La India Canela

Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic

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La India Canela is the stage name of accordionist Lidia María Hernández López, whose blistering runs on the instrument have made her the perfect merengue bandleader, and this vigorous and vital 13-song set from Smithsonian/Folkways is further testament to her talent and skill. Leading a band that includes Rodolfo Óscar Delarosa Arias (tambora), Alfonso González Perdomo (bass), Ramón Eladio Jiminéz (guira), Félix Ulloa Valdez (saxophone), Juan Cruz (vocals), Felix Cabrera (congas), Ramón Andújar (tambora), Luís Reyes Batista (saxophone), and vocalist Paul Roman (who also arranged most of the selections here and co-produced the album with Sydney Hutchinson), La India shines on these traditional-styled tipico romps, most of which are taken at break-neck speed. Tipico merengue differs from the better known big band ("merengue de orquesta") style by having less reliance on horns, increased percussion, and by pushing the diatonic button accordion to the forefront. Tipico also uses improvisation as a key component, while the big-band variety relies more on set charts and arrangements as a matter of necessity. That improvisational quality is what gives the tipico tracks on this lively album their verve and spunk, and it's impossible to even think of trying to stay still while listening to these sides. Among the highlights are the rocket-fueled opener, "Aprietame Asi," La India's signature tune from the early '90s, the African-sounding "El Rancho," a La India original that makes use of palos drums, and the instrumental "Las Siete Pasadas," which turns into a tour de force for La India, who handles the seven separate and difficult melody themes with a speed and ease that is truly astounding. Filled with joy, passion, and enough energy to put a rocket on the moon, Merengue Tipico from the Dominican Republic is a pure delight from start to finish.

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