A world-and-folk fusion that will last rather a sweaty summer fling.
Jude Rogers 2010
Newcomers to Salsa Celtica would be pardoned for thinking that the music of Scotland and Cuba are peculiar bedfellows. Scottish folk music is meant to be stuffed with sombre ballads for rainy, craggy landscapes, while Cuban salsa is full of fiery songs for sun-blushed beaches. Marry the instruments of the former with the rhythms of the latter, however, and something quite interesting, and enlivening, happens.
This is Salsa Celtica’s fifth album, but first live album, since they formed in 1995, touring their fusion music around the bars of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Since then, they have had great success on the folk circuit too, earning Radio 2 Folk Award nominations and collaborating with artists like Eliza Carthy. This record captures them as they are meant to be –on stage at the Universal Hall in Forres, Morayshire – and brings in international guests like melodeon player Dermot Byrne from Irish group Altan and New Yorker salsa trombonist Joe De Jesus, who has famously played with Talking Heads’ David Byrne.
As the album begins, the Celtic inflections seem to disappear into these songs. The Irish accordion in Adiós Adiós simply sounds like a gypsy Spanish squeezebox, and later a flute disappears into the shadows of Havana brass. But when Cuando Me Vaya’s fiddle and banjo meet singer Lino Juan Rocha’s deep, Spanish vowels, something else happens. The rhythmic tics of both traditions come together deliciously, making you consider the musical commonalities between them rather than the differences. The track quickens in pace, as if in delight as well as relief.
Other tracks are similarly satisfying. El Agua De La Vida turns fiddles into instruments capable of conveying hot, sticky sultriness, while the quickly strummed koras on Sies, Ocho, Nueve shimmer like Celtic harps, while losing none of their equatorial sparkle.
As the album charges on, the sounds of the audience whooping and applauding makes you hanker hungrily to be in the same room in them, and to feel the real-life reverberations of this meeting of musicians. With this in mind, let El Vivo El En Norte be your way into this world on the stage rather than a second-hand experience on record; a romance that will last rather a sweaty summer fling.