Salsa's Past as Prologue

Another person who's been bitten by the Cuban-music bug is Isidro Infante, leader of the salsa band La Elite and a house producer at RMM; he worked with Cuban singer Issac Delgado on Delgado's 1997 RMM release Otra Idea. Infante says he was "blown away" by Delgado's arrangements. On Infante's most recent album, Licencio para Enganar (License to Deceive), he included several of his own versions of hits by Cuban stars Manolin and Paulito F.G.

"The new Cuban music is aggressive, it's fresh," says Infante. "It's upbeat, it's dynamic, and the percussion is constantly talking." Infante, a lifelong student of Cuban music, arrived in New York from Puerto Rico in 1978. He says that if salsa has become boring, he is partly to blame. In 1981 he worked on the arrangements for Louie Ramirez's popular Noche Caliente (Hot Night), which he describes as an album of love songs with a salsa beat. Infante contends that the album became a model for slow, romantic salsa, a genre that quickly deteriorated into maudlin "I want you" vocals backed by repetitive manufactured rhythms. He admits he's produced more than a few such albums himself but blames it on the demands of Spanish radio.

"Radio accepts whatever fits a certain commercial pattern," Infante complains. "If you come along with something new, they won't play it." Although Infante's new album sounds a bit geriatric compared to the aggressive sounds being recorded by young musicians in Cuba, he remains confident he's on the right track. "I think the era of salsa romantica is over," he declares. "Now you can talk about love, but in a really interesting way. Everything doesn't have to be in slow motion. The Cubans are going to be a booster for a new sound, but we can do something that's good and funky, too.

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