Best Reissues of 2020

By | 23 December, 2020

More than any other year, it definitely feels as if there has been a shift in terms of the types of albums being reissued from Latin America. Sure, there are still plenty of tropical Colombian albums and 70s Brazilian gems, but a lot of labels are now going even deeper, unearthing Venezuela’s avant-garde pioneers, Afro-Colombian music that was ignored in its own country for a long time, funky numbers from Guadeloupe, as well as many esoteric Brazilian finds. Where once the holy grail was the 60s many crate diggers it seems are now looking at the 80s for records where pop and rock songcraft collide with early electronic music, as styles like ambient and minimalism began to take hold. The compilation, América Invertida, being a great example of that. This list then feels even more experimental than those we’ve done in previous years, a trip through Latin America’s many far-out endeavours, while still managing to hold down a groove (in the most part).

Various Artists – La Locura de Machuca 1975​-​1980 (Analog Africa / Colombia)

The treasure hunters of Analog Africa have done it again – and they’ve unearthed an indisputable gem. How do they do it; where do they find ‘em? In this case, by exploring Colombia’s coastal music underground from the second half of the 1970s. It’s a tale every bit as weird as the music on this glorious collection of bizarre unclassifiable sounds from the Discos Machuca label. Just tune in to the opening track, Samba Negra’s demented “Eberebijara”, with its hypnotic beats, funky guitar and chanted call-and-response vocals, and you could be listening to an outtake from an early record by Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. It’s hypnotic, unhinged and utterly irresistible. In fact, you could approach this compilation as you might approach prime-time Beefheart: expect the unexpected! Mark Sampson

Priscilla Ermel – Origens da Luz (Music From Memory / Brazil)

This is a selection of 1986 to 1994 recordings by Brazilian composer and multi-instrumentalist Priscilla Ermel, who spent extended periods living with indigenous populations in Brazil, collecting instruments that she would later combine with synthesizers and her field recordings. I’ve been living with this album for a few months now, and it’s quite beguiling, its meditative feel becoming part of the furniture as I move around my house. The warm low tone of the cello, which she learnt as a child and forms part of her classical background, dominates tracks like “Campo de Sonhos” and “Meditação”, while worlds collide through the arrangements and layering on “Corpo do Vento”. There’s a mystical language in this music where analogue sound technology in all its forms combine to create something altogether charming. Andy Cumming

Various Artists – Colór de Trópico (El Palmas Music / Venezuela)

El Palmas and label-mate El Dragón Criollo have put together a very wacky compilation of Venezuelan sounds released between 1966 and 1978, an era when democracy was in its infancy and the impact of the filthy oil industry had only just begun. El Palmas’ credo is to bring back “unfairly forgotten or undiscovered artists” and that’s just what these eight numbers do. At 27 minutes, it leaves you wishing for more, but let’s be thankful for the little marvels on offer on both sides of this record. Mark Sampson

Various Artists – América Invertida (Vampisoul/Little Butterfly Records / Uruguay)

Following the end of the dictatorship in Uruguay in the mid-80s, a highly-collaborative local scene in the country’s capital of Montevideo, seemed to grow in confidence, emboldened by the arrival of the synthesiser but also showing an urge to push musical boundaries. Singer-songwriters and protest singers, the latter of which had been keeping low, united with jazz musicians and practitioners of the local Afro-Latin rhythm, candombe, to create ethereal, rhythmic fusions of the acoustic and electronic. Stark and moody, the music finds itself somewhere between the opaque beauty of early 4AD and the liquid jazz-funk fashioned by Bill Laswell. Best are those that unite these frosty percussive soundscapes with the female voice, tracks by Mariana Ingold, Estela Magnone and Travesía finding a breatless balance between light and dark. Russ Slater

Various Artists – Guasá, Cununo y Marimba (Palenque/Vampisoul / Colombia)

Inhospitable and difficulty accessed, the Pacific coast was the last area of Colombia to be colonised, and the Spanish met fierce resistance from indigenous populations. When they did settle, they brought European instruments and rhythms, which blended with melodies and harmonies from several centuries of slaves brought from West Africa. Polish mazurka and French contra dances morphed into hybrid styles which have rarely been compiled outside of this album: guasá, cununo, currulao and marimba music. The varied influences come across on the album, which boasts music from the 70s to the present day, from artists such as Julián y su Combo, Buscajá and La Sonora del Pacífico de Cachito Vidal. Many of the recordings have an alive, raw feeling, like “La Logia” by Chencho Trompeta y Los Brujos, a 13-minute whirlwind of marimba and heavy percussion. The versatility of the marimba is again at the forefront in “Soy El Currulao” by Gertrudis Bonilla, with a mesmerising marimba loop over which breezy guitars float in and out. Indeed African guitar features throughout, with tracks like “La Tunda” by Trovadores Del Pacifico suggesting highlife influences. Felix Thomson

MUMIA – MUMIA (Lugar Alto / Brazil)

A strange artifact has been unearthed from the tombs of the deepest, darkest, most obscure channels of Brazilian music possible: MUMIA (Portuguese for MUMMY). This album has never been officially released before, as it is a work that was originally a DIY cassette recording, and through the efforts of diligent enthusiasts is now seeing the light of day. It combines idiosyncratic elements of electronic post-punk, industrial and ambient music, think early Cabaret Voltaire and the primitive electronics of The Legendary Pink Dots. Carpenteresque pulsing synth lines blend with disembodied voices and startling manipulated sounds jump out of the mix recently mastered by analogue wizard Arthur Joly, adding punch to its lo-fi aesthetic. Andy Cumming

Miguel Noya – Canciónes Intactas (Phantom Limb / Venezuela)

The avant-garde pioneers of Venezuela have been getting much love these past few years. Albums by Daniel Grau, Angel Rada and Musikautomatika have all been reissued and Miguel Noya is up next. This compilation from Phantom Limb collects together recordings mainly from private presses that were originally released in the 80s. They reveal an artist whose work possesses a quiet intensity who takes many bold compositional choices. The album varies from beautiful minimalism like “Olfativo”, with its swathes of bright synths to playful early electronic music like “Tactil” where the use of primitive electronic sounds only seems to add to the richness of the music. Of particular note are “Inoculación”, which builds beautifully to a fanfare conclusion, and final track “Mega Brain Focos part 2”, which has all the epic tension of Popol Vuh at their best. Russ Slater

Jocy de Oliveira – A Música Século XX de Jocy (Litoral Records / Brazil)

The album consists of 13 pieces that range from the 45 seconds of “Um Crime” to the 3½ minutes of “Frida”, the tale of a woman with one brown eye and one blue, who wanders alone through a desolate landscape in search of a new life. In the latter, the singer recites her poetic lyrics initially to the accompaniment of a gently strummed acoustic guitar before a flute and some delicate percussion give the song wings. With frequent spoken voice-overs and impressionistic sound effects, such as the cries and whistles of “Um Crime” and the siren and sounds of fire on “Incendio”, the episodic nature of the pieces is reminiscent of a soundtrack to a film of the French nouvelle vague: something like Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, or Louis Malle’s weird and wonderful Zazie dans le Métro. Mark Sampson

Ranil y su Conjunto – Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical (Analog Africa / Peru)

Analog Africa pride themselves on going to the most far-flung places for their reissues, and this latest release is no exception. Ranil y su Conjunto Tropical were a hip-shaking party-ready combo who, in the 1970s, travelled up and down the Amazon from their base in Iquitos, Peru, playing for late-night revellers in need of shaking their thang. They also released a good few records along the way, which have been compiled here. Led by Ranil, their sound is as contorted as a jungle snake, with bright, ringing guitars, roving bass lines and shuffling percussion that can tie you up in knots. Their rhythm of choice is the galloping cumbia beat, but there are waltzes and swooning slower numbers on here, bringing a vivid sweat-soaked Amazonian fiesta of yesteryear to life. Russ Slater

Various Artists – Cadence Revolution Disque Debs Vol. 2 1973-1981 (Strut / Guadeloupe)

One of the most pleasant musical surprises of 2018 was the first volume of a projected series of three, exploring the legacy of Guadeloupe’s Disques Debs label. Knowing little of the pre-zouk music scene in the Francophone Caribbean, the Strut label’s inspired compilation was a revelation. While Volume 1 focused on the first decade of Henri Debs’ influential productions, Volume 2 turns the spotlight onto the ’70s. Also compiled by Hugo Mendez of Sofrito and Emile Omar of Radio Nova, one of the hippest radio stations in France, the good news is that it’s just as fascinating and rewarding as its predecessor. Mark Sampson

Chosen by Andy Cumming, Carolina Amoruso, David Bugueño, Gabriel Francis, Gregorio Hernández de Alba, Humberto Loopz, Joe Osborne, Mark Sampson, Russell Slater, Victor Meyer


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