RECORD REVIEW: Jungle Fire - Jambú (Nacional Records)

Review by DJ Bongohead

There’s a lot of pretenders out there when it comes to contemporary instrumental Afro-funk and Afro-Latin inspired music, but when a band knows their stuff, well, as Fela Kuti used to say, “Who no know go know,” and one thing I know: Jungle Fire is 100% legit, pura candela, mofongo funk. If the percussion section can’t turn on a dime or do tight breaks, if the brass is limp or out of tune, if the bass has no tumbao, if the players don’t know their roots or let the orishas take them, well then don’t bother trying to play it for me. If, on the other hand the band has ‘saoco’ and ‘afinque’ – two idiomatic Afro-Latin music expressions that sum up what I’m talking about (spirit and graceful in-tune tightness) – órale, pues, I’m all about it. And Jambú has saoco and afinque in abundance!

From the first needle-drop on the nas-tay opening cut ‘La Kossa’ to the beautiful geometric pattern on the album cover that recalls the connections between Africa and Latin America (textiles, chekeré beading) and the sticker that sums up their sound perfectly (Afro Latin Funk from Los Angeles), you know right from the start that this record is not suffering from the bane of many a band’s career, sophomore slump. It’s got beachy sun, it’s got urban grit, freeway breezes and car-bumpin’ beats—a whole lot of spunk, just like L.A.

Starting their stew with a solid base of Afro-Cuban modes, plus Fela’s afrobeat, Manu Dibango’s makossa, and Colombian costeño sounds, the band adds a heady stream of spices and sazón (seasoning), from funk, disco and soul to lowrider Latin rock (even a shake of dub-wise echo gets tossed in), with the finishing touch of umami being the psychedelic garnishes and funny little elements that are sprinkled on top, like fuzzy guitars, synth swirls, and, for their spot-on cover of the head-nodding Discos Fuentes anthem ‘Cumbia de Sal,’ a children’s chorus to bring just a touch of sweetness to the salty proceedings.

There’s plenty to celebrate on this jam-buya, from the upbeat numbers like ‘N.U.S.A.U.’ and ‘Mofongo’ (mashed plantain) to the more dark and chill grooves heard on ‘Efori’ (which means "headache" in Yoruba), ‘Bele Bele’ and ‘Lamento Momposino’ – the diversity and cohesiveness make for quite a heady tropical sancocho (Caribbean stew), like something your Puerto Rican cousin might bring to the table at a stoned-soul-picnic in the park. Speaking of… I can just picture myself on a Friday strolling Abbot Kinney Boulevard headed out to Venice Beach, stopping at some amazing Afro-Latin-Asian fusion food truck along the way for a bite, while this record pours forth from the speakers as the sizzling, mouthwatering smells hit my awaiting nostrils and make my stomach gurgle in anticipation…

In sum, trying to explain the JF sound to a newbie is a bit tough – yes they have elements in common with War, El Chicano, Earth Wind & Fire, Nigerian Afro-funk, Antibalas, Brownout and Budos Band, but their West-Coast savory flavor is all their own and so my recommendation is to experience Jambú on a gut level for yourself. This record is every bit as dope as their debut, but perhaps even more assured and hard-hitting; like some incredible meals though, you’ll devour it so fast, it will be over before you know it and you’ll be hungry for some more, maybe a bit of flan to finish the night (it’s a shorty that clocks in at 32:15 total time). But it’s probably not a bad thing to be left wanting más y más; Jambú is a five star meal that does not overstay its welcome. ¡Buen provecho!

Nacional Records NCL 20155LP © 2016

Here is a little studio view into the making of the album's opening cut "La Kossa":

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