Hugo Mendez of Sofrito.
The ethos of the Sofrito events and musical selection is to get away from the often reductive ‘world music’ bracket and celebrate some amazing sounds from across the tropical spectrum. This is a selection of some of my favorite tracks from the Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque compilation, all united by their impact on the dancefloor.
Fair Nick Stars, "Arreté mal parlé"
The Fair Nick Stars were a sort of super-group in late ‘70s Guadeloupe, developing out of the ashes of legendary up-town groups Orchestre Fairness and the Fairness Juniors. The band mixed Cadence, Compas and Salsa rhythms with some increasingly psychedelic keyboard outings over their 3 album career, drawing on musicianship that was a class apart from many of the rather pedestrian cadence records being produced at the time. Arreté mal Parlé comes from their first album (released in 1978 on Gilles Sala’s Capriccio label) and combines a heavy cadence beat with a Latin touch – a Sofrito dancefloor classic that sums up the musical cross-pollination that is at the root of modern Caribbean music.
Ti Celeste, "Popilation Basse-Terrienne au abois"
Aurélien ‘Ti’ Celeste has recorded many albums over his long career and is one of the legends of Gwo Ka music. Recorded in 1976, “Popilation Basse-Terrienne au abois” eulogises the people of Basse Terre - western-most of the islands that make up Guadeloupe. The head-turning track is a precursor to the ‘Gwo Ka Moderne’ style that became popular in the 80s and combines heavy Gwo Ka drums, call and response vocals, driving bass and plaintive saxophone to produce a serious groove. This has probably been played at every Sofrito warehouse party over the past five years and always gets the club shaking.
Les Ya Toupas du Zaire, "Je ne bois pas Beaucoup"
Although seen as fairly specialized from a Western perspective, the music scene in Congo has probably exerted more influence over African music as a whole than any other place or style. Congolese bands have been touring across Africa since the 50s and the rhythms of rumba and Soukous are at the root of innumerable styles across the continent. The fairly obscure Ya Toupas du Zaire shared members with the hugely successful Zaiko Langa Langa and had strong connections with Congolese/Angolan superstar Sam Mangwana. This leagues-deep soukous track (released in Benin on the tiny Editions MY label) is perfect dancefloor material and acts as a great entry point into the treasures of Congolese music – something that would take a lifetime to fully explore.
Mighty Shadow, "Dat Soca Boat"
Winston Bailey (aka Mighty Shadow) is one of the elder statesmen of Soca music in. "Dat Soca Boat" is taken from his first LP and mixes up disco styles with an unmistakably Trinidadian topping – a long-time favorite at Sofrito parties and a near-perfect example of the disco influenced sounds coming out of the Caribbean in the late 70s.
Dany Play, "Fa’Waka"
Dany Play is a big star in his native French Guyana but little known outside the country. All of his 70s LPs have a few funky moments but this track (from the ’78 LP Voyage…Voyage…) is the highlight of his fairly prolific output – a heavy Dominican-inspired cadence-lypso, backed by the cream of French Caribbean musicians. Although often veering into fairly cheesy territory, Cadence-lypso has an irresistible beat that combines the snap of Haitian Cadence with the vibe of Trinidadian calypso. For this track Dany Play adds some funky organ and puts the drums at the front of the mix for a creole dancefloor outing par excellence.