A Cakewalk on the Latin Side

Charanga Cakewalk – Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge
Charanga Cakewalk

Loteria de la Cumbia Lounge (Triloka/Artemis ARTCD-256, 2004)

Being a hardcore fan of global music shouldn’t preclude a person from possessing a working knowledge of more mainstream music. I, however, am not a case in point. So when I read in this CD’s promotional materials that Charanga Cakewalk mastermind Michael Ramos is a multi-instrumentalist who has played with
the likes of The BoDeans, The Rembrandts and Patty Griffin, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. The promo blurb also said, however, that Ramos has had a lifelong love of the Latin music (Tito Puente, Santana, etc.) he heard so much of while growing up. And then there was the fact that the title bespoke two subgenres of Latin music (charanga and cumbia) that I’m fond of. So I popped the disc in for a listen and was immediately quite taken with what I heard.

The first track, “Belleza,” does indeed get its bounce from the galloping Afro-Colombian style called cumbia, as does much of the rest of the disc. But there’s more going on. Ramos’ Latin leanings are extensive, and these contemporarily chilled pieces (note the word “lounge” in the title as well) restructured around live and programmed Latin beats, accordion, guitar, strings, horns, melodica and cryptic vocals, all given varying degrees of mystical or whimsical nuance.

The sound is multifaceted, allowing for a balance of techno and human touch not often enough struck in projects of this sort. Ramos plays most of the instruments and thus fully understands that production trickery without a genuinely musical edge carries no weight. So while this fine piece of work owes its realization to the way music is made in the most modern of times, it’s also rooted in Latin sounds of decades past and places distant.

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