Sonido Gallo Negro ‘Mambo Cósmico’ (Glitterbeat) 3/5

If ever there were a personification of twenty-first century Mexican roots music with a contemporary twist, then this might be it. The Mexicans have ingeniously adopted and adapted the Colombian cumbia tradition and interpreted it in their own way. Indeed, in the case of Mexico City based band Sonido Gallo Negro, they have added to it with a sci-fi futuristic visual presentation, that is enhanced and endorsed by space age intro and dialogue on the album title track, which comes across as an attempt to portray film soundtrack music, complete with cheesy sounding keyboards and chanted male vocals. This eight piece group with several guest on varied instruments are a shining example of how world roots can be given a thoroughly modern update.

Thus, there is a Middle Eastern guitar riff on ‘Cumbia Ishtar’, and echoed dialogue on the rapid paced ‘Mambo egipcio’, while psychedelic rock meets cumbia on the famous riff that is, ‘Quién sérà’. The age old Cuban cha cha cha rhythm is revisited on, ‘La focá cha cha cha’, and here the keyboards seemingly take a leaf out of the Santana songbook. Another face-paced instrumental, ‘La danza de los diablos’, features a tasty guitar solo.

The one thing that lets the album down, however, is the crying lack of lead vocals, or rather the paucity of them when they are finally showcased. If ever any music form could do with vocals, then it is probably cumbia, though having said that, with the Colombian originals, that absence is amply compensated by the pulsating brass when instrumental. On this Mexican take on the cumbia tradition, one hears a fleetingly brief female lead on the track ‘Catemacó’, with an intricate guitar riff to accompany. Overall, and despite a genuine attempt to create diversity, the music, as bouncy as it undoubtedly is and great for relaxing summer listening pleasures, tends towards a samey sounding unity.  Perhaps, quite simply, Sonido Gallo Negro are a group that needs to be heard and seen in a live context to be fully appreciated.

Tim Stenhouse