New fusion spices up salsa on every beat

ED MORALES, May 23, 2004

Miami transplant Jose Conde isn't alone when he voices his critique of the current state of salsa. "So much of it disappoints me because it's so layered. You stick in the hook, it's so cut-and-dried that it bores the hell out of me," the singer-songwriter said bluntly. "And the lyrical content doesn't say much."

So, Conde, whose parents immigrated from Cuba, took matters into his own hands. After a musical education that included stints in the Greater Miami Opera Choir, local rock and Europop dance bands and a sojourn to Boston's Berklee School of Music, Conde settled in Brooklyn and has self-produced a new album, "Ay!
Que Rico" (Pipiki Records).

"It's always been my goal to respect tradition, but to take it somewhere else," Conde said. "My goal was to incorporate all these influences, like Debussy, Coltrane, jazz, funk and blues and create a new fusion."

With the help of his collaborators, collectively known as Ola Fresca, Conde has created an innovative, highly danceable and pleasantly cerebral album.

A prolific songwriter, Conde plays with traditional elements of the Cuban son and the even more rustic changüí on the title track and "Goza Mi Changüí." "Bolitas de Arroz con Pollo" has the feel of an old Pérez Prado recording. And "El Bombó" is a full-blown descarga (Latin jazz jam), with legendary engineer Jon Fausty adding a finely textured Fania imprint.

But probably the most innovative (and most fun) track on the album is "Do U Dance on 3," a tune that takes on New York's often rigid salsa dancing codes.

"I took the pattern of the son and accented the first beat, the 1," said Conde, "and put it all in the context of funk. It's based on this story I have about going to the Village Underground and asking a girl to dance, and she said, 'I'm sorry, do you dance on 1 or do you dance on 2?' Naturally, as a Cuban I want to dance on the 1, but I can dance on the 2. Any good dancer can dance on 1, 2, 3 or 4. After all, dancing is not so serious, you just have a few drinks and move your butt."

While "Ay! Que Rico" will have considerable distribution, you can get more information about it at, or you can go to the record release party at S.O.B.'s (212-243-4940) Monday and dance on 1, 2, 3 or 4.


Ay! Que Rico
Pipiki Records

Qué Rico is a quintessential Cuban phrase for anything delicious -- whether music, sensual pleasure, food or good times. And it pretty much says it all about this unexpectedly captivating, independently produced gem from Miami-raised Jose Conde. The songs are original, the sound is son, mambo and other classic styles, freshened with subtle rhythmic and instrumental touches (nice remix by DJ Le Spam, Miami's king of electro-Latin funk), and the players are excellent. Now living in New York, Conde mixes up the food, sex and musical metaphors with another precious and essential Cuban quality -- light but irresistible swing. Ay! Qué Rico sounds old-fashioned and new at the same time. It's enough to renew your faith in Cuban music.

Relaxed humor permeates this CD. Song subtitles like ''funk mambo cooked in loops of 3'' mix music and food references. Several songs, like the title track with its refrain of ''It's so good, what mama cooks'' play happily with food/sex metaphors. Even when Conde gets political, he doesn't get heavy. Puente a Mi Gente (Bridge to my People), about connecting Cubans here and on the island, promises to ''add bricks of humor, which is ours naturally.'' And Conde's gift for flowery romantic metaphors is right in a Cuban line stretching back to Guantanamera, as is the way his music keeps you on the dance floor, laughing at how good it feels.


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