Various Artists

Achili Funk: Gipsy Soul 1969-1979

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The sleeve notes included in Achili Funk: Gipsy Soul 1969-1979 -- from the great Spanish imprint Lovemonk -- describe the style as "a proposal to recover the Afro-American influences that spilled Spanish music rooted in rumba and flamenco. Everything started in the '60s. The legendary rumba singer Peret set the start of it all from Barcelona, the birthplace of the new genre. Spanish rumba comes mainly from the collision of flamenco with Afro-Cuban rumba, funk, soul, and Fania Sound." All right then! The package is almost worth the price all by itself. Coming in a hip gold-and-black slipcase with postmodern script adorning the front, this set contains the disc in an ultra-slimline, hot-pink digipack, with a lavender booklet of 112 pages in three languages -- Spanish, English, and Japanese -- with photos, full track info, and more facts than you could absorb in one or ten sittings. The music was compiled by DJ Txarly Brown, who is also a graphic designer and professional crate-digger. He's been obsessed with all things rhumba for the past few years, and this compilation is the logical outlet for that passion. There are 17 cuts here; 15 of them are vintage and two are newly recorded covers including -- strangely enough -- the set opener, "Gato," written by Joe Cuba and performed by the big daddy of Spanish soul, Peret with Los Fulanos, the sole remaining boogaloo combo in Spain! Cuba's hit version was a redo of a song by Puerto Rican vocalist Cheo Feliciano. It is a drawn-out, passionate, sultry affair. This one begins that way. It nods to the Cuba version, but kicks into its own gear turning it into badass funky killer. With Peret's low-end growling vocals contrasted against the three-part harmony of Los Fulanos, with horns, percussion, congas, bubbling basslines, and Hammond B-3, he moves into his higher baritone range for the lyric and the chanted refrain. With everybody joining in, the music shoves Nuyorican boogaloo, funk, Gypsy, and rhumba all in a stew and moves into even higher gear at about the halfway mark, and it simply pushes through the groove sound barrier. Even in terms of its production it's difficult to hear this as a modern tune, but it moves like one and is an obvious choice for a single here.

No matter what followed this would seem like a letdown, but that's not the case: things just shift gears with Encarnita Polo's "Paco, Paco, Paco" from 1969, with its plucky funky bassline, strings, and electric guitars against the rhythm and breaks, and hand percussion and the strangely Catalonian Gypsy folk element of flamenco siphoned into the bridge. Things are far more driving in Chacho's "Bum Bum" from 1969, where a blistering horn section wanders through the rhumba and boogaloo fields, with a healthy bit of grainy soul in the mix, too. Things change up again on "El Garrotín" by the proto-psychedelic Gypsy band called Smash from 1971, with a pop tune that could have come from the early Brit psychedelic era -- if it were strained through the deep harmonic and melodic folk music of the Gypsy and if bass players of that era in the U.K. (and America for that matter) could actually play the bass. The meld of electric and nylon-string guitars, the gorgeous flamenco wailing of the lead vocal, and the tight, sculptured pop/rock harmonies with a wah-wah lead guitar that takes a screaming freakout solo is almost too much for the head to contain. Peret is back with two of his original recordings from 1971 and 1972. First there is outrageously freaky-deaky "Si Fulano," where surf, rhumba, multi-tracked echo chambers, Puerto Rican soul, and funk all mash up together with killer Gypsy chanting and nylon-string guitar fills and soloing. The drums come from out of the same reverb channel as the electric guitars and simply roll into one another, creating polyrhythms out of a single beat. Smoking. His other cut, "Chavi," begins with a low-rider bassline, full of plectrum reverb and a spitting rolling hi-hat and snare, before the Hammond enters and things get really gritty (this could have been on one of the Shaolin Soul comps if anyone knew about it). You can think of Hector Lavoe singing a funky rhumba jam extrapolation on Syl Johnson's "I Hear the Love Chimes," slotted for a street drama exploitation flick. This is the tune playing when things get heavy in the nightclub.

Other heavy cuts here include Rabbit Rumba's smoking "Caramelos" from 1972 and Rumba Tres' deeply funky, primitive keyboard and fat-bottom trombone section that duels with wah-wah guitars -- electric and acoustic (!) -- in the Afro-Spanish funk that is "Rumba Tru, La, La." This is one of the hottest jams on the set, with claves criss-crossing rhumba rhythms with funk drums, basslines, and handclaps that would make Nile Rodgers and George Clinton sick with envy. Spanish pop soaked up everything from the Nuyorican, Cuban, and African-American soul camps, including disco that's so driving and funky it wastes much of what was made up north -- one can see Larry Levan going out of his mind over Los Marismenos' "Pares o Nones," where the Cuban son, Gypsy rhumba, and deep funk all meet flamenco. If Americanski DJs and kids had been exposed to disco this fine, gritty, and hardcore, they might have felt differently about it breaking records in stadiums. There is no bassline this taught and punchy in any disco record from up north. Period. Add the disco synth propulsion to flamenco as opposed to son and rhumba and you get the acid vision that is Los Chunguitos' "Baila Mi Ritmo,'" where horns, electronics, popping keyboard basslines, and complex counter-chanted four-part harmony make the Trammps look anemic.

The bottom line is that there isn't a single unworthy cut here -- no sleepers -- and this is no novelty set. Those who simply crave nostalgia for its hipster kitsch value will soon tire of the music here because it is so diverse, knotty, and magnificent; it may be informed by the past because that's where it came from, but it's still ahead of its time here in Anglo-world. In many ways, despite its enormous popularity in Spain back in the day, this music is virtually unheard here. The only complaint is that it wasn't a double-disc set -- but you would have needed a hardbound book to dig into the rest of this history. This is a fantastic set, worth owning for anyone even remotely interested in listening to the blurry terrains where transcultural pollination and popular music meet and dance. These are beautifully recorded songs, dug from the masters in deep dark record shops as well as from the charts in Spain. Rarities, antiquities, yeah -- but have you listened to a hip-hop or house record lately? Uh huh. Achili Funk: Gipsy Soul 1969-1979 is hopefully only the opening salvo in a barrage of cannonball collections to make their way onto these shores and into our ears. We have much to learn here in America, and it is best represented that what the soul, boogaloo, funk, rock, and disco genres gave to Spain, they gave back to us exponentially bigger, wider, and deeper than we could have previously imagined.

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