In the 1960s, salsa’s sprightly piano melodies, clave rhythms and syncopated percussion took off in New York, and its deeply kinetic combination became a popular form of dance music. It’s also a contentious umbrella term for a hybrid of Cuban dance styles such as the son montuno and mamba, as well as Puerto Rican bomba and the swing of Latin jazz. For Colombian producers Paulo Olarte and Sebastián Hoyos, AKA Contento, that made it ripe ground for reinterpretation. When they met at a concert given in 2011 by salsa pioneer Eddie Palmieri, they realised they shared a love for the music. Five years later, they began collaborating, meeting in their respective homes of Geneva and Barcelona, and using percussion, drum machines, keyboards and bass to produce a debut album that deftly merges Afro-Caribbean rhythms with a lo-fi take on the sun-dappled sound of Latin salsa.
The duo call their music “salsapunk”: tracks such as Pelo Negro put a jittering cumbia rhythm under its nods to Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, while Loco Por Tu Amor filters a salsa bassline through the crunchy distortion of a drum machine and trills of synth melody, as if taking a chiptune hammer to this music’s acoustic conventions. Yet the highlights come with Contento’s subtler salsa manipulations. Dale Melón steadily builds big band orchestration around Olarte and Hoyos’ nonchalant, almost singalong vocal harmonies – as if they were shouting the words over the thrum of a surrounding party – while Paso Palante provides a deeply satisfying mix of Afrobeat melody with a clave punctuation; a warm embrace of diasporic influences, from Tito Puente to Fela Kuti. It is a joyful record: modernising without resorting to parody or pastiche, a vehicle of infectious positivity that embraces the varied makeup of an ineffable and enduring genre.
Also out this month
Turkish composer Elif Yalvaç releases a deeply atmospheric collection of ambient, transportive compositions on Mountains Become Stepping Stones, released on 4 December. Inspired by the glacial landscapes of Iceland and Norway, Yalvaç’s work seamlessly shifts from meditative moods to disruptive electronic textures. Journalist Nick Luscombe delves into the Nippon Columbia vaults for the release of the Tokyo Dreaming compilation – a celebratory take on 80s Japanese synthpop, including tracks from Ryuichi Sakamoto and the group Mariah. It’s released on 27 November. Turkish psych innovators Moğollar release a new recording of a selection of tracks taken from their five decade-long catalogue, Anatolian Sun. Highlights include the intricate saz melodies of 7-8 9-8 and the desert rock of Toprak Ana. It’s released on 11 December.