Salsa Celtica: El Agua de la Vida

[14 October 2003]

By Jason MacNeil

Salsa Celtica is definitely a hybrid, to say the least. Although there are some bands, such as Afro-Celt Sound System, that have fused two very different genres of music, there are few that could foresee that Celtic or Irish traditional music could fit in well with timbales and congas. Or, to be more specific, the Chieftains hooking up and going on the road with the late Tito Peunte. Nonetheless, this eleven-piece band from the United Kingdom, North America, and South America are three albums deep into it.

The latest offers up more of the same, but at times expands the sound to include a myriad of other influences. Beginning with “Cumbia Celtica”, the Celtic guitar playing meshes nicely with the overt Latin touches during the initial verses. Lead singer Lino Rocha gets into it early on, while the backing vocals give it an odd party atmosphere. The length of this song is par for the remaining eight, clocking in at over four minutes and fully fleshed out.

“El Sol De La Noche” is still more of the same, but takes the tempo down a notch, recalling Santana’s work on Supernatural. The song again leans further to the Latin or salsa feeling, but there are just enough Celtic hues to keep it interesting. Rocha doesn’t add much to the proceedings, just doing the bare minimum to get his point across. The musicianship near the song’s halfway mark is its saving grace, as the percussion and horns are given carte blanche. Steve Kettley’s flute solo isn’t as strange as it may seem given the experiments thus far. “Guajira Sin Sol” takes the album into a different area, with the Celtic touches leading the way on this Celtic version of the tango. The pipes and whistles used throughout complement that slow, Latin jazz piano styling of Roland Perrin.

The tempo picks up brilliantly on the fiddle-driven title track, and, for the first time, it’s a perfect tablespoon of Celtic music mixed with a perfect tablespoon of hip-shaking Latin touches. The pianos and horns are proof that the band is onto something, and when they find it it’s magic and not the corny idea some may judge it to be. “Lavete, lavete, con el agua del amor”, they sing, which translated means, “Let’s wash with the water of love”. What might be the song’s undoing is the length of it at nearly five minutes. “Whisky con Ron” is more of a breather than anything else, taking far too long to get to the heart of the tune. This is the type of tune better suited for Buena Vista Social Club, not Salsa Celtica. By the four-minute mark, the song has lost its steam and goes slowly off the musical rails.

“Ave Maria De Escocia Medley (Hail Mary Of Scotland Medley)” fuses the two styles again, but is a tad tamer than the title track. Taking its time to get going, the band’s vocal harmonizing and the percussion are a plus. And they are in no hurry to speed things up. They leave the remaining six minutes to let the listener lay back and relax. After the first section, they give the impression it will speed up, but the style changes into a heavy piano and Latin percussion phase. The closing portion has a rapid Jamaican reggae sound with Rocha laughing at its conclusion, possibly at the fact he pulled it off quite nicely. “Maestro (Master)” isn’t as strong as it could be, with the band sounding a bit as if they’re going through the motions.

The last couplet of songs begins with “Adios Adios” and should be the concluding song as it has that sparse, wrapping-things-up flavor to it. But that is saved for “Auld Lang Syne”, another quirky rendition that is a bit of a hit and miss. This is good music when everything sounds in the right place, but at times it’s a bit trying despite the best of intentions.

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