Various Artists

Drums of South America

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AllMusic Review by

As if attempting to breathe life back into the ghost of its past vinyl glories, the Ocora label stuffed three different volumes of percussion-based music from south of the Rio Grande in a box, and the result is a monstrous accumulation of music that might almost be too much even for the kind of fellow who asks to be buried with his conga drum. If a quick summation is required of these strange bedfellows -- because after all, why choose simply Venezuela, Guadalupe, and Cuba to represent the Drums of South America? -- then it would be that Venezuela is the really eerie, transcendent one of the batch; the Cuban survey hits the highest points, but just try sitting through it all at once, and the Guadalupe excursion is where the avid ethnic music listener will find the totally out-of-control energy and weirdness sought every time the plastic wrap is split open on a jewel case. These sets could just as easily have been represented as singing from South America, because in practically every format represented here various combinations of lead singers and vocal choirs are at work, the drums quite often filling their traditional timekeeping mission. But at any rate many drums are whacked, and the hardest hitting seems to occur in the gwo ka music of Guadalupe, where the boula drummers wield a literal roll of whacks, threatening to overwhelm all existing recording and playback technology. In Cuba much use is made of the rhythmic trick of keeping the simplest time on a high-pitched metallic cowbell of some kind. Like the role of the triangle in Cajun music, this allows the deeper-voiced rhythm instruments, in the Cuban case the drums, a chance to rumble with each other and it is about as far from the surgically precise attack of a funk drummer as one can get in African-based music. Still, if either disc is simply too propulsive, the place to go would be Venezuela, where the music seems to have captured the essence of a raft floating slowly down a jungle stream and not encountering any funny fellows armed with blowguns. If suggesting that the best way to listen to this is with windows open, bird sounds allowed to blend, then it is simply in keeping with what seems to be the attitude of the players involved, who eventually include different types of whistles to interact with the drumming and singing from a perch somewhere in the upper echelon of octaves. It seems as if they are already imitating birds. Further comment can be found in reviews of the original volumes, but a few final comments can be made about this noble label's transition into the CD era. The tradition of high-quality photography and informative liner notes in several languages continues here, as does the generosity with the music. Just as many of the label's vinyl projects from its heyday pushed the envelope on side length, these volumes are each over 70 minutes long. The additional length does not solve the editing problems that gave some of the vintage Ocora projects a choppy feel, however. Maybe there is no solution to this problem other than the seemingly impossible proposition of releasing performances such as these in their entirety, even if that means hearing only one song per CD. Hearing one of these incredible Cuban tracks fade after eight minutes -- as opposed to after four in the vinyl days -- is no less frustrating. In fact, it could be more, as if one has waited an additional five minutes for a bus that is never going to come. But that is not to compare the project with a facacta bus schedule -- anything but that. This Ocora set is a deluxe coach indeed. Considering the fact that no special effort is made to link the three volumes together other than a cardboard enclosure, not even in price, then it can easily be added that the individual volumes seem just as comfortable a way to travel.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Title/Composer Performer Time
1
8:50
2
7:12
3
9:29
4
8:04
5
9:25
6
12:31
7
7:35
8
7:38
9
5:21
blue highlight denotes track pick