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Spam Allstars

Introducing Spam Allstars

(World Music Network; US: 26 Aug 2008; UK: 25 Aug 2008)

The group takes its name from the man who invented it, DJ Le Spam, who, if you look at the cover picture, is the one with the shaved head standing between the man in the light grey hat and the woman cocking one hand on her hip. In the liner notes, the producer says that the name reminds him of emails and meat substitute. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for the word spam to have crept in here, there is no in-joke or pun attached to it, no connection between the Afro-Latin music Spam Allsters likes to make and the pink blocks of pig meat, water, and salt that come compressed in tins. In fact the opposite. The tracks on this album have a feeling of freedom about them, of unspamlike variety and decompression, as if each one on its own could easily roll on for hours without running out of steam. They seem complete but not finished. In other words, they are fine as they are but would not get worse if the group went back to them in the future and tweaked them to accommodate new musicians, or a fresh piece of musical business. A track like “Campanario” seems primed to accommodate almost anything. You can imagine that if a friend turned up at the last minute with a tuba in hand then the other musicians’ response would be “A tuba? Fantastic! Let’s find a place for it. Why don’t you come in after the flute?” rather than, “Go away, the composition is finished. Hands off, don’t touch.”


The tracks began as improvisations and have been tightened through the process of performance into blocks of music that can be savoured individually. They’ve retained their original flavour, that democratic anticipation of the next instrument, of the next person who might decide that this moment is their cue, their time to step in. They still have the atmosphere of a circle rather than a linear hierarchy, the sound of people looking outwards, at the other musicians and at the audience, rather than downwards at their shoes or inwards at their miseries and doubts. Music for exteriors.


The pace is set by the percussion, Tomas Diaz on timbales, Lazaro Alfonso on congas. Mercedes Abal, the woman cocking her hand on her hip in the cover photo, plays the flute with a fluttering woodiness, a breathy, quipping quality that’s nice to hear. There are saxophones and guitars. An ex-member of Phish turns up on keyboards. Sometimes the music is kept loose and jamlike, as in “Campanario”, and sometimes it contracts quickly into a mass of instruments, as in “Afrika”. Sometimes there is singing, sometimes not. The groove is sexy without being sexual, it celebrates open-limbed movement rather than flirtatiousness or grinding or anything wet or heavy.


All of the music on Introducing Spam Allstars was taken from three of the four albums that the band has put out since its first release, 1999’s Pork Scratchings. Four of the tracks, including, “Campanario”, come from 2004’s Contra Los Roboticos Mutantes. Another four were taken from the most recent album, electrodomestico, and three from Fuacata Live! the 2002 release that saw them nominated for a Latin Grammy award. Where other Introducing albums have been made up of fresh recordings, this one is a compressed discography. An attractive discography too: easygoing, inviting, fun.

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