Peregoyo y su combo Vacana / El Rey del Currulao
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Peregoyo y su combo Vacana Peregoyo y su combo Vacana
El Rey del Currulao (Otrabanda)

For the first time in more than thirty years, Peregoyo y su Combo Vacaná have returned to the international arena with a new recording and with the same musical force that made them famous. The new record is a testament to the musical prowess of this giant of Colombian rhythms with a seminal influence on the history of its music.

"Long isolated from highland population centers, Colombia's Pacific coast is home to a population largely descended from once-enslaved Africans who worked the docks and sugar plantations in the vicinity of the port city of Buenaventura. Rooted in five centuries of New World African expressive culture, the music of southwest Colombia's Chocó region remains little known outside the country. Indeed, it only gained national gained a national audience via radio exposure in the 1960s. This development was due largely to the founding of El Combo Vacaná in 1962, led by Peregoyo (a.k.a. Enrique Urbano Tenorio, a one-time schoolteacher, self-taught on the guitar, percussion and saxophone, and by then the veteran of several local currulao bands).

The music's origins remain obscure, but seventeenth-century texts from the Atlantic port of Cartagena describe currulao as a "slave dance," and nineteenth-century Cartagena boatmen on the Magdalena River were likewise noted for dancing the currulao. In contemporary usage, however, the name refers solely to the African roots music and quick-stepping 6/8 dance rhythm of the Pacific coast zone.

Traditionally, currulao comprised an ensemble of marimba, guasás (bamboo-tube rattles), a pair of conically shaped cununo drums, one or more double-headed bombo drums, and a male-led vocal chorus with several female backing voices. Not surprisingly, these features share much with the African roots music of the neighboring Esmeraldas region of north coastal Ecuador.

To this base, black musicians in the nineteenth century added the instrumentation and repertoire of the military brass band, producing a powerfully percussive fusion with European brass and woodwinds. Peregoyo pioneered further in this respect to create a contemporary urban dance genre. Indeed, he transformed currulao by dropping the marimba, local percussion and female chorus altogether in favor of trumpet, saxophone, timbales and congas, while inflecting an older repertoire of contradanzas, jugas (fugues), marches, mazurkas and polkas with Afro-Cuban and jazz tonalities. Throughout the 1960s, Medellin's Discos Fuentes extensively recorded the band, which is today invoked as a vanguard influence in Colombian salsa's emergence in the 1980s.

At age 87, Peregoyo has retired from performing, but he remains actively involved in crafting the band's evolving sound in rehearsal and the studio, working closely with trumpeter, composer and arranger Francisco "Pacho" Peña. El Rey Del Currulao serves up a combination of Peña and Peregoyo arrangements and originals, traditional tunes and — departing from the traditional mould — ends with an imaginative reworking of the classic Ellington-Tizol Latin groove, Caravana. Lead singer Pablo Emilio Redin is a powerful presence, with solid vocal backing by timbalero Anibal López and Ramón Sánchez (who died shortly after the recording session). In short, this new release constitutes a superb introduction to the contemporary configuration of Afro-Colombian music.

Caveat emptor: The stilted English-language translation (by executive producer Scott Rollins) of Luis Silva's album notes is often less than precise, and fails to capture the idiomatic flavour of the original. —Michael Stone, fRoots

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