Sounds and Colours’ Best Albums of 2019

As is always the case myself and the rest of the Sounds and Colours team (which just keeps on growing!) ran a poll to find out our favourite albums of the year at the end of last year, resulting in our list of the 25 Best Albums of 2019, a fine selection to some of the great things that came out of Latin America and its diaspora last year.

We also put together this Spotify playlist featuring tracks from our favourite albums:

New Role as Songlines News Editor

Very happy to say that I recently took on a new role as Songlines News Editor which means I will be in charge of putting together the News section of Songlines magazine every month, starting from the March edition.

So, if you have any ground-breaking and/or scintillating news on world music please send it my way.

Latin Jazz Article in The Vinyl Factory

A little while ago I wrote an article for the Vinyl Factory, picking out some of my favourite Latin Jazz albums, which has just gone live. This one got a little controversy on the Vinyl Factory Facebook page as some felt that Latin jazz should be limited to jazz focused on Afro-Cuban rhythms. This seems a bit restrictive to me, as it excludes all jazz made from across Latin America that takes its cues from elsewhere. Clearly, there is also an established genre of Brazilian jazz, which could have been excluded from this list, but again, by very definition, Brazilian jazz should be included within the genre as it’s jazz that takes inspiration or has its roots in Latin rhythms and instrumentation.

See what I chose below:

That Brazilian Beat

It seems I can never quite get away from Latin music (not that I’d want to anyway). While recently reading Ken Emerson’s book Always Magic in the Air, brushing up on New York pop music from the 50s and 60s (songwriters like Bacharach and David, Lieber and Stoller, Goffin and King, and Mann and Weil) it was pointed out that the rhythm to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”, The Drifters “Under The Boardwalk” and The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” all stemmed from the Brazilian baião beat (written in Emerson’s book as the Anglicised baion). Listening to these tracks now, this is blatantly obvious, but I guess I never put the pieces together. Just listen to that opening gambit from “Be My Baby” or the rhythm of “Stand By Me”, whose scraper is clearly influenced by Latin music too:

Emerson puts the influence of Latin music on primarily Jewish songwriters and producers like Leiber & Stoller and Phil Spector as being down to their proximity to Latin communities, such as the Puerto Ricans, in New York, as well as the popularity of baião beat, which had arrived from Brazil. Little is said about exactly how this beat arrived in the US though some quick Google searches reveal that the performance of “El Negro Zumbón” in the 1952/53 Italian movie Anna may have been one of the first instances of it being heard in the States. Here’s that track below:

I think I may have to do some more digging on how this beat, which originated in the north-east of Brazil, was defined and popularised by the rural singer/songwriter Luiz Gonzaga, reaching national fame there in the 40s and 50s, and then found its way north to become a hugely important rhythm in global pop music. Definitely an interesting avenue to explore.

Circulart in Medellín

In November I was excited to be invited to be a part of Circulart, a music industry event that happens every year in Medellín. I have been reluctant to go to too many events like this in the past, especially when they happen in Europe. However, any invite to Latin America is hard to resist, especially when it means spending a few days in Medellín too!

As part of this event I took part in a panel offering insights into the British music industry (with a target audience of Latin American artists, agencies and labels), and which I’ve included a few snazzy photos from below.

Panel discussion on the British music industry at Circulart 2018

The rest of the time I spent exploring Medellín, checking out the showcases at Circulart (which featured some really nice acts, of which Michi Sarmiento was a big highlight) and also doing a few interviews for future articles (of which I will write about on the blog). Here’s Michi doing his thing:

Brazilian Vinyl in The Vinyl Factory and Long Live Vinyl

So back in November and December I spoke with a tonne of people about Brazilian vinyl and the outcome was two pretty sweet articles. The first was a look at the relationship between Brazil and Brazilian records, how Brazilians feel about the fact that the most expensive rare vinyl from their country is in foreign hands, about the styles of music that have taken off as a result of this search for Brazilian records by collectors in the US, UK and Japan, and about the independent record labels who are making it possible for new Brazilian bands to release their music on vinyl. This one was in The Vinyl Factory and you can read it online using the link below:

“It’s about taking responsibility for our future”: How Brazil is reclaiming its record culture

I also put together an article that looked specifically at the UK’s relationship with Brazilian records, about how there became a thirst for Brazilian music in the 90s, and how that grew with people like Gilles Peterson, and about how now there are quite a few labels in the UK releasing Brazilian music. The piece features interviews with John Armstrong, Joe from Far Out Recordings, David from Mr Bongo, Gilles Peterson and Deejay Cliffy, as well as some help from Robert at Stern Records and a few other peops. That piece is in Long Live Vinyl issue 10 and can only be read if you get the magazine I believe. Here’s the link to more info on the issue:

Long Live Vinyl Issue 10

B+ Has A New Photo Book Out

There was a time when I bumped into B+ semi-regularly in Colombia. He was always at the side of Quantic, first in Discos Fuentes studio in Medellín while Quantic was working on the first Ondatropica album, then in Cartagena for the second-ever Ondatropica concert, and then a year later there he was again in Nuqui on the Pacific Coast for a festival, taking photos and videos that would eventually form the music video for a Nidía Gongora and Quantic track. So, it was nice to get the chance to interview him for the release of his new photo book, which not only features some of his work in Colombia, but also his more-famous hip-hop shots as well as some of the iconic musicians he’s captured in Brazil and Ethiopia too.

The interview featured in The Vinyl Factory, as well as on Sounds and Colours. Check the links if you want to find out more about the book and B+’s work:

Music photographer B+ on his most iconic shots (The Vinyl Factory)

The Ghostnotes of Music Photographer B+ (Sounds and Colours)

Meridian Brothers Articles in The Wire and Pura Mestiza

I’ve been a huge fan of Meridian Brothers for many years so it was a great pleasure earlier this year to chat with Meridian mainman Eblis Álvarez about his latest album, ¿Dónde Estás María?, which is a continuation of the work he’s been doing, creating satirical, conceptual, very rhythmic work that equally draws from avant-garde ideas and Colombian mythology. In fact, on this latest effort he has stretched out even further to show an influence of pop, folk and guitar music from Peru and Brazil in his work. It’s a special record so give it a listen if you haven’t already. Here’s the link to the album on Soundway Records.

The result of our chat was a feature on Meridian Brothers in The Wire #403 and also an article that’s just been published online by Pura Mestiza, and that is available in English and Spanish.

I also asked Eblis to discuss some of the Brazilian records he has discovered on recent trips to Brazil (where he was touring with another band, Los Pirañas) and which you can check out on the Sounds and Colours website.

Check out the title track to the latest Meridian Brothers album below:

Writing and Editing by Latin American music expert Russell Slater