Since the 1970s, Colombian singer and dancer Toto La Momposina has been dancing and singing the music of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline on stages and in music halls across the globe. She comes from the village of Talaigua on an island in the great Magdalena River. Her 1993 album, La Candela Viva, issued on Real World, was produced by Phil Ramone and John Hollis, and is an enduring classic of Colombian, South American, and Afro-Latin traditional sources. It has been sampled by everyone from Timbaland to Michel Cleis. In 2009, after a request from the latter, Hollis (by then Momposina's son-in-law) sought the masters at Real World Studios and discovered a wealth of forgotten material, some 20 songs and 40 takes. In December of 2014, he remixed, re-imagined, and re-created the album with support and assistance from Real World's Amanda Jones. He and Momposina added new unreleased songs, scraped down some mixes to the core, and used alternate takes. He added backing vocals and handclaps from Momposina's granddaughters Maria del Mar -- who was a toddler at the original sessions -- and Orianna Melissa. In Bogota the following February, Momposina's son Marco Vinicio and Nestor Vanegas added bass and guitar tracks to emphasize the groove quotient, and came up with what amounts to an entirely different album; it's sparser and rawer, more immediate. The percussion on Jose Barros' cumbia "El Pescador" is more up front, as is the backing chorus; this take is slightly slower, adding to the celebratory feel in a narrative that celebrates returning fishermen. On "Chi Chi Mana," a guitar has been added to the tipple, creating an interplay that underscores its Afro-Latin heritage. "Gallacinto" is a traditional chant from Talaigua that didn't make La Candela Viva. In call-and-response, Mamposina directs the changing rhythms (it's a dance). She is accompanied by handclaps, percussion, and the vociferous chorus. "Curara" finds the gaita flutes mixed to the very front of the song. They flesh out the dimension of the tale's lovers and dialogue with the chorus, while Momposina is the poet who narrates their unresolved desire. The closing title track is a funeral dirge that contains several rhythms -- from cumbia to negro, mapale to Afro. The bomba and tambor drums hypnotically engage with the chorale as Momposina simultaneously moans in grief and offers tribute to the song's absent subject. It gathers in dynamic force until it explodes in celebration. The handsome package contains three sets of liner notes (one an essay from Momposina), many wonderful photos, an English translation of the lyrics, and track by track annotations. It doesn't matter if one has heard La Candela Viva, Tambolero is an inspired, masterful re-interpretation from an artist who has learned much more about these songs and their origins since the '90s. It is an exercise in pure joy.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek