Bio Ritmo - Oriza/Oriza (Whiskey Barons remix) - 7" (limited edition red vinyl)
Richmond, Virginia’s Bio Ritmo have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to making original salsa that appeals to both the head and the heart. For the last couple of decades, their music has been a refreshing alternative to the brand of “Teflon” salsa made today by a lot of artists (you know, that horribly bland, overly commercial, or overly conservative style that seems to get major label support still). Their latest full-length, Puerta Del Sur (Vampisoul, 2014) is their best yet and stretches their approach to even higher ground.
They occasionally do a cover tune, usually from a source that has long been an inspiration to the band. In the past, everyone from Roger King Mozian (“Asia Minor”) to Bobby Valentín (“Sigues Critcando”) has been fodder for the Bio Ritmo treatment. Now it’s Cortijo y su combo’s turn, with the iconic Oriza. But here the band take the frenetic Santeria/bomba hybrid of Ismael Rivera and Cortijo’s seminal version of the Silvestre Méndez tropical standard and slow things down for a funky cumbia, in a nod to both their Colombian fans and a successful attempt at putting a “nuevo ritmo”(new rhythm) to the song, just as the lyrics suggest. The intro starts with an old timey feel, as vocalist (and album cover artist) Rei Alvarez does a humorous Spanglish transmutation of the inimitable Ismael Rivera over a posse of growling wah-wah muted trumpets. Pianist Marlysse Simmons brings not only some super fun synths but also debuts her backing vocals in an excellent tribute to the classic Cortijo sound of the “coro de voz femenina” (falsetto chorus) made famous by saxophonist Eddie “La Bala” Pérez. The tune also has an amazing montuno bridge that is pure salsa, where the trumpets let loose. The rhythm, led by timbalero Giustino Riccio and conguero Héctor “Coco” Barez, is tight as ever. Recorded at the same time as Puerta Del Sur but left off the album, “Oriza” might not have seen the light of day on vinyl if the Peace & Rhythm crew had not suggested they save it from purgatory and co-release it post haste. Over all, a monster booty-shaking number guaranteed to get the party moving whether you dig salsa or not. The B-side features a dope dancefloor rework by the Whiskey Barons with Bosq on mini-Moog for an extra-added stanky skank to the beat. And the whole thing’s wrapped in super freaky cover art featuring the orisha Eleggua towering above the post-industrial landscape of Richmond, VA, like some B-movie monster from Silvestre’s nightmares.
More on the song (extra credit for salsa nerds):
The song “Oriza” has been covered by many salsa bands over the years, from Fruko in Colombia to Chico Mendoza’s Ocho in New York, but perhaps most famously by the ground-breaking Afro-Puerto Rican band, Cortijo y su combo, on the album Fiesta Boricua (Gema, 1960). The vocalist for Cortijo’s combo, Ismael Rivera, lent his own infectious spin on the vocal interpretation, and the combo’s super hip, tight brass arrangement made it a hit on dance floors from the barrio social clubs in Santurce, P.R. to the Gran Manzana’s urban sophisticates at the legendary Palladium. Many think of it as a Puerto Rican anthem, but it was conceived, written and originally recorded by the Afro-Cuban drummer, dancer, composer, vocalist, teacher and actor José Silvestre Méndez López Morales, better known simply as “Silvestre” or “Tabaquito” (Havana, Cuba, 1926 - Mexico City, Mexico, 1997).
Originally titled “Nueva Oriza” (from the album Oriza, Seeco, New York, 1958), when the album came out, there was nothing like the song at the time – a seamless combination of jazz, mambo, Santería, and street rumba. The entire album was unprecedented, as a fact. The “oriza” in the title refers to the Yoruba pantheon of deities (orixá, orisha) transplanted through the African Diaspora slave trade to the shores of Cuba and other Caribbean islands. As Silvestre’s lyric suggests, oriza is a rhythm coming from the African heritage, presented to the general public for its dancing pleasure but also as a proud affirmation of an often suppressed and maligned tradition stretching back before colonial times to the great kingdoms and pantheons from Yorubaland in days of old. Silvestre specifically called it “Nueva Oriza” because it was new as well as ancient, achieving what was then a daring synthesis of folkloric/liturgical forms and popular commercial genres, hitherto unrealized in any authentic way. He managed to update, secularize, and make once secret traditions accessible in an entertaining way while retaining the essential “fundamento” (foundation or roots) needed to give it the required spark of “ashé” (divine spiritual life force) that made it resonate with Latin audiences. Incidentally, there is also another oriza-themed song on Silvestre’s album, titled “A Bailar Oriza,” which shares certain similarities with the first tune, and Cortijo’s version “Oriza” also borrows from this other song as well – so the “Oriza” that was popularized by Cortijo is really a synthesis of the two earlier compositions, hence the different title. To add to the confusion, the Willie Colón-produced New York salsa group La Conspiración recorded a number called “Oriza” in 1972 (written by Ernie Agosto and Nelson Sánchez) that is a different song altogether, done more as a Puerto Rican bomba, though it has a similar “afro” feel to Silveste’s tune (with lead vocals by Afro-Cuban vocalist Miguel Quintana), and has been covered in almost as many versions as the other “Oriza.”
More about Silvestre Méndez:
Silvestre was responsible for many other hits aside from “Nueva Oriza,” interpreted by stars like Celia Cruz, Machito, Kiko Mendive, Beny Moré, Peret, Tito Puente, Poncho Sánchez and Miguelito Valdés, from the 1940s through the 1980s, including the internationally known standard “Yiri-Yiri-Bom,” as well as “El Telefonito,” “Tambó,” “Mi Bomba Sonó,” “La Tumba Soy Yo” and “México Lindo.” Not only was Silvestre instrumental in introducing Afro-Cuban sacred and folkloric themes into popular tropical dance music (both lyrically and musically), he also was one of the first drummers to develop and popularize the specially tuned multi-conga configuration in Latin bands that became de rigueur by the 1960s with congueros like Patato Valdés, Cándido Camero, Mongo Santamaría and Ray Barretto.–Pablo Yglesias
"Killer record! Both the original and Whiskey Barons remix are truly wonderful tunes I'm stoked to have in the arsenal. Whiskey Barons remix is the perfect mix of latin/beats. Right up my alley." - Spark Arrester
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Available: Dec 1, 2015
Artist: Bio Ritmo
Song titles: Oriza/Oriza (Whiskey Barons Remix)
Song genre/style: Cumbia/Salsa/Funky/Remix
Features: Color picture sleeve, red vinyl, limited to 500, 45 rpm