Monday, December 11, 2006

La Combinacion del MVP!

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Monday, 11 December 2006

ImageSalsa legend Willie Colón has long said that his New York gangsta attitude was a big part of the development of salsa, and that he and his late cohort Héctor Lavoe were hip-hop before there was hip-hop. But some of salsa's biggest stars were threatened by the emergence of reggaetón a couple of years ago, feeling their genre was being squeezed by a new generation of rappers who called themselves singers. Now, with the release of "Los Cocorocos" (CMG Records/ Universal Motown), the salsa-reggaetón dynamic has come full circle; there's nothing but love and good music between the camps.

"Los Cocorocos" is a one-shot compilation that features collaborations between many of salsa and reggaetón's biggest stars, using the traditional dance rhythms of salsa as a base for harmonizing and rap improvisation. It is the strongest proof that reggaetón MCs feel salsa singers are their primary antecedents, and no matter how much they veer toward "urban" style, they are tropical artists at heart.

Gallego, a spectacular poet whose spoken word performance power won him many guest appearances on reggaetón tracks, explains the spirit of Los Cocorocos on the intro track: "To say Cocoroco is to say that rap and reggaetón are the continuation of the endless need to communicate what is happening in the streets and how our lives are influenced by the music we hear.... It's to say that the 'old' salsa is first-blood cousin to rap and reggaetón."

What follows is a series of old-school-style salsa tracks recorded with the '70s in mind or at least avoiding the signature tinny flourishes of the salsa romántica of the '80s and '90s that created the need for funky reggaetón in the first place. While major pairings such as Don Omar and Gilberto Santa Rosa; Zion and Domingo Quiñones; plus Tego Calderón and Victor Manuelle will attract the most interest, some of the best tracks are from lesser-known performers.

"Perdona Viejo," for instance, which pairs Papo Rosario of El Gran Combo and his son, Ariel, has as much hard-driving momentum as any of the songs here. "Los Gorditos," which links husky singers and MCs Tito Nieves, Pedro Brull and John Erick, offers the kind of tight musicianship that makes Willie Rosario fans happy. "Ahí Viene Mista" by Mista brings a strong dance-hall flavor to a simple piano-percussion rumba framework.

Of course, if you're buying this album to hear Tego Calderón do his recontextualization of Colón's classic "Che Che Cole" alongside Victor Manuelle, you won't be disappointed. What's most intriguing about "Los Cocorocos" is how it works on a level beyond novelty and succeeds in its grand attempt to tease out the "real" in Latin (read Afro-Caribbean) music, no matter what era, no matter what style or rhythm.

CRUCIAL SONIDOS. Recently Tego Calderón insisted that a new wave of salsa music was slowly emerging in Puerto Rico. Even if he wasn't specifically referring to two new releases from Sony Discos by NG 2 ("Al Fín!") and Kiuldret ("Corazón Enamorado"), they seem to be the tip of that iceberg. Both albums are done with an anti-romántica flavor, and Kiuldret, who features a duet with young salseros N'Klabe on her album, seems positioned to give La India a run for her money as the queen of salsa.

E-mail Ed Morales at

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