A barrage of cross-cultural messages serves as the
introduction to Sao Salvador, the new album from
COLOR="#003163"> Ricardo Lemvo
COLOR="#003163"> Ricardo Lemvo.
The opening track, "Le Rendez-Vous" (
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Lemvo,_Ricardo/le_rendez-vous.ram">RealAudio excerpt), has a French title. But as
the song spins into a pinwheel of Afro-Cuban piano figures,
crackling percussion and stratospheric brass blasts, the
feel is pure salsa.
And the mixture is entirely intentional.
"I made a conscious effort to make the record as diverse
as possible," Lemvo said of Sao Salvador, released
on the Putumayo label.
Lemvo, 40, has been mixing Cuban and Congolese
rhythms into something new for nearly a decade. Today
when his horn-heavy nine-piece band,
COLOR="#003163"> Makina Loca
COLOR="#003163"> Makina Loca, locks onto
a groove be it Dominican merengue, Puerto Rican
bomba or Congolese soukous it sounds at home
Music For Everybody
"In my music," Lemvo said during a break from his nine-
month Boom Boom World Tour 2000, "I like to include
everybody. Oftentimes, I've gone to salsa shows where a
Latin band will play, and I'll see people who really want to
dance and join in the fun but feel intimidated because of the
fancy steps some dancers are doing. You don't feel that
with my music."
Sao Salvador was recorded in Los Angeles, where
Lemvo has been based since 1974.
Lemvo became interested in music at the age of 8. In
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the
Congo, he lived next door to a bar that blared Congolese
rumba and Cuban music all day and night. In school he
listened to such Cuban stars as
COLOR="#003163"> Arsenio Rodrigues
COLOR="#003163"> Arsenio Rodriguesand
Lemvo's version of Congolese music has evolved from the
tradition established by Congolese stars such as
and Tabu Ley
Rochereau.These bandleaders sang in
phonetic Spanish and adapted the piano parts of the Cuban
son montuno dance-music style for guitars that often
sounded like African thumb pianos.
'Everybody Understands Drums'
The multilingual vocalist opens the cultural door wide by
singing in a variety of languages, sometimes shifting from
Spanish to his native Lingala to Portuguese in the space of
a single song. He feels these sleights of tongue help the
listeners participate and do not confuse them.
"I like to quote [proto-rapper/jazz artist] Gil Scott-Heron,"
Lemvo said. "After he did a show in France, they told him,
'The audience doesn't speak English. How could they like
you?' And you know what he said? 'Everybody
understands drums. And if you understand drums, you get
the message.' "
Lemvo slips into English just once on Sao Salvador,
during a short passage in the hip-hop-flavored "Nganga
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Lemvo,_Ricardo/nganga_kisi.ram">RealAudio excerpt). If Lemvo had his
way, he would have done the whole piece in English
but somebody upstairs objected.
"I wrote it entirely in English," he explained. "But when I
submitted the song to the record company there was"
he paused, choosing his words carefully
"resistance. One of their arguments was, 'Your audience is
unaccustomed to hearing you sing in English. This will
confuse them.' So I compromised, and I sang it partly in
Spanish, partly in Lingala and that one English part
stayed. But when I play it live, I try to use as much English
In 1990 Lemvo formed his band, Makina Loca, which he
named after a Kinshasa bar. Depending on the language
you use to translate it, the name means either "trance
dance" (in the Congolese Kikongo language) or "crazy
machine" (in Spanish). His band was more experimental in
its earlier years, often performing half-hour-long salsa
descargas, or jams.
These days, however, Lemvo is more interested in the
craft of songwriting. And Sao Salvador, in many
respects, is as much a pop album as an Afro-Cuban party
Of all the languages at his command and on display in
Sao Salvador, his third album after 1994's Tata
Masamba and 1998's Mambo Yo Yo, Lemvo
insisted he singles none out as his favorite. "I used to
wonder how anybody could be romantic in languages like
German or Russian. But you can be romantic and soulful in
any language. It's people who do not understand a
particular type of music who make that argument, I think."
But it's an argument Lemvo encounters less and less
frequently. "The American audience is finally opening up,"
Lemvo said. "American people are very loyal to their own
brand of music, so [they] hesitate before embracing
anything in another language. But take the
COLOR="#003163"> Buena Vista Social Club
COLOR="#003163"> Buena Vista Social Club,
for example: They sold millions of records, and the majority
were sold to non-Latinos. So people are opening up their
minds, and that can only be a good thing."
Ricardo Lemvo tour dates:
March 31; Montreal, Quebec; Kola Note
April 1; Winooski, Vt.; Higher Ground
April 2; Cambridge, Mass.; House of Blues
April 3; New York, N.Y.; SOB's
April 7; New Orleans, La.; House of Blues
April 8; Houston, Texas; Houston International Festival
April 15; San Antonio, Texas; Sunset Station
April 16; Austin, Texas; Antone's Night Club
May 7; Atlanta, Ga.; Music Mid Town Festival
June 17; Columbus, Ohio; Music in the Air Festival Latino
July 1; Roskilde, Denmark; Roskilde Festival
July 22; Victoria, British Columbia; Rootsfest Music Festival