FEATURE
WORDS: DOMINIC VALVONA


 

Spearheading a reappraisal of Spain’s adventurous experiments and fusions, transforming and modernizing the country’s ancestral folk and Flamenco traditions during the decade of Studio 54 and a boom in Costa del Sol tourism, the Guersson label imprint Pharaway Sounds is reissuing a number of difficult to source rarities over the next few months. Starting with the double-bill release of Trigal’s Baila Mi Rumba and El Turronero’s New Honda albums next month, Pharaway will be unearthing a range of vinyl crate-digger favorites and novelty treasures from a host of artists and bands who embraced the fervor to reinterpret and inject modernity into Spain’s musical legacy.

Remastered from original tapes, with political, historical context and in-depth notes on the recordings, artists and material swelling the retro-chic packaging each album and compilation, which also includes Morena Y Clara’s No Llores Más and Dolores VargasLa Terremoto (amongst others) has more than enough detail to keep the listener busy and informed.

The first two albums, both originally conceived and released on the Belter label, offer an eye opening revelatory mix of dramatic Eurovision pop, cabaret, rumba-funk, laser-y synth disco, jazz, and above all, transmogrified Flamenco.

Receiving a similar showcase, Finders Keepers released a brilliant Belter double album compilation back in 2010; shining a light on one of Spain’s most important labels during the late 60s and 70s. Though neither of the artists/bands in this series – “the grooviest and funkiest band of the scene”, Trigal, and troubadour Manuel Mancheño, reinvented and rechristened El Turronero – featured on that purview, both are held in high regard and considered influential: especially amongst those obscure rare sample enthusiasts; the boogie hangover and yearned longing theatrical gypsy funk New Hondo (influenced as much by Saturday Night Fever as dreamy Arabia) even sent the LCD Soundsystem’s honcho James Murphy into a spin trying to source a copy a few years back.




Buoyed by an “adventurous in-house” team of producers and sound engineers at Belter – namely Josep Llobell, Jean Barcons and Lauren Postigo– the Andalusia trio Trigal pushed traditional rhythms and forms towards a mixed bag of genres on their gypsy-rock sassy dancefloor cavorting Baila Mi Rumba LP. Featuring the married coupling of Antonio “Tony” Carmona and Maria Victoria “Vicky” Cabrera, and Rafael Romera, the original set-up went under the Tres Del Sur moniker, performing Latin American classics in tourist nightspots during the late 60s. A new contract took them to the States touring Army bases and clubs, with a brief trip across to Jamaica. Bringing home the funk, soul and the current explosion in Blaxploitation soundtracks they’d heard during their American sojourn, the Sur on their return became the Trigal. Replacing Romera with the virtuoso guitarist and former Los Adams band member Manuel “Manolo” Gallego Carter and drafting in pianist/composer Ramon Farrán the band opened their minds and went eclectic: fully embracing a smorgasbord of 70s trends and fads.



The second of two albums for the belter label, Baila Mi Rumba is by fat their most adventurous: marking a brief inventive period for the group, who would only survive a few years more, eventually breaking up for good as the new decade dawned. Bright, lively and scintillating with cabaret-like slinky funk, Trigal did their best to sex-up the Flamenco and rumba. The trio’s soft porn “ahhhs” and brassy sassy horn heavy Med pop sound borders on San Francisco detective movie schlock, Vegas and a louche Santana in Harlem funk. Sauntering, fiery and just on the right side of being kitsch, the album has a certain infectious bombast and showbiz veneer. It’s also actually pretty good, and brazenly funky: even if it is aping, with a naïve spirit, the American music scene. Above all though, they do manage to drag Spain’s traditional forms into the glitzy, suave and sexy decade of disco and super funk.





Available on streaming sites already, though this is far from a satisfactory alternative to holding a physical copy, El Turronero’s New Hondo is another iconic “modernized” take on Spain’s earnest heritage. Though following a traditional route as a dedicated performer of atavistic toiled musical styles, the dramatic, longing voiced Manuel Mancheño’s reinterpretations for Belter upset the country’s cultural purist lobby: the self-proclaimed preservers of the country’s musical traditions weren’t averse to pouring scorn on anything new or experimental, epically in the heightened oppressive epoch of Franco’s last years in power. Going along with the changes in fashion and the yearning need to modernize, Mancheño proved a good sport in changing tact and performing to a contemporary and not so contemporary – flagging behind musical genres that were already becoming outdated – soundtrack.

With a name change to El Turronero the serious toned singer laid down his deep ruminations and lovelorn yearnings on a bed of Italo disco, pop, funk and boogie. Rather handy for the uninitiated like me, the original album came with plenty of notes and prompts, including the style of each song: from “tanguillos” to “malagueña”, all of which are given a 80s sheen and glossy production revamp.

Trembling with the theatrics of a requiem and Morricone spaghetti western score, the opening boogie Les Penas (a la cãna style of gypsy music that will challenge the skills of any adroit vocalist) sets the scene between cult kitsch and Euro pop extravagance. From then on in, countless instruments and sounds are thrown into the transglobal tapas; marimba and sitar on Si Yo Volviera a Nacer; Caribbean cod-reggae disco on Eres Lava de un Volcãn; and dewy-eyed condor strafing mountaintop pan flutes on Y La Raźon.

Despite being equally sentimental and daft, New Hondo has some stand out dynamic breaks and grooves. And it’s obvious why this record has been a collectors item for so long. This repackaged version gives us a chance to actually own a physical copy.



Following in this double-bill wake is a host of Balearic disco and hip cuts, though many don’t as yet have a release date. There’s the strange Spanish female duo Morena y Clara. Launched by bizarre flamenco producer Lauren Postigo, they released a string of 45s and three LPs (highly sought after now) for the Discophon label, a worthy rival to Belter. They mixed a heavy dose of breaks, fuzz wah-phaser guitar and Moog soundtrack with rumba, flamenco, psychedelic rock, funk and disco. This illuminating, cute album features their “psychotronic” hits No llores más, Dejé de quererte, Buscando alegría and many others.





Continuing the ladies first rumba disco and pop fusions, there’s also an anthology dedicated to the 70s period of Dolores Vargas, known as “The Earthquake” due to her wild and frenzied dancing style. In these songs, released 1970-1975, you’ll hear a killer sound and production mix of funk, rock and pop, and of course Vargas’ powerful vocal delivery. The collection will include the “gipsy-funk” numbers A la pelota, Anana Hip and La Hawaiana along with a bizarre cover version of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.








Lastly, Pharaway are set to release a couple of compilations, Rumbita Buena: Rumba Funk & Flamenco Pop from the Belter & Discophon archives, 1970 – 1976 and Tani: Disco Rumba And Flamenco Boogie, 1976 – 1979. Featuring as the titles suggest, a collection of tracks from two of Spain’s leading cult labels, the first comp features, “14 dance-friendly tracks taken from overlooked 45s and LPs”. And the second, “12 disco-rumba-flamenco bombs, a time machine to the “boites’ and discotheques of the late 70s and the perfect soundtrack to an imaginary “Kinki” cinema soundtrack.”

It is an extravaganza, marking as it does a serious attempt to bring some glory and reverence to a forgotten period of the Spanish music scene.





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