Various Artists

Vaya Rumba!: Fiery Rhythms From the Heart of Catalonia

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Despite the ubiquity of the Gipsy Kings and the many interviews they have given on the subject, it's astonishing how many listeners still think the gypsy rhumba is fake flamenco played by hacks. Actually, the rhumba's relationship to flamenco is almost precisely that of rock & roll's to jazz: a more accessible, danceable offshoot that is quite compelling in its own way. In rhumba, nobody sits around waiting for lightning to strike. Instant gratification is the ticket and the singers are immediately wreathed in fiery yet mellow guitars, swinging rhythms, and volleys of handclaps. Some musicians are even adept at both styles. Jose Reyes, the father of half the Gipsy Kings, was a great flamenco cante jondo (deep singing) stylist who performed with Manitas de Plata at Carnegie Hall. However, during his rare downtime, he loved to kick back with friends and groove with a set of rhumbas. No member of the Reyes clan is represented on this collection, but almost everybody else puts in an appearance. Most importantly, there are two tunes by Peret, who has long been the absolute ruler of the Barcelona rhumba posse, and one by the great Gato Perez. "Retrato a Sevilla" by De Los Rio is included here, but a little ditty called "La Macarena" was their biggest hit. Dolores Vargas seeks inspiration as far afield as Colombian Cumbia or Puerto Rican salsa, but she embellishes them with sinuous Moorish vocal patterns. The most entertaining oddity is a version of Mory Kante's West African electric kora extravaganza, "Yeke Yeke," given the full rhumba treatment by Los Lachos.

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