VARIOUS: The Soul Of Spanish Harlem (Label: BGP)

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VARIOUS: The Soul Of Spanish Harlem

New York’s Spanish Harlem has always been a hotbed of musical creativity. Many of the people who live in the Barrio trace their roots back to the Caribbean islands – notably Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rica and the unique music they produce is a wonderful hybrid of those roots and the sounds of New York City. This new 20 tracker offers an infectious snapshot of that music in one very special time slot – the late 60s and the combination of Latin rhythms and the then contemporary black music idioms produced some wonderful music that till now has been chiefly ignored by the mainstream. In fairness the owners of Spanish Harlem labels like Uptite, Speed, Swinger and the mighty Fania wanted primarily to sell records to their fellow Harlemites and weren’t necessarily looking for big breakouts. So – in many cases – they had their artists make a very specific music – borrowing more than a little from then current soul hits but infusing it all with tantalising Latin rhythms and inflections. Said artists, though, imbued their hybrid efforts with so much enthusiasm and commitment that the end results were always joyous, uplifting and totally soulful. What does it matter that The Terrible Frankie Nieves’ song ‘True Love’ is based around ‘Soulful Strut’, if it works? But work it does. Equally the 107th Street Stickball Team’s ‘On Old Broadway’ takes more than just the title from the Drifters’ hit, while Tito Ramos’ ‘Heaven (Is Not For Everyone)’ has the funky feel of Norman Whitfield’s Temptations’ pysch-soul classics. Most bizarre of all is the 125th Street Candy Store’s ‘Reflections Of My Life’. 60s anoraks will know that the song was originally recorded by Scottish pop group, Marmalade, but here it becomes a superb slab of uptown, big city soul, and that’s the best way to describe the whole collection’s overriding feel. Sure, the music herein is rooted in the Latin idiom but there’s soul-a-plenty in each of the generous 20 tracks. We’ve said the sound’s been ignored for too long by too many … ignore now at your peril!
(BB) 4/5