According to Wikipedia, Sofrito is a ‘combination of aromatic ingredients which have been cut in very small pieces, and slowly sautéed or braised in cooking oil…’. Such a description perfectly fits the aesthetics at play on the follow up to Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque by DJs Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis Sofrito: International Soundclash.
Sofrito itself started life, and still exists, in East London (the area of London where the Olympics are taking place), in the mid 2000s and built its legendary reputation on its Tropical Warehouse Parties, known and cherished for the quality and diversity of its music policy; only the best, deepest, oldest and newest cuts, drawn from across the globe but with an emphasis on tropical and African sounds—Nigerian acid boogie, Trinidadian soca, Colombia cumbia and other exotic music—made it to the turntables, and it was turntables, these guys are serious crate diggers in their never-ending search for the perfect beat. Their love of the black wax is evidenced in the release of the album on a double vinyl pressing, complete with gorgeous artwork designed by Lewis Heriz.
Such has been the consistent quality of the releases on Sofrito, namely 12” singles, that the label has reached the level of ‘quality assured’ joining luminaries such as Mr Bongo, Honest Jons, Brownswood and further afield Soundsway and Vampisoul in that you know that what you don’t know, will be worth knowing if it is released on one of these labels!
There are some real treats on this album, none more so than the opener by Lord Shorty & Vibrations International “Vibrations Groove”. With an opening line, delivered in deep, sonorous, rich velvet Trinidadian tones (how many more clichés?) “My name is Lord Shorty / And my band is the Vibrations International / We want to introduce you to a new musical sound called Soca / The sound of Calypso.”
Lord (Ras) Shorty then proceeds to talk us through how he structures this ‘new’ sound, calling on his musicians by name to step forward and play their component parts, starting with Paul Rouse and the bass drum. And this is all it takes for an instant foot tapping, head nodding, and smile inducing musical adventure to start. As each member steps forward, the groove gets more and more infectious and all the time Lord Shorty is exhorting us to get into it, and boy, I’m there. It’s a bonkers way to kick off an album but it works brilliantly, you’re immediately hooked.
Next up La Pesada throw up shimmering cumbia with “Cumbia y Tambo (En La Lluvia), great horn section and piano lines over a repeating vocal line and it’s into the Afro-Caribbean sounds of the Midnight Groovers and their very African sounding guitar rhythms played over organ and Caribbean vocal patterns.
The majestic London/Nairobi collaboration that is the Owiny Sigoma Band contributes a previously unreleased version of the track “Nabed Nade Ei Piny Ka F”, which highlights the continued evolution of cross cultural and global music. It’s outrageously hypnotic and just gets into a groove and stays there like a never ending 45” spinning round and round and round and… This then segues into the equally hypnotic voodoo rhythms of “Lese Yo Pale” by the Guadeloupe group Mas Ka Klé but this time it is more of a leg shaker and you can see dance floors quickly filling to these sounds.
Other highlights are Bell’a Njoh squelchy bass lines and Stevie Wonder like fat keys on the uplifting “Ebolo”, and Sofrito’s own house/disco/pan edit of the 1979 killer track by Concept Neuf’, “The Path”. Another absolute guaranteed floor filler on this album.
A personal favourite comes near the end with Sartana et Son Groupe Mistral’s call and response and solo vocal track “Information Par Le Mistral”. The drums keep up an incessant driving percussion in tandem with the bass and it never lets up once in the entire 5’20 duration. Simply a stunning song and one I’m grateful to Hugo and Frankie for introducing me to. But the highlights keep coming, none more so than with Afro Festival led by Fantastic Tchico Tchicaya and “El Manicero”, a 1979 song, recorded in Lagos, by a Congolese musician that has elements of Mariachi, Chanson, Steel Pan Caribbean and African rhythms and is over eight minutes long. I mean, how do begin to critique that? Answer is you don’t. You just sit back and savour its brilliance.
Everything about this record is quality, from the double vinyl release, the individual and thoughtfully designed artwork, the impeccable sequencing of the tracks and of course the incredible array of sounds from across the globe that come together to make the hour or so of listening so pleasurable and where suddenly the world a much sunnier and better place to be.
This album will please those armchair musical anthropologists amongst us whilst appealing to the merely curious. Whichever camp you fall into, you won’t be disappointed with your purchase of this stunning album.
// Notes from the Road
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