Johnny Sedes

Johnny Sedes and his Orchestra   ‘Mamá Calunga’ (¡Andale! / Tuff City)   Released  22nd  July  2014.

Prized by aficionados and feverish collectors alike, the famous Fonseca label’s original super rare Mamá Calunga, can now be enjoyed by the many, thanks to a recent ¡Andale! reissue (an imprint of the New York label Tuff City).

For the very first time since its inaugural release in 1969, the Latin crossover sound of Venezuelan musical prodigy Johnny Sedes and his Orchestra has escaped the confines of a specialist market to find a wider audience.

Recorded in the city that first seduced the young South American saxophonist, composer and band leader, New York’s infamous melting pot of polygenesis cultures inspired the young Sedes, who after spending time absorbing the Latin scene there in the mid 60s, returned home to formulate a new dynamic sound.

Already renowned as a burgeoning talent in his native Venezuela, Sedes had worked alongside the notable pianist Ricardo Ray and singer Bobby Cruz, recording one of the earliest examples of an album to feature the salacious ‘salsa’ in its title.

Signed to the ‘Latino sound’ label of choice, Fonseca, whose reach extended from the Big Apple to Puerto Rico and Cuba, both Ray and Cruz would feature in the ‘hand-picked’ roster of talent that appeared on Sedes’ mighty dance floor filler project, Mamá Calunga. Joining the swelling ranks of luminaries, instigated by that label, on the 1969 classic, were veteran percussionist Candido Lamero, vocalists Chrvirico Davila and Leo Gonzales, trumpet players Pedro Rafael and Don Palmer, and fellow saxophonist Mario Rivera.

Intrinsically bedded in the traditions and voice of Venezuela – the opening, sauntering hip-swinging tribute to the Caribbean coast city of ‘Carupano Canta’, where the ‘liberator Simón Bolivar issued his 1894 decree ending slavery, paves the way -, but also adopting the native music styles and phrases of its former Spanish Colonial neighbors, Sedes cleverly mixes and absorbs the improvised desgarga (meaning ‘unloading’), rhumba variant Guagaunco, mambo, country music guajra and jala jala.

The musicianship is as nonpareil as you’d expect, peerless even: so loose and giddy it has to be tight to work so well. Blown inside and out descriptive horns that place you on a bustling scorched Havana street scene (the staple Cuban earnest peanut vendor ode, ‘El Manicero’); both passionate atavistic throwback and crooning soulful vocals (the South American western ‘Dos Cascabeles’ and serenaded ‘Te Vas Bolero’, being two of the finest examples); and a constant infectious foot-shuffling percussion transport the listener from the gypsy byways and mountains to the various tropical heated dance halls and hotspots of the city.

No passport is needed on this trip however; the sweltering climate and essential Latino spirit can all be found waiting to explode from Johnny Sedes and his Orchestras’ 8-track debut, without travelling the distances. Sensational sound and among the best examples of the South American shake and shimmy spirit.


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