Grupo la Flama

Sin Ella

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In the 21st century, banda's more experimental artists are incorporating so many different influences -- everything from hip-hop, funk, and soul to Afro-Cuban salsa and Dominican merengue -- that some purists feel banda is becoming watered down. But what is watered down to one person is expansive and forward-thinking to another, and accusing Yolanda Pérez, Rogelio Martínez, Jenni Rivera, or Banda Jerez of watering banda down is sort of like saying that Miles Davis watered down jazz or that Rubén Blades watered down salsa. Besides, banda still has plenty of traditionalists, and Grupo la Flama usually fits that description on Sin Ella (Without Her). The exuberant "Sonríeme Otra Vez" has a very disco-ish quality, but more often than not, this 31-minute CD uses banda for ranchera purposes -- and Mexican traditionalists should have no problem with the way la Flama approaches familiar songs like Jesús Plata Lucio's "Lágrimas y Botellas," Paulino Vargas' "Asómate a Mi Copa," and Eva Torres' "De la Tierra al Cielo." Sin Ella (Without Her) is an album that usually plays up the ranchera side of banda and does so without apology. However, it should be noted that la Flama hasn't been describing Sin Ella as banda but rather as a "nuevo estilo" (new style) termed "tierra caliente." What do they define as "tierra caliente?" Essentially, it is downsized banda -- not duranguense (which is Durango, Mexico's very recognizable way of downsizing banda), but Sinaloa-influenced music that uses fewer instruments. Grupo la Flama (as opposed to calling themselves Banda la Flama) consists of six players and two singers on this album -- and a large banda would have a lot more players. Nonetheless, la Flama brings plenty of banda brassiness (much more than one gets with duranguense) to Sin Ella, a 2005 release that should please banda fans even though la Flama doesn't consider it banda.

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