Billed as "a Latin dance party with a twist", Salsa around the World is another multicultural Putumayo hit. It brings together a collection of body twisting, foot tapping, and head bopping salsa tracks from as unlikely places as Japan, Finland, and Scotland. A powerhouse of a CD, these tracks are bursting with Red Bull zing and infused with traditional flavors from its country of origin.
The compilation kicks off with a cocky dance track by the highly successful Scottish band Salsa Celtica. Formed in 1996, the group has performed at every major music festival in the UK, including Glastonbury, Cork and Edinburgh's Hogmanay in 1998. Their offering on this compilation, "El Sol del la Noche", has foundations cemented in typical spicy salsa style with infectious rhythms and a snappy repetitive melody. The ingenious part comes from the overlay of traditional Scottish instrumentation applied to the interludes in between verses. Panpipe solos and Scottish fiddle weave around the brassy big band punctuations that accentuate the salsa rhythm.
The Greek entry, "Forest Flower" by Apurimac, is a more delicate number, with a diminished brass part used only to support the longer melodies with vocals in Greek (naturally) and extended use of organ and panpipes. By contrast, Morocco's Mousta Largo shakes the ground in "Anna Maria" with a couple of minutes of raucous vocal carousing with piano tinkling somewhere deep in the background that paints the picture of late night revelry in a smoky bar. The album flips a 180-degree turn in the next track. Zipping across to India, "Mana Janab Ne Pukara Nahin" by Bollywood star Shaan is a weird blend of Santana-ish guitar accompaniment with Indian film music style modal melodies. The sound, framed by Shaan's delicate voice, is pretty enough, though not one of the more convincing attempts at fusion here.
"Flores y Tambores" by the critically acclaimed Japanese ensemble Orquesta de la Luz is arguably one of the best tracks on this album. Strange as it may seem that the Japanese are now doing salsa, let it be known that Orquesta de la Luz topped the Billboard tropical/salsa charts in 1990 with their first album Salsa Caliente Del Japon. The balance of sound between the brass and rhythm section is perfectly complimentary, but what gives the 12-piece group its spark are the stunning vocals of Nora Shoji. The backbone of the group, Shoji thrives on old-style salsa resulting in songs that are simple in design, but dynamic in execution. This is as good as any of the authentic stuff you'll hear. Well worth checking out. Following hot on the heels of this is an equally enticing track from Cameroon. "Te Dakalo" by Richard Bona has an altogether different sound. Gently uplifting, the brass section that is prevalent on so many of the other tracks is replaced by a light-sounding composite of congas, bongos, piano, chorus and flute.
It's kudos to Putumayo once again. Having developed the acute ability to pinpoint the movements of world music, the quality of their compilations is fast becoming one of the few certainties in life. Aided by the rhythmic intensity and energetic melodies that are the signature of the style, Salsa around the World has instant appeal that will boost any party and lead it late into the night.