Review Cumbia Cumbia 1&2

5 Stars

One of the most important names in twentieth century popular Latin music is the legendary Discos Fuentes record label of Colombia. For almost eighty years, the Medellín-based label has created many of South America’s most famous hits, and was particularly influential in the rise across the continent of cumbia, vallenato and fandango, genres whose styles fused African rhythms with western instruments.

Founded by Antonio Lopez Fuentes in 1934 as the first label in Colombia, Discos Fuentes was a precursor to the Motown method of ‘conveyer belt’ production in which the best songwriters and musicians were gathered together to churn out hit after hit. Encapsulating the emotive ideals of ‘Latin Spirit’ in its fervent rhythms and passionate vocal styles, the classic Discos Fuentes sound went on to enjoy massive success across the Spanish-speaking world.

Thanks to today’s greater access to music, cumbia has reached a younger and more multicultural audience and, as such, is experiencing something of a new lease of life. This has seen the re-issue of many old classic songs, and Discos Fuentes offers a look through its back catalogue in the double album Cumbia Cumbia 1&2. A record label anthology, the two albums were released separately in 1989 and 1993 and document the history of the label spanning over four decades. Together they provide a scintillating look at what made Discos Fuentes into one of Latin America’s most influential record labels.

Disc One charts the label from 1960 until 1988 and features many of the period’s best-known cumbia songs by the likes of Gabriel Romero, Rodolfo y Su Tipica, and La Sonora Dinamita. These artists were at the forefront of the cumbia wave that swept Latin American dancefloors in the mid-20th century, as the music’s vibrant grooves sparked a surge in its popularity. With tunes as infectious as “La Piragua”, “La Subienda” and “Cumbia Cienaguera”, the music’s mass appeal is easily appreciated. Covering almost forty years, the disc offers a range of styles, with the more traditional coastal afro-cumbia merging into the sounds of smoke-filled early-sixties music halls and then into the slicker production of the 1980s. Yet the cumbia rhythm remains ever present, in the percussive click-clack that never lets up and drives the distinguishing beat that is a key trait of the music.

The second disc delves further back into the Discos Fuentes annals, with a selection of songs from the fifties and sixties. Again the cumbia sound is realized in distinct forms that emphasise the scope of the music, through songs that echo the popular big band sound of the period, such as the stylish swagger of La Sonora del Caribe’s “Noche de Estrellas”, or those that are heavily rooted in cumbia’s African heritage, as is the case with “Tabaco Mascao” from Combo Los Galleros or Los Guacharacos’ “Baila Rosita”. Regardless of the individual direction of each track, the disc maintains a permanent state of animated excitement that manifests itself through frenetic melodies delivered on accordion, trumpet or clarinet and the relentless high-tempo of the beat.

Cumbia Cumbia 1&2 is a wondrous compilation of music that encapsulates the mastery of the Discos Fuentes label and its massive influence throughout the Latin American musical sphere. Exploring the full dynamic of the cumbia sound, not only is this essential listening for all enthusiasts, but it also serves as an excellent introduction to the music for newcomers. Every one of the thirty songs is a work of beauty and, from the raw energy of the earlier recordings through to the glossier but equally vivacious sound of the later period, the album represents a fitting tribute to a remarkable record label. This is party music at its finest.

Cumbia Cumbia 1&2 was released by World Circuit. The album is available from Amazon and iTunes.

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