SUMMER SONGS 08: ROBERTO GYEMANT


(Editor’s Note: Roberto “Beto” Gyemant is an old friend around here (even if I only met him about a year ago); he’s becoming one of the leading chroniclers of Latin music in Central and South America thanks to his work on the Panama and Colombia anthologies. That just scratches the surface of where he’s headed (a Panama 2 comp is due out this fall) and wherever Beto leads, you know Soul Sides will follow. —O.W.)

Written by Roberto Gyemant:

When I think of summer songs, the first thing that pops in my mind is DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”, or Mary J. Blige and Method Man’s version of “You’re All I Need to Get By”… For some reason I have this vision of driving down Monterey Blvd. in San Francisco, going toward the freeway past the liquor store where, if you turned left, you might get lost in the Sunnyside area that in my highschool years was one of a number of “rival” territories. That’s when San Francisco had ethnic and working class neighborhoods, and you had to watch where you went and who was walking down the street toward you. Not to romanticize that too much, but it had its charms.

Going back a little further, I think about my brother Towtruck George’s huge picnics in Golden Gate Park, barbecued hotdogs, cragmont drinks… Footballs whizzed through the air, caught by little puffy headed fools like me (with long curls past the collar), wearing either a Montana, Jerry Rice or Ronnie Lott jersey. Harleys were started and raucously revved. And blasting from a boombox was a Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride”, ZZ Top’s “La Grange”, Malo’s “Suavecito”, War’s “Slippin Into Darkness” and anything by native son Carlos Santana.

Summers seemed to last forever then, but they go by so fast now (grumble grumble). Since I see many contributors have covered the R&B and Hip Hop territory, and know much more about it than I do, I’ll focus on a few songs I have been listening to lately, and am playing this summer at the Elbo room in SF (last Friday of every month: come by and enjoy).

For those interested, I played some related songs on KUSF’s Friday night session with Andrew Jervis a few weeks ago.

Catalino y su Combo: Tan Bella y Tan Presumida
  From Tan Bella… y… Tan Presumida! (Orbe Colombia, 1964)

This is Catalino el Negro de Barranquilla (Colombia). Catalino is great, really raw, tons of swing and attitude. Most of his covers have him straddled by two white girls in bikinis. This song, a big hit in the region in the mid ‘60s (Venezuelans loved it) is listed as a Tamborera, a bouncy, percussive folklororic form from Panama (which used to be “Colombia’s black province” before 1903). That Catalino executed it so well in Barranquilla is no surprise: look at a map, its just up the coast, and turtle fishermen made the circuit from Colombia to Panama and Costa Rica annually.

  What’s really interesting about this song, other than its’ hot hot heat, is pay attention to the beat… does it remind you of a form that’s flooding the airwaves right now, emanating from Latin America? I won’t name the form, you figure it out, but listen to this: that form, say those in the know, originated in Panama, not in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. So did the Tamborera. Wait, am I saying that that form came from or was influenced by the Tamborera? You decide.

Los Curramberos de Guayabal: Guayabita Colora
From Los Curramberos de Guayabal Vol.3 (Tropical Colombia, 1965)

Los Curramberos de Guayabal (note: different than Los Corraleros de Majagual) were a little vallenato-style cumbia supergroup from the Carribean coast of Colombia that included the likes of Alberto Pacheco and Anibal Velasquez. I love this song, and hear it as a perfect fusion of accordion-led Vallenato and hot Afro percussion. The diversity of Afro-Colombian music is mind-boggling. Colombia is somewhere between 20-40% black, with that population concentrated along the coasts, which is where the Cumbia, Porro and Vallenato all come from.

Ceferino Nieto y su Conjunto Bella Luna: Zum Zum Babae
From 7” (El Estilista Panama, 1967)

Ceferino Nieto is one of the greats of Panama’s Musica Típica scene. Ceferino’s cover of Zum Zum Babae highlights the link between Panama’s and Colombia’s Mestizo/Mulato/Afro country music culture, with its raw percussion and accordion mastery. It also points out how deeply Afro-Cuban music penetrated Panama, that those from the deep countryside were moved enough by this classic Cuban guaracha to spin their own version. Panama was always a critical center for the diaspora of Afro-Cuban music. Beny Moré and Perez Prado played (and were celebrated) there before they exploded in the US and Cuba. Even through the “salsa” explosion of the late 1970s Fania test marketed many songs in Panama, because if it could pass the fans there, it stood a good chance of being a hit in the wider “salsa” world.

Los Silvertones: El Baile del Araña
From 7” (DiscoMundo Panama, 1969)

This song is listed as a “bosanova”. Leave it to the musicians of Panama in the 1960s and 70s to take a bossa nova beat, marry it to a funk bassline, and blow funky yet very Caribbean hornlines over it. It occurs to me that there was a certain openness that came from living during that period and being a talented, bilingual Afro-Panamanian whose parents were English speaking Jamaican and Bajan laborers. The combination of being liminal to Panama, not quite accepted, brilliant, bilingual, and black: and exposed to Jazz, Afro-Cuban music, Brazilian music, James Brown, The Impressions, Carlos Santana… I don’t know. But it’s the only way I can begin to explain “El Baile del Araña”, which fittingly, composer Carlos Allen told me was just them messing around in the studio. Sigh.


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