In rotation is a series in Sunday Calendar about what Los Angeles Times writers & contributors are listening to right now. In this article, Randall Roberts writes about ‘The Original Sound of Cumbia: The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro.’
The profoundly sexy rhythms that permeate “The Original Sound of Cumbia” stretch back generations and share a common ancestor with the sound that sprung from New Orleans in the early 1800s and gradually spread across North America. When the slave ships on both the Caribbean coast of Colombia and the Louisiana Gulf Coast brought in men and women from Africa, they imported music, too, and that (immoral) seed over the centuries has wended its way like a morning glory through South and Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico.
Cumbia has since had arguably as much influence on the music of the Americas as rock ’n’ roll, and producer, DJ and musical archivist Will “Quantic” Holland has, with this double-disc/triple LP/55-track collection, offered overwhelming evidence of its power. The curator spent five years immersed in Colombian culture, during which time he searched the country’s markets and shops for early music on 78s, 45s and LPs, seeking to retrieve a vanishing history of both cumbia and its cousin, the slower-tempoed porro.
The result is a collection that lives up to its subtitle: “The History of Columbian Cumbia and Porro as Told by the Phonograph, 1948-1979.” Not only instructive but absolutely swinging and dynamic, “The Original Sound of Cumbia” is rich and varied; congas and various rhythmic accents — what Holland in his fantastic liner notes perfectly describes as “the percussive ‘shuck shucka shuck’ of cumbia” — drives the songs. The other key instrument, the diatonic accordion, peppers many of the pieces with magical riffs and improvised solos — as do trumpet bursts, jazz-suggestive saxophone lines, and the occasional Yiddish-accented clarinet run.
In fact, what’s most surprising is the range on the collection: a chaotic stomp like Banda Bajera de San Pelayo’s “Descarga en Cumbia” sounds like a New Orleans brass band standard played by a drunken Tex-Mex group, and Rafael Yepes Crespo con sus Negros de la Región’s seductive “Nubia en la Playa” is tailor made for a late-night seduction. What’s best though, is that any time the compilation threatens to repeat itself, Holland drops in a song — like the washboard-click and clave breakdown of Carlos Ramon’s “El 4 y 5” — that completely redefines what cumbia can be.
“The Original Sound of Cumbia: The History of Colombian Cumbia & Porro”