Scouring the planet for the grooviest exotic sounds

One of my favourite record labels over the past four years has been the Madrid-based Vampisoul.

Founded in 2002, Vampisoul is a reissue label that scours the planet to find the greatest and grooviest exotic music to introduce to a larger audience than it may previously have reached.

Over the past few years Vampisoul has introduced me to West African highlife, Argentinian jazz-rock, Czech jazz-funk, Peruvian ­psychedelic rock and proto-American rhythm and blues.

Vampisoul’s latest release is another in its popular series of label ­catalogue samplers and gives the new listener an introduction to the kind of sounds that can be expected from this great label.

Titled La Onda Vampi, this new sampler contains everything from the Afrobeat glory of Nigeria’s Bola Johnson to the 1960s funk of Czech popstar Marta Kubisová and the psychedelic rock of Venezuela’s Spiteri.

It is a great way for the curious listener to get a broad introduction to the records that Vampisoul release.

However, for the more adventurous listener who is prepared to just dive right on in, here is a breakdown of the latest releases.

Subway Salsa: The Montuno Records Story
This is a compilation based on the legendary Record Mart shop in New York and the Montuno record label created by Jesse Moskowitz in the 1970s.

The double-disc compilation provides 28 tracks released by the label and offers a wide variety of styles, with everything from Nuyorican salsa to Haitian compas and Latin jazz to traditional Cuban genres, as well as several interesting hybrids incorporating funk, doo-wop and Brazilian sounds.

The liner notes describe Record Mart as an “unassuming music store” located in the sprawling complex of the Times Square subway station.

In the notes Pablo Yglesias, aka DJ Bongohead, recalls visiting the “somewhat grimy confines of Jesse’s cramped store, soaking up the sights of Latin album cover art, the tropical sounds blasting over the speakers, and eavesdropping on conversations among the diminutive shop’s know-ledgeable staff and customers”.

If you have never been to this landmark of Latin culture in New York, this compilation will give you a pretty good idea of what it is like.

HighLife Time Vol 2: Nigerian and ­Ghanaian Classics from the Golden Years
Following on from Vampisoul’s fantastic HighLife Time comes the second volume, a double-disc 19-track compilation that is quite possibly better than its predecessor.

Featuring tracks by legends such as ET Mensah, Dr Victor Olaiya, Guy Warren and Cardinal Rex Lawson, this compilation is a must-have for fans of the genre.

For the uninitiated listener: the roots of highlife music date back to the 1880s on the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana.

The music was born from a fusion of rhythms from the West African coast, Europe, the Caribbean and Cuba.

Rangarang: Pre-revolutionary Iranian pop
This compilation blew me away the most in the past year.

Because Iran currently dominates global headlines for all the wrong reasons, it was fascinating to get a glimpse of its music scene 30 years ago. As the liner notes state, it was all “glitz and glamour, rock and roll”.

This double-disc compilation focuses on the “forgotten jewels” from pre-revolutionary Iran, from a scene that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s before being shut down by the theocratic state.

After the populist Iranian revolution of 1979 the new Iranian government sought to eradicate any remnants of the imperialist monarchy.
The pop stars who stayed in Iran were summonsed to the revolutionary court and forced to sign a declaration promising to abandon their careers and never to perform again.

Thanks to this great compilation, one can get a sense of just how much was lost.

La Habana Era Una Fiesta: Original Recordings from the Golden Age of Cuban Radio

This double-disc compilation of 1940s, 1950s and 1960s recordings from Cuban radio is divided neatly into two discs. The first disc features Cuban artists recreating classic Spanish folk songs, whereas the second disc showcases the work of Spanish artists recording in Havana. The tracks on the second disc have not previously been released and were only broadcast on Cuban radio ­stations.

Featuring performances by essential artists from both countries such as Conchita Piquer, Celia Cruz, Antonio Molina, Orquesta Aragón, Lola Flores, Los Xey, Ernesto Lecuona and Los Chavales de España, this is a must-have for fans of Cuban music.

Gózalo!—Bugalú Tropical Vol 4
The fourth volume of Vampisoul’s series of tropical Peruvian music from the 1960s fills in the link between the mambo era and the dawn of salsa in South America.

As I have not sampled the three earlier releases in this series, I cannot make a comparison in terms of which is the best to start with, but this 28-track compilation offers some real gems.

As the liner notes point out: “When drawing the musical map of Latin America, the mistake is often made to identify the zone of influence of ­Afro-Latin music only around the ­Caribbean. It’s true that the great creators are Cuban and Puerto Rican, but when their music spread out across Latin America similar scenes sprung up in other parts of the continent.”

Fans of Cuban music should find much to love here, with a nice different twist.

Lloyd Gedye

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