World Music With A Latin Flavor

The Congolese street band Staff Benda Billi was discovered playing outside a zoo by a group of French filmmakers. i i

The Congolese street band Staff Benda Billi was discovered playing outside a zoo by a group of French filmmakers. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the artist
The Congolese street band Staff Benda Billi was discovered playing outside a zoo by a group of French filmmakers.

The Congolese street band Staff Benda Billi was discovered playing outside a zoo by a group of French filmmakers.

Courtesy of the artist

As he often does during weekends on All Things Considered, Betto Arcos visits the show this week to talk about some of the best new sounds he's been spinning on Global Village, his world music program on KPFK in Los Angeles. His picks this time around include a flamenco-jazz hybrid from Spain, joropo from Colombia, canchona from Washington, D.C. (by way of El Salvador), and a Cuban-inflected dance number from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

World Music With A Latin Flavor

Cover for Miles Español

Saeta / Pan Piper

  • Artist: Cristina Pato, Edmar Castañeda
  • Album: Miles Español

What makes this album different the many Miles Davis tributes is that, while inspired by Sketches of Spain, it's not really a tribute to that album but an collection of the music that influenced it. The album brings together top Latin jazz musicians from the U.S. and a few big jazz names such Chick Corea and Ron Carter, as well as some Spanish flamenco musicians.

"Saeta" is a traditional flamenco song that is performed during Holy Week in Spain. During that week, a parade is held through the streets led by a figure dressed as Christ and carrying a cross, and a woman as Mary walking by his side. As the parade goes by, a flamenco singer stands up in a balcony and sings a "saeta" — a song of sorrow, of pain.

This album is available on Amazon.

El Gavilan

  • Artist: Cimarrón
  • Album: Joropo Music

Cimarron plays a style of music called joropo, which is roots music from the plains of Colombia and Venezuela. This song is a Colombian standard that's very popular in those parts of the country. Many of the guitar-derived instruments in this song can only be found in these areas. You have the tiple, which is a Colombian instrument that has 12 steel strings. Then you have the bandola, which is shaped like a pear, has four strings and is plucked with a small pick. But the essential instrument to joropo is the cuatro — you can't play joropo without it. Like the bandola, it's also a four string instrument, but it's strummed. You can hear it very clearly in the song: It's the instrument that sounds like it's galloping.

This album is available for purchase at Smithsonian Folkways.

Cover for ¡Soy Salvadoreño! Chanchona Music From Eastern El Salvador

Las Tres Fronteras (The Three Borders)

  • Artist: Los Hermanos Lovo
  • Album: ¡Soy Salvadoreño! Chanchona Music From Eastern El Salvador

The title of this song means "The Three Borders": It's a song about immigrating to America from El Salvador, crossing the borders of Guatemala and Mexico and finally the U.S. But even though Los Hermanos Lovo are from El Salvador, this music is also connected to Colombia. In the 1950s and 60s, Colombian cumbia became one of the most popular music styles in Latin America. It took root all throughout various countries, each of which developed its own version. This cumbia is called chanchona, and it's played mostly on string instruments, two violins and upright bass. Chanchona refers to the slang name for "big pig," which is in turn a nickname for the upright bass. And Chanchona is perhaps the most well-known folk music from El Salvador.

This album is available for purchase at Smithsonian Folkways.

Cover for Tres Tres Fort

Moziki

  • Artist: Staff Benda Bilili
  • Album: Tres Tres Fort

Staff Banda Bilili is actually from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and yet this song is definitely a direct line to the music of Cuba and the son style. Cuban music has been absorbed, re-invented and popularized in many African countries, including the Congo.

Staff Benda Bilili has a remarkable story: They're a group of six musicians, most of whom are paraplegic. Some French filmmakers who were filming a documentary in their area happened to find them playing outside of a zoo, where they were living in cardboard boxes. The language that they're singing in is called Lingala. Most of the musicians in the band sit on tricycles and play guitars and sing — but the youngest member, who joined as a teenager and is still only 18, plays an instrument called the satonge. He made it out of a powdered milk can and a metal string, and it makes an amazing sound.

This album is available on Amazon.

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