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April 15, 2024

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PURO ESKANOL: Latin Ska Underground Volume 1 & 2 [Two separate discs]
Volume 1/Rice And Beans Volume 2 (Aztlan Records)

By: Alex Steininger

With 'ska' now becoming a buzzword, there are still parts of ska that are being left out of the media. While the more pop-oriented bands are seeing their dues, other bands that focus on the more traditional approach are still struggling their way up the ladder to get their names out to the masses. As Tommy McCook, one of the Skatalites founders will tell you, Latin music was one of the many inspirations that led his group to become the grandfathers of ska. In this tradition, Aztlan Records has brought two compilations to the public, focusing on the Latin influence that helped shape ska.

Disc one in the PURO ESKANOL series is "Latin Ska Underground -- Volume 1." Focusing on Spanish-singing ska grounds, this disc also adds the likes of the Voodoo Glow Skulls and Slow Gherkin to spice it up. Although these two are known for their respective ska-combinations, they do not hide from their Latin influences. Orixa's "Sacudette" kicks off the compilation with a spicy dance number that is fast-paced and highly infectious. Mixing in just a wee bit of punk and rock for added incentives, this song definitely draws the listener in. With one quick swoop it will get you dancing from beginning to end. Next up the Voodoo Glow Skulls, as they often do, show their Mexican pride with a third-wave ska number that has both the abrassiveness of punk and the dance flavor of traditional ska. Previously unreleased, Voodoo fans are in for a real treat, as this one definitely shows them on their strong side. Taking this compilation into yet another direction, Los Hooligans' take the title of this compilation literally and churn out a great Latin goes ska number on "Piel Canela." Now this is what this compilation should be all about...taking the Latin grooves that were so famous in Tommy McCook's writings and incorporating them with jazzy numbers like this. With much respect for musical pioneers, this track pays tribute to the greats from the early ska era, jazz era, as well as Latin greats. Never to be outdone, the kings of the salsa-ska genre show their stuff on "Confesion." As only King Chango can do it, they manage to get you dancing, and your mouth watering for some delicious fiesta food. The other bands before them got me a bit hungry, but once this track came on all I could do was dream about dancing along with this disc, with my mouth stuffed with nachos and such. A sick, sick mind I know! But I couldn't help myself, these guys know how to work every angle, and this track proves it. Ending with Estacion Local's "Gozando Ska," this disc puts the close on everything with a ska-rock number that has both strong horn lines and an infectious melody, giving you every chance to dance. However, the one disappointing thing about this disc is the fact that there are only twelve tracks. For a compilation, that's just not enough! Good thing disc two picks up where this compilation leaves off (I'll say it again...TOO EARLY!).

Right from the get-go, RICE AND BEANS (LATIN SKA UNDERGROUND Volume 2) picks up where it's predecessor leaves off. Millo Torres Y El Tercer Planeta's "Oh Nana," is hot, with the perfect blend of spices, making it just right. This time around, however, the compilation takes a turn in the opposite direction, focusing more on the established ska acts doing a number in Spanish. Although most of these bands are well-known for their American numbers, this time around they take time out to pay homage to heritage. Let's Go Bowling's "Esta Noche" is one of the best examples. One of the best bands bridging the gap between traditional ska and third-wave ska, they once again show innovation and bridge the gap between their American side and their Spanish side. Another band to do this is hardcore/punk/ska'ers Link 80 on "El Estupido." Although super-fast, clocking in under 1 minute, this song gives you the Southern Cali taste in a different light. Heavily influenced by the Hispanic population in their area, they help show the diversity their region raised them on, supporting it with open eyes. Hepcat's "Solo" is another that exemplifies the title, concentrating on Latin grooves rather than various ska styles sang in Spanish. As usual, their tight horn section is followed by more tight musicians, giving the song plenty of soul and groove. Never even having a hair out of place, they serve up near-flawless ska that is easy to relax too, as well as a romantic dance number. One of Southern Cali's up-and-coming ska bands, Undercover S.K.A., keep the fiesta going with "Caballitos Pintados." Maracoos add to the tropical touch, while the Latin beats are also in full force. Combining both the Latin groove with the island feeling, they leave no rocks unturned and create a solid number that leaves nothing to the imagination. Closing out with Cara Dura's "Sociedad," they close out the CD with a less-than-spectacular number. The song goes from soft to fast within a heart beat, but the conversion is neither easy or clean. Very rough, the song is ruined from then on.

The one problem I had with both these discs, besides the first one only having 12 tracks, is the fact that both these discs promote themselves as LATIN SKA UNDERGROUND discs, which gives off the idea that these discs will focus on the Latin grooves that helped shape ska for today. But no, the discs are merely Spanish bands, or Spanish singing bands, contributing to a compilation. With that notion put aside, both these discs still kick out the salsa and party chips, and create an in-home fiesta for the listener. I'll give disc one a B- and disc too a B.

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