Sunday, October 7, 2007

Los Dementes - El Tiempo Pasa, Pero Mi Salsa Llego (Palacio)


This post has been a long time coming. It's time, at last, to dip into the forgotten origins of salsa outside of the United States.

Some of you may remember my comments about the origins of salsa in my El Cantante review, what one commenter called a "non-centrist" view of salsa. It is indeed a fact that salsa was not just a Nu-York creation. In the late 60s, many Latin American communities were collaborating in a world-wide vision of salsa that, despite being just as fresh and innovative as Nuyorican salsa, would be hidden behind the Fania logo. This is not to say that Nuyorican salsa was inadequate, or subpar (after all, I did a massive upload of the Hector Lavoe & Willie Colon discography); I'm simply pointing out that the American account of salsa is a biased one. In the process, we, the fans of Latin music, have missed out on some incredible music. Today's post is a small attempt to change that.

Enter Venezuela, circa 1966. For years, radio waves from as far away as Spain, Mexico, and Puerto Rico have been criss-crossing the streets of Caracas, planting rebellious seeds of Latin music into the minds of its youth. Among them: Federico Betancourt, Olinto Medina, Oscar Simoza, and Ramon Rivas. You might know them better by the names of their bands: Federico y su Combo Latino, Sexteto Juventud, Oscar D'Leon, and today's featured artist, pianist Ray Perez.

These are just some of the creative minds who would establish a flourishing salsa scene that was just as hard-hitting and unprecedented as anything that the streets of New York were putting out. Influenced by the aguinaldos of Venezuela, the seis of Puerto Rico, and the music of Mon Rivera, Ray Perez would begin his salsa career (though it was not called salsa then) in 1965 with Ray Perez y su Charanga, an early incarnation of the band featured today, Los Dementes (the crazy men). Ray, nicknamed "El Loco" (the crazy man), originally wanted to title the band Los Dementes, but such a name would have sparked a riot in those days. Rather than let his band name set people off, he did it with his music. With a peerless melding of folk traditions and new experimentation, Perez began writing some of Venezuela's most furious music, an incendiary brand of salsa with heavy trombones as its centerpiece. The first Los Dementes album was released in 1966 (Ray Perez claims the year as 1966; other accounts claim the year as 1967).

By now, you might be noticing the glaring similarities between Ray Perez and Willie Colon's respective forgings of salsa. Both were influenced by Mon Rivera; both were raised on the folk forms of their culture; both would incorporate this into their music while attempting a new, groundbreaking sound; both were recognized in rebellious ways (Colon had a reputation for being a tough kid, presumably informing his gangster marketing image for Fania; Ray Perez was dubbed El Loco for coming up with new things); both created a music that was culled from their streets (as Ray Perez put it, the barrios of Caracas are "like Brooklyn, or the Bronx."); and both released their first albums at about the same time. This is not to say that Perez and Colon are similar people, or that Nuyorican salsa and Venezuelan salsa are the same--the two movements are distinct and have their own legacy, and I cannot even pretend to know the nuances of each. But they share a trope that is central to much of the music that history remembers best: they dared to try something truly new.

And yet, history hasn't recognized Ray's accomplishments as well as they have Colon's. Los Dementes would become a tour de force in Venezuela and abroad, earning Ray fame in Mexico and even Italy. A driven artist, he would also form myriad bands such as Los Calvos and Los Kenya. At clubs around Venezuela, he would share the honor of alternating the stage with greats such as Eddie Palmieri, Joe Cuba, Pete Rodriguez, and Ray Barretto. Barretto once joked to Perez, then called Ramon, that the era of the kings was coming to an end (the Spanish word for king is rey, which is pronounced the same as "Ray"). It would be fitting, then, when in a seemingly inevitable move, Perez relocated to New York in 1969 and was dubbed Ray himself.

In New York, he would play with Kako, Chivirico Davila, Cortijo, and Ismael Rivera. As if to cement the similarities between Venezuela and New York's thriving salsa scenes, Los Dementes would later record for Fania.

El Tiempo Pasa, Pero Mi Salsa Llego, loosely translated as "Time passes, but my salsa is here now," is a fitting name for a retrospective of the work of Los Dementes, released only last year. It's a fortunate glimpse for those of us who don't have the $200 to shell out for a single Ray Perez-related LP (if we can even find one). Much like my personal favorite group Conjunto Canayon, you can distinctly hear folk music underpinning the Los Dementes sound, but the gritty trombones and frantic vocalizing of great singers such as Perucho and Teo Hernandez launch their music into an unmistakably modern timbre. Some of my favorites include the compilation opener, Vengo de Oriente; the truly CLASSIC La Llorona, with its haunting, reverberting plucks of cuatro (or is that violin?) and powerful performance by Teo; the fun, Vitin Aviles-esque El Perico; Justo Brito y Juan Tabare; and Cosas Que Pasan. But, as is the case with any well-put together compilation, picking favorites proves pointless. Grab it and see for yourself.

Get it here

As a testament to his legacy, Ray Perez appeared in a club in Italy last week as part of a well-attended tribute to his music. Check out some footage of the event:



And while we're hitting up Ray Perez videos, here's a much later incarnation of Los Dementes in a hilarious TV performance that is aaaaaalllllll 80s.



Also, check out an excellent Descarga interview with the man himself.

And don't forget to check back soon, when I'll be uploading another gem from the early days of Venezuelan salsa.

47 comments:

docjavisan said...

hola soy el creador de el space de biyasalsa en donde posteaste tu molestia por los enlaces, ya puse una referencia a tu pagina, en verdad supuse que compartias por el simple placer de compartir y no por rendir tributo a tu propiedad sobre las cosas, avisame cuales son tus cargas y las eliminare permanentemente de mi space, seguire compartiendo el material que yo asi elija, de todos modos puse un link a tu pagina, es bueno que la gente la conozca es buena. aunque no deberias poner links de descarga para que no se adueñen de "tus" cosas.

Julian Drago said...

estoy medio pobre en mi espanol, pero lo voy a intentar...

yo nunca dije que los descargas eran mi propiedad. obviamente, yo estoy distribullendo la propiedad de la artista. lo unico que yo pido es que reconosca todo el trabajo que yo es puesto en encontrar y documentar esa musica. es un gran trabajo, aveces 3 horas para un solo album. si se comparten namas las descargas, sin el informacion o sin tributo, pues que es el punto de mantener este blog? si tu disfrutas la music que yo comparto, pues dame razon para seguir compartiendo.

en ves de todo el rebullu, gracias por leer el blog, y si te gusta, soportalo.

Chache said...

Hey...thank you for your wonderful posts man! You help me re-connect w/ my boricua roots. I'm a Nuyorican, transplanted out here in Denver, CO...Vaya!

Asymmetric said...

I hate you ask you here, but you don't show an email address. Anyways, would you like to exchange links with my blog:

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Wes said...

I just found your blog. This entry was totally engrossing. Thanks for the post.

Wuttisak said...

Nice site you got here !
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Wes said...

Been listening to this album a lot since you posted it. It's a stone burner, man! Thanks again.

Egan Ehlers said...

Finally got around to all the back posts. Can't wait to hear these records. Thanks for posting.

Dj Canalh said...

speakinf of Mon Riviera, I have trouble to find some of his works here in remote south France...Could you help me ?
Anyway thanks for the work on your blog, that's great.

Jimmy Lin said...

fantastic blog. do you have javier vazquez's la verdad? thanks

oui said...

check back soon? really?

harvey2305 said...

Hope to see you back posting soon. Latin music blogs have been dropping like flys lately - and today Pepanito went private. Hope Pepane comes back because that blog has introduced me to so much fantastic stuff.

Trouble is that when a blog goes private overnight, there's no way to get invited.

pasi said...

thanks for great music! It sure makes life better in countries like finland (where I spend my days). I hope you would continue your posts and stories.

pasi said...

thanks for great music! It sure makes life better in countries like finland (where I spend my days). I hope you would continue your posts and stories.

DJAbe said...

What a site. GRACIAS!!!!!

Santiago said...

I came across your blogspot just yesterday and am overwhelmed by your selection. Incredible, especially the Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon discographies, but there is one problem...EVERY SINGLE ALBUM THAT YOU UPLOADED IN DIVSHARE GIVES ME THIS MESSAGE WHEN I TRY TO DOWNLOAD THE ALBUM: "This file is unavailable until Jul. 5, 2008 because the uploader's account has reached its download limit."

Is there anything you can do about that?

Also, are there any sites similiar to yours that has such a vintage collection?

Thank you.

Ernesto said...

This is an amazing blog. Thanks for sharing all this knowledge.

Why haven't you posted any more? It's sad to see it inactive since last year!

Muchas gracias nuevamente.

El Manicero said...

You do a great job with this blog. I am a nuyorican transplanted in Maine. We miss your posts, where have you been? I know it is hard but you hook us up with the goods.
Muchisimas Gracias!

check out my humble blog sometime:

www.paginthedeviltwice.blogspot.com

bestonline323 said...

this is an amazing post! i really enjoyed it! I cant wait to hear this record! It is ever so generous of you to share your amazing knowledge!

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Chano Santamaria said...

Tragically, Salsa plays it so safe these days. There was a time when one had to be a practitioner of Santeria to be involved. Afro-Roots were heavy on the artists' minds. Refershing post. Guayacan is one of my favorite seldomly-mentioned. What I've also found unfortunate is that the same handful of percussive rhythms are relied on - usually Tumbao & Guaguanco. Given the deep history of the genre, there is no reason why the vernacular should be so limited.
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TEMBU said...

Peace and Blessings!

I've been browsing the blog and love the weight filled content and delivery of the material. I feel as if I've stumbled upon a gold mine, thank you so much!

You see, I happened to be looking for new Afro-Pop/Afro-Latino/Afro-Caribbean artist/collaborators (a ritual of mine lol) hence how I ran into your blog. My group (Bay Dawgs - www.reverbnation.com/baydawgs) are an Afro-Latin Hip Hop group. We write, produce and engineer 99% of our material. We feel quite blessed that the chemistry of our dialects (Spanish/French/African dialect) favors our endeavors.

You can find the trailer to our newest album "Afro Latino" here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIPfCPLdtjo

Our video "Ride With Me" featuring Ruck City is here as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UcLgYbXuROs&feature=related

If there is any information you might need if you so choose to do us the grandiose honor of reviewing our album "Third World Fusion" (download here: http://baydawgs.bandcamp.com/album/third-world-fusion-2) I'd be much obliged to fulfill.

Thanks for your time, I'll be checking in at the blog!

Cheers!

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Johnny said...

Los Dementes, one of my favorite groups.
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I wanted to get in contact with you about possibly featuring a Brazilian artist I represent. If you could contact me @ ephaudio@gmail.com I'd greatly appreciate it.

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Michael Russel said...

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Michael Russel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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