Out of the many salsa recordings we had a chance to get our hands on this year, these were the best of the crop. You can’t go wrong with any of these. This is salsa at its best.
Ed Martínez Conjunto
Qué no se acaben los cueros
It’s good to know that the traditional conjunto style of music has not died. Percussionist and bandleader Ed Martínez, out of the Bronx, is one of those artists who is keeping this evocative sound alive. His latest effort hits the ground running with the first track titled “Dedícame un son.” You hear that and you know you are in for a treat, especially with the engaging vocals of Moncho Rivera (yes, a family member of the great sonero Ismael Rivera). And then the CD just keeps delivering. Stand out tunes include “Historias de Brooklyn,” “Tres Rodríguez” and “Qué no se acabe el bongo.” Ed has invited other top soneros to deliver these tunes: Rafu Warner, Camilo Azuquita and Chico Alvárez. And if you appreciate good liner notes, take heed. Singer and musicologist Chico Alvárez gives you the history of the conjunto over the decades—albeit in small print.
Papagofio Jr. y Su Poder
Out of the Miami area, Papagofio Jr., aka Jorge C. Alonso, has a recent effort that is making a statement. You’ll hear some classic Cuban stylings on each and every tune. And they are very danceable, especially “Calor en Santiago” and “Tostao con mantequilla.” But he’s got some romantic tunes too in “No” and “Cuando el amor se va.” It helps that he is backed up by some of Miami’s best. He’s got Yassel Pupo Alfonso on keyboards, Elton Reyes on trumpet, and Tito de Gracia, Sergio Gata, himself and others on percussion. And his singers can deliver a tune, including Awilda Rivera on “Dormir contigo.” It is worth mentioning that his dad, Papagofio, was the founder of the great Cuban band Orquesta Rumbavana. This is a very good recording.
Salsa con factura
Not too many things came out this year by the ladies, but this one sure hit the airwaves blazing. Colombian born Patty Padilla is a strong vocalist who knows how to deliver a tune. She captures your attention with her heady strength. She might even make you think of the guarachera del mundo herself—Celia Cruz. No surprise then to find out that it was her voice viewers heard singing on the Spanish-language soap about the life of Celia Cruz that aired on Telemundo. On this recording Padilla makes a statement right of the bat with “Mi salsa pa’ los rumberos.” Her talent is fully exhibited on “Hello” and the cha cha cha-inspired “Dile que por mi no tema.” No need to be afraid of this sonera.
Son de Isla Verde
Cocinando mi salsa
(Son de Isla Verde, 2016)
This album may have come out in 2016, but it came to our attention in 2018. (Better late than never.) And it struck a chord following the aftermath of Hurricane María because of its loving tribute to the island of enchantment that was devastated by the hurricane. Just the titles alone speak to the band’s love of their isla: “Fiesta en mi país,” “Contento en el pueblo” and “Un nuevo día en mi tierra.” Then there’s the lilting “Declaración alerta nacional” and the patriotic “Escudo y bandera.” And let’s not forget to mention the title tract, a sultry instrumental. All are compositions by Luis Peña and arranged by partner Tony Velásquez. They also feature some remarkable vocalists. These include the legendary Luigi Texidor (formerly with la Sonora Ponceña), Pichie Pérez, Megüi Rivera (one of the founders of Orquesta La Solución), and others. Not bad for a freshman outing.
Juan Pablo Díaz
(Juanpi Música, 2016)
Here’s another CD that came to our attention a bit late. But thank goodness we got our hands on it. This Grammy-award-nominated release (2017) is all about substance. Inspired by Ruben Blades, Díaz is unabashed about presenting music with a social conscious and message. “Aquí o allá” talks about the Puerto Rican diaspora and the unfair criticism of Puerto Ricans who leave the island (before the hurricane, which has changed those dynamics). “País gris” touches on the struggles of living in an area that is economically challenged. And then there’s “Canten,” a Polo Montañez composition that is a celebration of the freedom of independent music. Díaz produces his own work. This whole CD is lush in its orchestrations and a joy to listen to.