Totó La Momposina / Totó La Momposina y Sus Tambores

La Candela Viva

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Tóto La Momposina is more than a name. It's a place, a people, and way a life, exemplified in the music created by one woman and her group -- many of whom are members of her family. They come from Talaigua, a village on the island of Mompos in the northern Colombian river of Magdalena, and the music they make comes from their ancestors. Much of it, like the cumbias "Dos de Febrero" and "El Pescador," is driven by voices and percussion, with Tóto in particular displaying a powerful vocal strength. However, the musical crossover becomes more interesting with the sextet piece "La Sombra Negra," which was brought over to Colombia by black Cubans, and shows its origins in the guitar and tiple playing and rhythms, as well as the style of harmonies in the voices. You can think of this music as folkloric, preserving a tradition that's in danger of extinction, and in many ways you'd be right -- the gaita playing of "Dáme la Mano Juancho," for example, is redolent of that. But when the rhythm of "Mapale" explodes from the speakers, it's impossible to think of this as anything but living, breathing, and right now. That's reinforced by the title track, where the drums sizzle under the voices, with Tóto once again in the center, with the kind of lungs that come across all too rarely, and a tone to die for. Tóto La Momposina is a singular talent. Though the centerpiece of this record, she's happy to sit back and let the spotlight shine on others, as on "La Acabación," a surprisingly sprightly funeral tune from San Basilio de Palenque. But her presence is always commanding, and the music she makes is wonderful indeed.

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