In the beginning… God created disco to provide the marginalized with a soundtrack. Co-opted by the mainstream, the middle disco years eventually became an unfortunate drunken mess on the dance floor, leading to its ultimate demise on Disco Demolition Night (12 July, 1979), an ill-fated baseball promotion turned anti-disco demonstration/riot at Comiskey Park in Chicago. A possibly revisionist view of history suggests that disco was destroyed by a bunch of white rock dudes motivated by racism and homophobia, but it seems more likely it was a less purposeful end.
Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh has commented on the divisions of the time, that “concert rock” indicated its listeners were white, stupid and conspicuous consumers whereas disco was like “a beautiful woman with a great body and no brains.” Those with a flare for political correctness may object, but they would be missing the point (as well as a sense of humor); the 16 minutes of extended simulated disco pleasure displayed in Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” puts the female at the center of the action.
The “Latin disco” mentioned in the title to this new Rough Guide is almost a misnomer, because in origin almost all disco starts in forms of merengue, samba, cha-cha or rhumba; from its underground roots in the nightclubs of ‘70s New York, Latin music and artists were at the heart of this new music. It’s perhaps surprising then that the first few tracks of The Rough Guide to Latin Disco seem relatively sedate and not immediate floor-fillers; Joe Bataan’s “La Botella (The Bottle)” swings, but despite the rhythm it seems almost like an easy listening arrangement, and the strings and horns of the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Salsoul Hustle” seem more suited to the ‘70s soundtrack of a TV show than a hot, lively club. Still, facts are facts: both “La Botella” and “Salsoul Hustle” were released by early disco label Salsoul Records (which would go on to be described as the greatest disco label of all time, with the Salsoul Orchestra as the in-house band), so they have good disco pedigree. By modern day standards these cuts seem a little tame, but if this is what people used to dance to, at the very least this Rough Guide album is a record of their sophisticated tastes.
Similarly, Yambu’s “Sunny” and the extended instrumental breaks of Jose Fajardo’s “C’mon Baby, Do The Latin Hustle” both seem remarkably chilled-out, especially surprising when the “Hustle” can be described as “a sexually aggressive dance”. Colombian artist Wganda Kenya’s Spanish cover of Carl Douglas’s 1974 disco-soul hit ‘Kung Fu Fighting”, “Combate A Kung Fu”, has novelty value, but that’s probably as far as you would take it.
Thankfully the Salsoul Orchestra’s “Ritzy Mambo” marks an upturn in energy, containing some useful instructions on how to dance this particular incarnation. Fun and spirited, it’s a convincing track. Two more Salsoul releases follow: Candido’s “Dancin’ & Prancin’” and the Joe Bataan Mestizo Band’s “Latin Lover”. As the titles would suggest they are certainly of their time, and may currently only have kitsch value.
Nu-disco is represented by the last four tracks. Grupo X’s “X-Perience” is energetic with a smooth vocal; Malena’s “No Me Llores Mas” further turns up the heat with some syncopated rhythm guitar; Jungle Fire’s instrumental “Firewalker” has a great four-to-the-floor beat and heavy Latin rhythms. Depending on your viewpoint, Los Charly’s Orchestra’s “Everlasting Love” either benefits or suffers from electro disco sound effects. Personally I find them distracting, but many would argue they add disco authenticity.
Overall then, The Rough Guide to Latin Disco is a mixed bag; despite the impressive history, most of the older tracks lack heat and the Latin spice one may expect from the billing. Nu-disco on the other hand, from what we have here anyway, seems more vivacious, and promises an exciting world of hot and heavy strutting on the dance floor.