Raúl Monsalve Y Los Forajidos ‘Bichos’ LP/CD (Olindo) 4/5

Bassist Raúl Monsalve has long been a promoter of the African influences within folk music in his native country, Venezuela. Monsalve’s Los Farajidos, the first incarnation of which dates back to 2007, return with guests from the home country, Paris and London to bring us “Bichos”, an exciting mix of traditional Afro-Venezuelan rhythms, Latin-jazz, Afro-beat and electronica.

The album opener “Malembe” is both traditional and contemporary as it features singing and rhythms from Vasallos del Sol, a Venezuelan folk collective underscored by deep electronic bass. African influences are pushed to the foreground for the first single, “Bocón”. London-based Luzmira Zerpa’s vibrant, husky voice leads the call-and-response vocals amid a wall of percussion contrasting with subdued and tasteful trumpet. The Latin jazz-funk of “Cafunga” swaggers; bursts of horns and fluid electric piano framed by the groovy repetitive bass line. On “La Pulga”, the simple lines of guitar and keys interplay joyously and melodically amid choirs, Afro-beat bass grooves and purring synths. Natural ambience and pure cool synths float on vigorous percussive ripples for “Palo de agua”, which features the Caracas-based group, Afrocódigos.

“Mosquito” is a feast of African rhythms, call-and-response sax soloing, chinking funky rhythmic guitar and a precise and authoritative vocal performance from Betsayda Machado. “La Mariposa”’s abstract horn jags and the broken beat feel of the drum pattern is vaguely reminiscent of Greg Osby’s 1990s Blue Note jazz hip-hop crossover experiments. In my opinion, this is a good thing. On “Los tres venenos”, Rafa Pino’s rap flows into an electronic drum loop with reverbed percussion. It brings to my mind the psychedelic Afro-dub masters, African Head Charge. This is also a good thing! The celebratory, Latin feel of “Pa’ los Maestros” brings the set to an anthemic conclusion.

Bichos is an enjoyable and slick meeting of funky styles where it’s Afro-Venezuelan roots are embellished by other African and Latin grooves with an exhilarating rhythmic drive, loaded with synthy ear-worms. The musicianship of the band is good, of course, but the mainly Venezuelan guest artists provide the depth and subtlety that make this album something special. It inspires the listener to seek out their work and other native folk and roots music. The sleeve art from another Venezuelan, Gustavo Dao, is beautiful too, and perfectly represents the colour and complexity of the contents.

Kevin Ward