Two From Colombia: Satan’s Sandwich + the Great Joe Arroyo

5 08 2011

In the latest Congressional budget mash up, I heard one faction describe the compromise as ‘a sugar coated Satan’s Sandwich’ (Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Dem)!  Ah, such linguistic succulence.  Diabolical culinary rhetoric reminded me of my favorite hellish street food, Columbia’s Super Perro del Caribe… and while in salsa mode Colombiana, let’s remember the late, great Joe Arroyo.

The city of Cartagena de Indias, lies on the upper west coast of Colombia, a bit above Panama, 12° off the equator.  You’ve read about Cartagena in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s, “Love in the Time of Cholera”, and you almost saw the city in, “Romancing the Stone”, but it was so much easier to film in Puerto Rico.  The twelve foot thick coral walls build around this fortress-city made it a valuable port in the Colonial past, a haven for Spanish pirates.  When they yell those movie yells, “Make for the Spanish Main, me Hearty’s”, this is the place -the mainland coast of New Spain.  The most common dish served here is fish, almost always fried.  It seems that nearly everything people eat is fried.  I’m convinced Colombians will not rest till they’ve perfected agua frito.  So it took a few visits and many plates of chicharrones before I discovered the dog.

Like our big city hot dog the Colombian perro (dog) is street food, the noontime snack of busy office workers, students and the budget-challenged.  Like vendors worldwide the carts ply the streets and stake out territory.  To attract a clientele and explore their creative side the owners often cover their carts with lavish decorations.  Designs can involve cut metal work, tabloid paintings illustrating folklore, dachshunds, or layers of plastic flowers over painted ones.  My favorite vendor operated in front of the city’s largest movie house, combining cinemascope with a local seascape by inserting an aquarium in the center of the cart.  But the best perro, the perro of my dreams, the perro that has led to perro parties of disbelief in upstate New York, was from a very plain metal cart working above the 17th c. seawalls.  Imagine: first a lumpy white bread bun is sliced and a boiled piece of dubious meat attached.  “What do I want on it”?  “Todo”, I reply. “Round the world and drag it through the garden” as we used to say in the Midwest when we meant, “everything”.  Then the expected mustard is applied, the surprising ketchup added, the incredulous mayonnaise plopped on.  A lid flips up to reveal hot sautéed onions.  Another flip and cold chopped pineapple is spooned out.  The real topper is a bin containing potato chips.  The vendor takes them in his hands, rubs briskly back and forth, then presents his masterpiece covered in a fine chip spritz.  Main dish, side dish, fruit cup all in one daring Caribbean package.  Try it at home sometime.

Alvaro Jose “Joe” Arroyo González, one of Colombia’s best vocalists and band leaders, died July 26, 2011. He was maybe 55, but had a long history of hospitalizations, for a variety of health problems.  I met him a few times in the 80s-early 90s when I was visiting Colombia often to collect records.  My preference has always been for Colombian salsa and his shows were always great.  Here is a profile I wrote in 1993, after a nice chat.  B.


Joe Arroyo is Colombia’s best known artist with a life as turbulent as the Caribbean coast where he was born.  One of forty children by the same father, including two brothers by his natural mother Angela González, Joe was raised by his grandmother until he was 10 in Cartagena’s dirt-poor barrio Nariño.  As a child he began singing to get attention and to pass the time while waiting in line to draw water at the local well.  He cites his earliest influences as the overly dramatic Spanish singer Raphael, and the African based rhythms of the numerous female street vendors from Palenque, a hilltop maroon community peopled by the descendants of runaway slaves.

His professional life began when the eight year old sang a lead in a New Year’s pageant at Santo Domingo Catholic School.  Local pianist and band leader “Mincho” Anaya thought enough of his talents, and the novelty of his age, to book him as a lounge singer at the Hotel Americano.  Soon another local, the great clarinetist Michi Sarmiento, asked Joe to join his band that worked the red light district.  Only ten, Joe went to live in a communal house peopled by other musicians in Galapa, near Barranquilla.  Here he sang with Johnny Arzusa’s band, an artist who would later join Joe as one of his backup singers.  By the time he was twelve Joe was expelled from school, vowed he had attended his last mass, and became the darling of prostitutes, “rumberos” and the colorful characters of the demi-monde.  Other groups Joe performed with in his formative years include Sincelejo and La Heroica Band.  Discovered in the late 60s by Fruko, a scout and music director for recording giant Discos Fuentes, Joe left the coast for Medellin with no clear guarantees.  For the next ten or so years he sang with the already popular salsa band Fruko y Sus Tesos, which Joe helped turn into a legend, and the Latin Brothers, another Fruko band driven by an upfront violin and trombone sound.

In 1981 Joe formed his first orchestra, La Verdad (the Truth).  When voiced in a questioning manner “verdad” can also mean, “Oh really?” , the doubting response Joe suffered when he bragged of the band he would one day create.  Soon Verdad was Colombia’s biggest draw and Joe wore the name like a badge.  Along with success came a growing drug habit and in 1983 he fell into a week long coma.  With the whole country buzzing with rumors of his death, Joe suddenly recovered.  Within a month he recorded some of his biggest hits “Rebelion” and “Mi Dios Todo Se Lo Debo” (I Owe It All To God).  Joe attributed his resurection to the Saints and the Archbishop of Colombia genuflected to cumbia, allowing “Mi Dios” to be sung in churches throughout the country.

In 1990, as he was about to earn his seventh Congo de Oro in a row at the annual Barranquilla Festival, they renamed his the “Super Congo de Oro”, indicating the there really was no competition for Colombian music’s most prestigious award.  With a voice that lingers in the upper registers, Joe sounds more like Celia Cruz than any salsero.  He often voices strings of percussive onomonapeadic syllables mimicking or playing scat counterpoint to the basic rhythm.  Other Latin jazz elements abound, and are especially evident in the piano solos and the horn lines that make most New York and San Juan brass sections seem robotic- all the more remarkable since Joe composes and arranges by ear.

Joe delights in layering diverse musical forms such as cumbia, Cuban son, and jazz over a salsa bedrock, then finding a catchy name for the hybrid.  These include cumbión , an alloy formed of cumbia and salsa or guaguancó, son caribeños  for a similar admixture having a strong pan-Caribbean influence, notably soca and zouk with hints of merengue and reggae, and joeson, the version with unmistakable African roots.  Never satisfied with a straight ahead salsa, Arroyo’s incorporation of costeño genres is less a gimmick than the logical outgrowth of growing up with the diverse musical styles common to Colombia’s Caribbean shore.  Testimony to this free flowing interchange and common roots was his performance at 1993’s Festival del Caribe in Cartagena. Without rehearsal and in quick succession, he sang and traded improvisational verses with three bands he had never heard play: Haiti’s Rara Machine, the Zairian group Loketo, and Cuba’s Union Sanluiserena.

1991 was a year of great triumph and tragedy.  In the middle of a tour celebrating his 20th anniversary in the recording industry, robbers broke into Joe’s home in Barranquilla tied him up and pistol whipped him.  Later that year, during the annual Barranquilla carnival, the men were found murdered in the street.  Whether it was God’s will, old druglord connections, or a brother in F2 (a powerful secret police force), their death caused Joe to lie low for a while to avoid familial retribution.  Part of this sensible exile included a visit to the States where he signed worldwide with Sony Discos, producing his first LP for them, Un Toque de Clase.  The album featured a plea bargain in song, “Inocente,”  a unique way of explaining his non-role in the recent deaths that made the song a must hear in Colombia.  By mid ‘92 he was back home as popular as ever.  Many artists are legends, but few have written their history so large in their own country as Joe Arroyo.  His survival, both physically and musically, seem a series of miraculous re-entries to the world, and his fans freely grant him a measure of other worldly powers.

Joe’s releases catalogued here at ARC, under the names of Joe Arroyo, Joe Arroyo y la Verdad or Joe Arroyo y su Orquesta la Verdad.

• 20th Aniversario Joe Arroyo  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 1023 , 5″, compact disc, –)

• 20th Aniversario Joe Arroyo (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, LP 201766, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1991)

• 32 Canonazos  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 12001, 5″, compact disc, 2002)

• Antologea Musical de Joe Arroyo VOL. 1  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia,  4281449, 5″, compact disc,  –)

• Arroyo Peligroso   (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, , 5″, compact disc, )

• Echao Pa╒ Lante  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 201 618, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1987)

• El Campeon  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 201406, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1982). signed.

• El Rey Del Carnaval Y Del Caribe – DVD  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, , , DVD, )

• El Super Congo – La Guerra de los Callados  (Discos Fuentes, Columbia, 201746, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1991).  A US version listed as “La Guerra…” below.

• En Accion  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 201705, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1990) Also issued on Mango in the UK.  All songs credited to his mom so she could collect royalties.

• Fire in My Mind  (Mango / Discos Fuentes, , 5″, compact disc, 1990)

• Fuego  (SDI / Sony, CDZ-81063, 5″, compact disc, 1993)

• Fuego en mi Mente  (SonoTone, USA, SOF – 5674, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1988)

• Fuego en mi Mente (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 4281448 , 5″,  CD , –)

•  Gold  (Miami Records, USA, 13004, 5″, compact disc, 2006)

• Grandes Exitos de Joe Arroyo Y La Verdad   (Discos Fuentes, Colombia,  1026 , 5″,  CD , –)

• Hasta Amanecé  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, LP 201522, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1984)

• La Guerra de los Callados  (Mango / Discos Fuentes, MLPS 1082 / 848 831-1, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1990).  LP subtitled “El Super Congo” in honor of Joe’s dominance in Colombia of winning this music prize.

• La Voz  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 1024 , 5″,  CD , 1992)

• Me Le Fugue a la Candela  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 201547, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1987)

• Mi Libertad  (SDI / Sony, CD-81806, 5″, compact disc, 1995)

• Musa Original   (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, 201576, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1986)

• Rebellion  (World Circuit, Sonotone, UK, WCD 012, 5″, compact disc, 1989)

• Se Armù La Moûa En Carnaval  (Miami / Discos Fuentes, 11274, 5″, Compact Disc, 2005)

• Somos Seres  (Mango / Discos Fuentes, CIDM1037, 5″, compact disc, 1990)

• Superexitos, VI  (Discos Fuentes, Colombia, Vedisco 1076-2, 5″,  CD , –)

• Sus Razones Tendra  (Sony / Columbia, 52 473269, 5″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1994)

• Toque de Clase  (Columbia / Sony, Colombia, 14464717, 12″, vinyl disc-Lp, 1992)

Caramoor + Sardines

25 07 2011

It’s amazing to me that more people in the city do not know about the great house, great gardens and great concerts at Caramoor   in upstate New York.  Caramoor has had a remarkable history of presenting the arts, the legacy of the Rosen family, who’s Grand Dame, Lucie, was the unlikely champion of Léon Theremin. That master of the proximity switch is invoked from first contact, all the gates swinging open automatically as you enter the grounds.

                                                                                           Photo:Gabe Palacio

Last Saturday’s offering was a concert by Malian singer and composer Oumou Sangaré.  The night was hot, the music sultry, and a pretty decent crowd for one of the great voices of West Africa.  Older, white and rhythmically deprived it was a typical Westchester crowd.  But their heart was in it and they all wanted to be there.

I’ve seen Sangare five times in four different countries, and as always she was a delight.  I’ve seen her with three backup singers, but tonight there was a recession to one, dynamic enough for three, Dandio Sidibi.  I’ve heard her original guitarist Boubacar Diallo, the role now assumed by Mamadou Diakite, who could rock, but shown brightest on the acoustic guitar. The kamalengoni, (or n’goni, a six stringed harp-lute described in the program notes as a person) once the driving force of much of the music from the Wassoulou region, was buried here.

A nice trick to get folks outa their seats was asking them to stand for “Wele Wele Wintou,” a song against forced marriages.  Once up wiggles ensued.  Sangaré often addresses social issues, along with the more typical, traditional praise and advice repertoire.  It wasn’t until a closing number that three African clad African women took the stage to ‘spray’ the singer with money, flinging bill after bill at her, the expected audience response throughout West Africa when a kind word is thrown their way.

So… please, get up offa that thing and plan a trip to Caramoor this summer for some music or a picnic. It’s just about an hour upstate by train or car, in Katonah.  An upcoming winner is the Jazz weekend   (Aug 5,6,7) featuring the likes of Juan Carlos Formell, the Christian McBride Big Band, Fred Hersch and John Scofield.

Driving back to the city on Sunday meant a visit to a Japanese street fair in Astoria and the object of my affection, grilled sardines.  I had always heard that summer brought out mounds of the small black salted stinkers and people who love them in this part of town.  So an invite to join a few other archivists and Spaniards at Casa Galicia – a Community Center with an imposing façade – could not be ignored.  And at 6 for $5 you know you’re not in posing Manhattan anymore.

It was family style seating plus wine, sardines, torta (potato pie), hearty beige bread, pulpo (octopus), Spanish empanadas (baked, flat, stuffed with either fish or chicken), and calamares fritos.  I also had an excellent Spanish beer, Estrella Galicia, from the North-West and noticed a sign offering cerveza nacional.  Asking, it turned out it was OUR beer national; Budweiser.

Unbelievably wonderful food, polished off by some Turkish coffee and sweets, made for another great day on the road.  You can learn a lot by taking a little fieldtrip now and then.

Speaking of fieldtrips: Tuesday evening, beginning at 5:30, Forro in the Dark plays outside for free @ the City Winery.  See you there.

AND – a reader has pointed out that Sangaré is performing Friday night at Celebrate Brooklyn, @ the Prospect Park Bandshell, on the bill with our pal Bassam Saba.  Is that out of town also?

Sangaré recordings @ ARC.

• Ko Sira  (World Circuit, UK, WCD 036, 5″, compact disc, 1993)

• Ko Sira  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, 79576-2 , 5″, compact disc, 1993)

• Moussolou  (World Circuit, UK, WCD 021, 5″, compact disc, 1991)

• Moussolou  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, 79575-2, 5″, compact disc, 1999)

• OUmou  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, 79827-2, 5″, compact disc, 2004)

• OUmou  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, PRCD 301363, 5″, compact disc-2CD, 2004)

• Seya  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, 519650-2, 5″, compact disc, 2009)

• Worotan  (World Circuit / Nonesuch, USA, 79470-2, 5″, compact disc, 1996)

• Worotan  (World Circuit, UK, WCD 045, 5″, compact disc, 1996)

Tyche, made redundant, now blogging @ the Times

4 11 2010

At the bottom of it’s online page, under the ‘blogs’ banner, the New York Times offers six squares of teases and photos to click your interest.  Today, for maybe twenty minutes, these two images were next to each other.

I’m just back from the IASA confab in Philly, and will report soon, and sadly, to report the death of ARC pal and composer Jerry Bock…

Summertime + the music stories are adequate

8 07 2008

• We recently found four Elvis bracelets at a flea market. While the packaging looked right, the bracelets themselves seemed a little iffy. What did these rocks have to do with Elvis? The date is 1956. So maybe “Jailhouse Rocks?” Our pal the internet turned up pics of the backing card and a reason for the diecut. Seems these were originally ‘Dog Tag Bracelets” and those were the cut out words. So someone just attached available bracelets. I hope they are Bakelite and worth much more than any Elvii souvenir. Jon thinks they’re melted bits of old telephones. Regardless, it’s a reminder of how your career can be on the rocks even if you’re tombstoned; this April both Madonna and Mariah buried the King’s record (36) for the most number one singles on the Billboard charts.

• EMI announced today that they have a NEW CEO. Elio Leoni-Sceti comes direct from handling the Woolite and Lysol accounts at Reckitt Benckiser. Qualifications? He’s gonna clean up the music business

Leoni-Sceti says that if the Melvins can make an album called “Lysol,” HE could run a record company!

By the way Reckitt Benckiser refused to give permission for Melvins to use the name, “Lysol” and our copy has black tape over the title. Yep, the right guy for the job.

• Q : Reporters asked A-Rod how he kept so fit, and commented that his unbelievable condition must have a lot to do with diet. Then they asked what was the most harmful thing he’s ever eaten?

8th Grader’s A : Wedding Cake.

Staff A : Madonna

• Speaking of musical snacks (and consumer goods), boxes of dal and curry from Kitchens of India all contain a Classic Indian music CD. I’ve gotten two of the four different titles so far, and, well, they’re tasty. They call the series “Indian Classical Maestros,” and artists include Ustad Bismillah Khan (Shehnai), Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod), Pt. Tarun Bhattacharya (Santoor), and Dr. Chitti Babu (Veena).

• As you may know we are putting together the NYMIA (launch in the fall) a webthing that will host info on all musical artists and music related businesses in New York. PROOF that it’s worth doing, and the wealth of talent lurking in the concrete underbelly of the Empire State, is the band, Tragedy, who do a metal tribute to the Bee Gees. Recently, Jon and Dan came across their MySpace page. Turns out, they’re taking the soft summer hits of the 1970s and making them very, very metal. Few remember, and this tribute does not help, that the B Boys (ARC has 72 of their releases from around the world) were an experimental band at launch – B. would play them right along Pearls before Swine and the Fugs. Rehear “Bee Gees’ 1st” and see why.

• Rell talk: Dan and Jon have taken John Hodgman’s course on hobo names twice now, and can be properly considered experts in the field. If you’re looking to find names for unidentified hobos mentioned in recordings by the likes of Whale, Jimmy Smith, Gene Autry, Karen & Cubby and John Lee Hooker, Jon and Dan are your guys. Yeeeeah! So, now what? Standby…

• We’ve been doing a lot of scans for the new Grammy Hall of Fame going up in LA. Well, after a while it gets kinda boring. But we did zoom in on a Cream LP to pull this exciting screen saver. Your’s for the taking

And finally, if you are one of the few who have not taken the time to hava look at the “Dancing” video on U-tub [sic] please do so. It is an an example of the good that companies do, in this case a chewing gum concern, oft lives after them. An simple idea taken to the heights.

%d bloggers like this: