This Rough Guide explores the heady influence of psychedelia on salsa, from the fuzzy tropical guitars of the sixties and seventies to today’s cutting edge bands experimenting with weird & wonderful psychedelic sounds.
Psychedelic rock and salsa came of age together in the mid to late 1960s under parallel socio-cultural circumstances of upheaval, unrest and experimentation within the respective youth cultures of their core audiences; the best known apotheoses being Santana in rock and Eddie Palmieri in salsa. Aside from the obvious Afro-Cuban influences in both artists, the historical connections between the psychedelic and salsa may not be that readily obvious to the casual observer, but there are quite a few, and this compilation aims to shed some light in this regard, at least musically.
Historically there are direct connections between the world of the hippie counter-culture (Woodstock, Bill Graham, social protest) and Latin music (from Fania’s Jerry Masucci being friends with Woodstock’s Michael Lang to ‘mambonik’ Bill Graham urging Santana to cover Tito Puente). But this also went the other way, with salsa orchestra leader Larry Harlow (featured here with Grupo Fantasma) simultaneously having a psychedelic rock band (Ambergris), and Palmieri recording his Grammy-winning psychedelic salsa masterpiece The Sun of Latin Music in Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland studios, not to mention the radical pianist’s underground Latin funk crossover project, Harlem River Drive. In places like Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and especially Peru, non-Latin global youth culture – or at least some of the music, dress, art, and social attitude – was quite influential as well, producing tropical music with fuzzed out guitars, echo effects, and electric keyboards (Fruko, Los Pambele, Nelson, Ray Pérez, Conjunto Siglo 21, Los Sander’s).
In the late 1970s through to the 1990s, discotheque remix dance culture spawned the psychedelic extended salsa mixes of studio wizards like Baron Lopez and the wild playing of Cuban violinist Alfredo de la Fé (featured here with Orchestra Rytmo Africa-Cubana), both of which factored in trippy dub effects borrowed from another Caribbean music with psychedelic leanings, namely reggae.
This collection explores not only those early connections and cross-pollinating influences but also the resurgence of interest in the subject of the psychedelic sound today, from a revival of the experimental vibe that made the early years of salsa so varied and interesting to the equally intriguing phenomenon of retro analogue aesthetics that seems to be on the rise.
Current Latin artists like Bio Ritmo, La Mecánica Popular, Bacalao Men, Quantic, Fantasma and San Lázaro have found themselves looking back to the days of progressive, open attitudes when the emphasis was on message and music, not on singer as star or producing bland pop for mass consumption. This is, perhaps, a reaction to the fallout of the over-commercialisation and dilution of salsa in the 1980s and the concurrent ascendance of merengue, bachata and (later) reggaeton. The influence of rare groove collecting, DJ-driven investigations into the golden era, and a spill-over from the success of retro funk and soul acts like Sharon Jones have shaped current ‘indie’ salsa production as well.