Salsa Celtica ‘The Tall Islands’ (Discos Leon) 4/5

Salsa CelticaFounded some eighteen years ago, Edinburgh-based group Salsa Celtica have single-handedly pioneered a unique fusion of Latin rhythm section and brass with Gaelic vocals and instrumentation that has gone down a storm in a live setting. If the two disparate styles may initially appear irreconcilable, then in the expert hands of the group the musical métissage is both well conceived and wonderfully excecuted overall. For fans of traditional Cuban music, the country, or campasina style is showcased on the relaxed mid-tempo groove of ‘Ven Guajira Ven’ and on the Afro-Cuban rumba of ‘Disfrútalo’ with collective chants. However, unlike conventional Latin music, Salsa Celtica’s numbers are more concise in length, just three and a half minutes on average, and this enables them to focus on incorporating Scots Gaelic vocals and more generally instrumentation such as the uillean pipes that are more commonplace in Irish and Scots jigs and reels. The fusion works best on the traditional ‘Waulking Song’ with an unusual 6/8 time signature that is ‘He Mandhu (aurel) or Heman Dubh’ and on the distinctly Gaelic hues of ‘An Danns Elegua’ which is a song in homage to an auburn haired daughter of Red Donald the piper and this is augmented by Afro-Cuban percussion. Heavyweight clavé rhythms meet Gaelic vocals come together on ‘Fonn’ while there are three brief vignettes including a no holds barred ‘Yo me voy II’ that actually sounds like authentic Salsa Africana. If Julie Fowlis met Eddie Palmieri’s band head on, it might just sound something like this.

An extensive UK tour was undertaken in March of this year.

Tim Stenhouse