Colombia! The Golden Age Of Discos Fuentes. The Powerhouse Of Colombian Music 1960-76
Soundway Records (SNDWCD008)
Every Soundway compilation is a labor of love and this one is no exception. This collection focuses on the Fuentes label of Colombia, which has been active there since the 1930s. Covering a mighty chunk of stylistic territory and a span of over fifteen years is no mean feat and it’s remarkable the collection holds together as well as it does. It has its flaws but they are relatively minor and far outweighed by the fact that Soundway is making this music available to a wider audience that to a large extent have not had much access to it.
Trust me when I say you do not want to be in the middle of a conversation between a Puerto Rican, a Cuban, a Venezuelan, and a Colombian about who was the best salsa music or, Lord have mercy, it’s origins. This release does nothing to clarify that contentious morass. In terms of the salsa and descarga jams on this collection, the influence of the Nuyorican sound is definitely in force, not too surprising given its enormous popularity during the time period, as well as merengue and mambo. And while these tracks are excellent, what really interests me here is the costeña music, the sounds from Colombia’s pacific coast with its heavily African and indigenous elements. Particularly cumbia but also fandango, mapalé and other variants, this stuff is the shit you want off this compilation. Unfortunately there just isn’t enough of it to satisfy me.
And you thought Colombia’s finest export was.. oh, nevermind
The liner notes by Costa Rican music scholar Roberto Ernesto Gyemant start out beautifully with a compelling narrative of his experiences as a crate-digger and fanatic of Colombian music trying to track down some of these records and the people who made them. They provide a lot of historical and cultural context for which I am always grateful, and a fair amount of detail. Unfortunately that detail starts to bog the text down after a while, and is perhaps catering to musicologists and specialists. After the strong initial pages the text takes on a hurried, somewhat sloppy quality, as if the writer was rushing to meet a deadline. Exhibit A is the sentence appearing at the end of one paragraph that says merely, “Sentence about cienaguera,” obviously a note the author made to himself… I know I am an asshole for pointing that out but it cracked me up. Besides, I am dying to know what he was going to write about cienaguera, it keeps me awake at night, restless and anxious.
The text also spends a lot of time focusing on Fruku e sus Tesos (see photo below) and The Latin Brothers to the exclusion of other artists included on the disc. Some of the personalities involved in this part of Discos Fuentes story went on to have huge international hits, none of which are included on this collection. Thus in a way, for the relative outsider to this scene it is as if you are missing some important elements of “the big picture”, as I imagine that some of those smash hits are still generating royalty revenue for the artists and are were thus not available for inclusion on a comp such as this.
The tracks included by Wganda Kenya (the farfisa-driven “Tifit hayed” and the highlife of “Elyoyo”) are pure delight but relegated in the text to the last paragraph, where we are told this sound was popular in the mid-70s but nothing else beyond that declaration. (Actually Wganda Kenya is described as relying on “a new generation of synthesizers”, none of which are present on these two tracks..) I would really, REALLY like to know more about the band Afrosound, whose sole track here closes out the compilation and brings a genuine creole fusion of African and Latin American musical greatness.
The album jackets included in the booklet are one of the best things here, a visual feast of kitschy contemporary design and layout. However the lovely sultry cover featured above appears to be unrelated to any of the music on the album, although I’m not about to complain about it’s inclusion.
On the whole this is not as organized and coherent a collection as Soundway’s Panama compilation (actually, there are three volumes now but I only have the first one and can’t comment on the others in the series). There is still plenty here to sink your teeth and ears into, so those who are interested should most certainly check this out.
in 320 em pee tree