Friday, December 02, 2011

Various Artists: The Original Sound of Cumbia

Much of the best music of 2011 has in fact been the music of 1958, or 1967, or 1974. Week by week, compilations of the world’s lost and forgotten songs – excavated in obscure locales from Angola to Cambodia, dusted down and re-released – have sounded fresher and more exciting than a great deal of contemporary output. To the list we must now add this hypnotic and evocative double CD of Colombia’s native dance music, cumbia. And once more the project’s musical archaeologist – pith helmet on head and record bag at the ready – is a British obsessive. It’s a long way from Bewdley in Worcestershire to the mouth of the Magdalena river on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. But the insidious, chugging rhythm of cumbia was enough to lure musician and producer William Holland from his home town not just to visit, but to set up a recording studio and move out there. For the past five years he has searched the country’s record shops and markets to piece together the history of this influential musical form. The 55 tracks here, many originally shellac 78s, are the pick of what he discovered. In the elegant and scholarly liner notes, Holland compares the 950-mile river Magdalena, birthplace of cumbia, with the Mississippi, cradle of the blues. There are many similarities between the two musical forms too: cumbia, like its US counterpart, is a simple template that invites endless reinterpretation. As the two discs here roll by, its striking that what you hear is always the same but always different.
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