.

Pateras by Spanish band Black Ghandi, is a song referring to pateras (rafts) used by immigrants and the desperate risks they take in hostile waters looking for a better life in Europe and other parts of the world. Black Ghandi  who’s band members include Cuban, Argentinian and Dutch musicians who formed in 2006, sound like a Spanish version of Katchafire.  This is a classic Reggae tune plus their front man kicks it in French on the second verse.

Lastly, Libros Sagrados (Sacred Books) by Chilean band Gondwana who have been around since 1987, probably the most well known reggae band out of Chile, is my favorite track, and not because I’m Chilean. OK maybe a little. These guys played for almost a decade in their hometown Santiago without releasing material. In those times living under a Dictatorship didn’t quite give you the right of free speech let alone releasing music with a socio-political-conscious message without the fear of disappearing the next morning never to be seen of again. Lets just say these guys know the struggle and are alive to tell the tale.

As you can see, the message is still in the music and although this compilation is filled with great sounding songs you may not only have to understand Spanish and French but also be familiar with all the different accents to fully get the points they are trying to convey. You could get your local Latin-exchange student to break down the songs word-for-word but so much can be lost in translation that you’re better off with a loose layout of the story as I did with my favorites and just enjoy the grooves.

Latin Reggae is great practice fi di ear if you’re learning Spanish and great Reggae fi di sound system if you’re after something a bit different this summer.

Don Luchito the people’s selector