Review La Mambanegra – El Callegüeso y Su Mala Maña

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La Mambanegra are certainly no ordinary salsa band. Yes, they may hail from the Colombian capital of salsa, Cali, where the genre is not quite religious but instead part of the chaotic beating heart of the country’s Pacific coast. Indeed, these self-styled ‘ragamuffin’ musicians, in the word of bandleader Jacobo Vélez, are almost backstreet geniuses who have hit the big time. Worshipping at the same altar of fellow artists Bomba Estéreo and Chocquibtown, Vélez whips his crew into a melodic fervour as they give their own ragged edge to Colombian break salsa.

Sloppy, rushed or even dishevelled are the wrong words to use on this album, although you would associate these words with a ragamuffin in the more literal sense. Instead, La Mambanegra have their own style of unpolished clash, combining a big band set-up with more traditional riffs and melodies. The album kicks off with “Puro Pontekem”, a cacophonous explosion of sabor and sensuality with its own unique toque colombiano. Track two, “El Sabor de la Guayaba” tells the story of one man’s daily trip to work, celebrating tropical fruit juice and fresh Colombian coffee over the measly orange.

“El Blues de la Yemaya” is La Mambanegra’s unique take on the blues, still retaining their unique energy and frenetic energy despite the slower pace. “Celebration” takes us back to a setting where the group feel more familiar; in Vélez’s own words: “Salsa is sweat, sex, liquour and Pielroja cigarettes, it’s the gasoline that turns my heart on.” While “Malembe” is a nod to the African influence that drives music from the Colombian Pacific, where the myth behind La Mambanegra is born.

I could lie and tell you that this album is ideal for Salsa lovers, but I don’t think that would be an entirely fair review. El Callegüeso y Su Mala Maña is for those who are rough around the edges, who like their salsa hard and deliciously fast, and who are willing to be baptised by Jacobo Vélez’s unique brand of religion.

El Callegüeso y Su Mala Maña is released by Movimientos Records and available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Bandcamp.


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