May 2009

Ricardo Lemvo with Salsafrica
May 9, 2009 Lula Lounge Toronto
Report by Christopher Butcher with photos by Roger Humbert
Salsafrica is a band that could only be conceived and exist in Toronto, in fact it could only have been conceived at Lula Lounge. The brainchild of José Ortega — Lula’s co-founder, artist and music aficionado — Salsafrica was created two years ago when he had the vision to fuse a group of Toronto’s best musicians in the Latin music scene with some of the city’s finest African musicians. The ensemble is led by Luis Orbegoso, one of the finest percussionists you may ever hear, with encyclopedic knowledge of this style of music and the biggest ears around.

Ricardo Lemvo, the lead singer and special guest for this gig was one of the original inspirations for the formation of Salsafrica. The Congo-born, Los Angeles resident is renowned for being a fluent singer in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Lingala, and Kikongo. He is revered as being one of the most successful people to fuse Afro-Cuban music with West African soukous music.

José Ortega alluded to Salsafrica as being "Toronto’s band” in his introductory speech, saying that its members reflect the broad range of people you would find riding the city’s subway. This is very true. The band members come from at least three separate continents, some from different Canadian provinces and the diversity in this band stretches beyond nationality. Multiple generations were represented, including both father and daughter from the Del Monte-Escalante family. More importantly this broad swath of musicians all represent some part of almost every niche of the Toronto music scene.

The band started the performance hitting hard with “El Galleton”. It was evident that the listeners would be in for a tasteful mix of styles from the African diaspora as the first tune alternated between driving Cuban son and 70’s funk. Ricardo Lemvo came out and joined the front line as the first set progressed. He brought with him a warm stage presence and a relaxed singing style. The band dug into a substantial amount of Cuban material with traditional takes on “Lagrimas negras” and “La negra Tomasa”.

Yeti Ajasin & Ricardo Lemvo

Jesus “El niño” Perez
Backing up a visiting artist can be a difficult position to be in but Orbegoso and the whole band did a wonderful job. It’s hard to go wrong when the band is filled with that much talent. Alexander Brown did a spectacular job as one of the main soloists, interjecting fiery, rhythmically driving, harmonically-informed trumpet in the instrument’s stratosphere. The other horns sounded great also from what I heard but it seemed that they were too low in the mix, especially with the bass brought up very high in the room.

The night was filled with many highlights including a powerful solo from Luis Orbegoso during which he vocalized in unison with his hard-hitting rhythmic flurries on the congas. Jesus Perez’ tres playing and strong stage presence brought an immediacy to the performance. José Tury Morey’s arpeggiated guitar playing sonically differentiated the band from your traditional salsa ensemble, hinting at the montuno-like figures played in soukous music. Yeti Ajasin and Cheka did a great job matching Ricardo’s phrasing and filling in on the coros and adding their charismatic stage presence to the chemistry.

My favourite tune of the night was the last, Salsafrica’s take on Willie Colon’s classic from the Fania records years, “Che Che Cole”. The melody from this tune is taken from a children’s call and response game played in Ghana, showing how deep the African roots run in this music. Roberto Occhipinti dug in and layed fat half notes out on the bass each like a perfect drop of water. In salsa music the bass is typically syncopated, in contrast to this more African style of having the bass on the downbeats. This groove, accompanied by a thick bomba/salsa pattern in the percussion and the traditional melody was the perfect aural representation of Salsafrica’s grounding in both Latin American and African styles.

The musicians
Ricardo Lemvo – vocals
Yeti Ajasin – vocals
Katenen “Cheka” Dioubaté – vocals
Jesus “El niño” Perez – vocals, flute, tres, piano
Alexander Brown – trumpet
Mario del Monte – trumpet
Yannick Malboeuf – trombone
Jamie Stager – trombone
Glenda del Monte Escalante – keyboard
José Tury Morey – guitar
Roberto Occhipinti – bass
Luis Orbegoso – percussion
Mario Allende – percussion
Daniel Stone – percussion
We welcome your comments and feedback
Christopher Butcher
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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