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Cartagena!: Curro Fuentes & the Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Columbia 1962-72

(Soundway; US: 1 Mar 2011; UK: 28 Feb 2011)

Antonio Fuentes’s label Discos Fuentes, begun in 1934, is a fundamental part of Columbian pop music as we know it. Fuentes churned out records of cumbia and fandango music, among others, but was also party to a marriage of sounds from around the globe that would influence Columbia music for decades. Cartagena! shows us some of the fruits of his labor, and his lasting cultural impact, by focusing on the career of his youngest brother Curro Fuentes. In these songs, recorded between 1962 and 1972, we see another shift. Sounds like fandango and cumbia, still in their infancy themselves, were meshing with salsa and, as the title here correctly suggests, a big-band bombast that make these songs sound huge—hear the pure size of the horns on Lalo Orozco Y Su Orquesta’s “Salsa Sabrosa”—and charged with a new, modern energy.


As immediate as these songs are as dance numbers, with a lot of the early track providing a quick, three-minute pop punch, it’s the more expansive tracks here that are the most compelling. The piano runs on “La Cumbia Del Pescador” by Puerto Rico Y Su Combo, and the tumbling bass solos all through El Gran Romancito Y El Super Combo Curro’s “Hololulu” tap into the improvisation and vamping of jazz music, but there’s also a real thump to these that hints at both Western funk music and afrobeat. Whether all of these influence are intentional is hard to say at every turn, but as with the other best Soundway releases, Cartagena! is both a thrilling representation of a moment in a country’s musical history, and another lesson in how music can communicate across borders, and how influences mesh and grow with each other organically to make vital new sounds, ones strong enough to take root in culture rather than drifting away as trends.

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Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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