The Meridian Brothers’ Eccentric Mastermind Is Electrifying Roots Salsa


His effort is part of a decades-long Bogotá-based nation-building mission to mine the music of coastal areas, pioneered by artists like Ivan Benavides, once a Carlos Vives bandmember; Richard Blair, a British expatriate who founded his group Sidestepper with Bogotá-based musicians; and Bomba Estéreo, whose keyboardist and programmer Simón Mejía recently premiered “El Duende,” a short documentary about an African-descended family that makes marimbas and lives on Colombia’s Pacific Coast.

“Meridian Brothers and El Grupo Renacimiento” has a stripped-down aesthetic, which is the essence of salsa itself — an uptown, urban genre born after the decline and fall of the flashy big-band Palladium Mambo era, much like punk arose in the wake of grandiloquent British progressive arena rock. Álvarez focuses most of his attention on a dubby, echoing psychedelic electric guitar and tinny keyboards, supplemented by a synched-in rhythm section of timbales and congas. You can hear hints of West African highlife and Congo-derived soukous, a hybrid of Cuban rumba.

With his skanking guitar marking time at the center of the riffs, Álvarez’s lyrics comment on police brutality (“La Policía”), the purity of roots salsa (“Poema del Salsero Resentido”) and concern over nuclear weapons (“Bomba Atómica”). “Descarga Profética,” which imagines a Bogotá salsa jam as an ancient Greek algorithm with African influences, dizzily riffs on the 1930s Cuban classic “El Manisero.”

In the mockumentary, Artemio Morelia says that his bandmates’ interests ranged from vallenato to Italian ballads, but that he felt compelled to play the kind of lo-fi, roots salsa practiced by the ’60s Venezuelan group Federico y su Combo (who released a song called “Llegó la Salsa,” one of the first to mention the term, in 1967). He also cites Ray Pérez, the legendary Afro-Puerto Rican bandleader Rafael Cortijo, and most importantly, Brooklyn’s Lebrón Brothers, a group central to the creation of salsa that evolved from early experiments with English-language, Cuban-derived boogaloo and hit its stride with “Salsa y Control” in 1969, yet saw little commercial success.

“I identify with the rejection that the Lebrón Brothers experienced in their time,” Álvarez said. “I was attracted to their way of playing, the aggressiveness, but also their slowness, their introverted-ness.”



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