At the Edge of Totally Addictive Salsa

Bio Ritmo - La Verdad
Bio Ritmo

La Verdad (Electric Cowbell Records, 2011)

Salsa band Bio Ritmo has become one of the hottest acts in the American tropical music field. La Verdad keeps the finest salsa tradition alive by maintaining the essence of salsa, while at the same incorporating new elements such as electronic beats, jazz, and Brazilian percussion and rhythms combined with Afro-Cuban beats. In addition, the last cut on the album ventures in the global electronics/dub realm.

Bio Ritmo comes from Richmond, Virginia. Northerners and West Coasters have misguided stereotypes about the American South and what is going on here musically, but we are not surprised to find such a fine group of musicians who come come various ethnic backgrounds. Things have changed. “Richmond has an amazing music, arts, and food scene,” says keyboardist Marlysse Simmons. “This is a real vintage loving town with a lot of history.”

The 10-member band was formed 20 years ago, originally as a percussion ensemble brought together by two Puerto Rican musicians, who met at art school, combined with a local punk rock drummer. Bio Ritmo performs its own material. The charismatic vocals of Rei Alvarez, the vintage-style keyboards of Marlysse Simmons, the fiery brass arrangements, the powerful electric bass, and the use of the cuica (Brazilian friction drum) combined with the familiar congas and bongos, characterize the sound of Bio Ritmo. “We don’t really fit in with the norm when it comes to salsa,” adds Marlysse Simmons. “A lot of people actually have issues with us since we don’t look or act like a salsa band should. They get freaked out that we are from Richmond. Others are just scared of the world ‘salsa.’ I’m actually afraid of the word sometimes myself since the commercial market has completely ruined what once was such an awesome thing. We love breaking down the barriers, playing for people who appreciate good music and most of all we want people to dance however they feel like. If they know the dance steps or not it doesn’t matter.”

Rei Alvarez, a native of Ponce, Puerto Rico, is the lead singer, composer, visual artist and one of the original founders. Together with veteran timbales maestro and musical arranger Giustino Riccio, pianist and composer Marlysse Simmons and trombonist and composer Tobias Whitaker, they lead the group in writing seductive songs that appeal to various generations of fans.

The band cites influences that range from salsa masters such as El Gran Combo, Roberto Roena, Sonora Ponceña and Bobby Valentin, to The Who, Thomas Dolby, Stereolab, Buzzcocks, Roots Radics and Arabic singer Abdel Halim Hafez.

We’ve always considered us students of salsa music and aimed at having a ‘classic salsa’ sound through our compositions, but always incorporating an experimental approach to our method,” explains Alvarez . “In our last album Bionico more of our individual influences came through to really define our style, beginning what felt like a new era. With La Verdad, we have remained on this new path, which seems to be the most truthful to our sound. Hence the album title and title track, which means ‘the truth’. This message also comes through in the cover drawing, as well, which illustrates the quote “The soul must be open to fly free”.

Bio Ritmo’s current line-up is: Rei Alvarez on vovals amd percussion; Marlysse Simmons on piano, Rhodes, Farfisa; Giustino Riccio on timbales, drumset, cuica, Drumfire, coro; Hector Barez on conga; Mike Montañez on bongos; Bob Miller on trumpet, Moog, coro; Mark Ingraham on trumpet; Tobias Whitaker on trombone; JC Kuhl on tenor sax; and Edward Prendergast on bass.

La Verdad is available on CD, digitally, and a limited pressing 12” vinyl.

With La Verdad, edgy salsa band Bio Ritmo brings you seductive Afro-Latin grooves combined with 1970s experimental keyboards and captivating lyrics, demonstrating that they are one of the most interesting acts in the current American salsa scene.

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