LAS RUBIAS DEL NORTE
LAS RUBIAS DEL NORTE’s ZIGUALA, IN STORES MARCH 9th
The Group’s Third Album Puts a Global Repertoire Through a Latin Grinder
What if America lost the war for cultural imperialism, rock’n’roll never existed, and Latin music became the common language for popular sounds the world around? You don’t really have to imagine it. Just slap on Ziguala, the new record from Las Rubias del Norte. The group hails from Brooklyn, but its members are passport-carrying citizens of that parallel universe. Fronted by vocalists Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, with rich, multi-instrumental backing from a seven-piece ensemble, Las Rubias traverse a global map whose often blurry sonic borders are hued with what Jelly Roll Morton once called “the Spanish tinge.”
After two albums – Rumba Internationale (2004) and Panamericana (2006) – that evoked a 1950s air, the musicians add new colors to their palette and ramble further in their repertoire for Ziguala. The band bids farewell, for the most part, to its beloved glockenspiel and brings in some zesty Farfisa organ, hints of distortion, some surf guitar and the vaguely mutant presence of effect pedals. But that’s not all. There’s also marimba, vibraphone, Hammond B-3 organ, and a string quartet sitting on a couple of tracks. This vivid instrumentation fires up a kaleidoscopic array of songs plucked from traditions – from Bollywood to Tex-Mex, Neapolitan folklore to Kurt Weill – that aren’t always what they seem.
Take the title track, for instance. “It’s originally a Greek song,” explains Olivier Conan, a co-founder of Las Rubias, who lends his native insouciance on the cuatro, “written in 1955 by rembetika great Manolis Hiotis. His version had strong bluesy feel to it. It was covered in the early 1960s by Greek singer Rena Dalia, who gave it a bit more of a Latin twist. We twisted a little more Latin out of it.” The word ziguala is a term of endearment in Greek, but it’s not so important what it means as what it evokes: a little mystery, a taste of the uncanny, the allure of lost horizons before Google Earth took all the fun out of our dreams of faraway places … and their corner jukeboxes, stacked with 45s that sound so strange, yet so familiar. “There’s a lot of that on this album,” Conan continues. Indeed, there’s a Bollywood song with a Latin source (fabled Indian composer S.D. Burman’s “Mana Janab”), a French song with a Spanish source (“Seguedille,” from Bizet’s Carmen), a piece from a German composer’s French opera (“J’attends un Navire,” from Kurt Weill’s Marie Galante), a Spanish song made famous by an Anglo-Belgian singer raised in America and Spain (Jeanette, of “Porque te Vas” fame) and, of course, Las Rubias using a mostly Latin filter on songs with diverse origin.
It’s a lively step forward for vocalists Hurst and Lamb. The “classically trained mezzo-gringas” (New York Press) met as members of the New York Choral Society and got together to sing duets. Unsatisfied with the classical material at hand, they first turned to Lydia Mendoza, the 1930s Mexican legend who was a favorite of Lamb’s. Soon enough, they were lending their angelic voices to everything cha-cha-cha, as adept at Mozart as Lecuona, and charming the regulars during engagements at their Brooklyn home base, the music venue Barbès.
“We use Latin music a little bit like the rest of the world uses rock’n’roll,” Conan says. “Because before rock’n’roll, there was the clave.” It’s the rhythmic pattern that is the heart of Afro-Cuban music, and by extension, the heart of Latin music. Even when the clave is not played, it always inferred in Latin music. From the influence of the 1930s’ rumba craze to the 1950s’ mambo craze, pop music around the world was dominated by various degrees of Latinazition. The clave, kind of like a virus, found itself in European music, Japanese and Malaysian pop, and a lot of pre-rock’n’roll American pop, in Greek music, in Egyptian music, in Bollywood. It was even re-introduced into African music (where it originally came from) in the Afro-Cuban form of Congolese soukous.
“But then came rock and roll and the powerful propaganda engine of the American youth movement,” Conan says. “Youth was electricity, which meant electric guitars and electric organs. Youth was energy, which meant drum kits. So rock’n’roll became youth and youth around the world emulated it, because nothing beats modern. That was the end of the clave domination outside of Latin America.”
Last Rubias play pop music as if the rock’n’roll tsunami had never happened. “Now, we know it’s not really the case,” Conan says. “But we like to make up our reality. In our case, playing this music has nothing to do with trying to emulate a particular culture. We’ve just imagined a world without rock’n’roll.”
Emily Hurst: Vocals, Vibes, Marimba
Allyssa Lamb: Vocals, Piano, Organ
Taylor Bergren-Chrisman: Upright Bass
Olivier Conan: Vocals, Cuatro
Timothy Quigley: Bongos, Bones, Shakers
Greg Stare: Cajon, Timbales, Guira
Giancarlo Vulcano: Guitar
WRITTEN MATERIALS TO DOWNLOAD
March 31, 2010 8:00 pm
University of Dayton – Dayton, Ohio
April 1, 2010 8:00 pm
Morseland – Chicago, Illinois
April 2, 2010 8:00 pm
Legion Arts – Cedar Rapids, Iowa
April 3, 2010 8:00 pm
Cedar Cultural Center – Minneapolis, Minnesota
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