Kalinda Kaliente!

Ensemble Kalinda

Ocean Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's often very easy to overlook other music forms than the ones we hear where we live. Many people in America know of only rock, country, blues, rap, new age, ad nauseam. But when it comes to music from other lands and other cultures, many of us draw a blank.

I myself am not very knowledgeable about music from other countries - basically, my feeling is that I know what I like when I hear it. I've loved the Gipsy Kings for years, and I really fell for music from Nepal a few weeks ago courtesy of Sur Sudha.

Today's lesson comes from Chicago's Ensemble Kalinda, a group whose goal is to preserve the music of the West Indies and to share its heritage with everyone. Their disc ¡Kalinda Kaliente! is an incredible sampler of different styles with different flavors - and I defy anyone to not find something on this disc they like.

Led by musical director Miguel Rivera (who also plays bass on the album), Ensemble Kalinda create music which is infectious and addictive; more than once you'll find yourself wanting to get up and dance to the joyous noise that bursts forth from your speakers. Even if you don't understand one word they're saying (only one cut is performed in English), you can't escape feeling the joy in the music - and that's the key to music's universal language.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Puerto Rico's music is especially well-represented here, with two numbers causing more than just light foot-tapping here in the Pierce Archives. "Maquinolandera" and "Kara ka tis ki" are joyous uptempo numbers that could cause sudden bouts of dancing in the vicinity of your speakers. (As further education, the group kindly details what kind of song each is - even the example of a bolero is hauntingly beautiful.)

Of all the West Indies countries, Cuba is the most represented on this disc with four selections. Of these, easily my favorite is "Chachacha," a song which at first I was not looking forward to. But its subtle beat and incredible musicianship will etch this song in your head - I've been humming it non-stop since I first listened to this disc.

Whether it is the calypso beat of Trinidad ("Congo malata"), the seductive draw of the samba ("Berimbau") or the threatening but curious tones from Haiti ("Kili bois"), ¡Kalinda Kaliente! takes all its influences and offers them to the listener to pick and choose as they please. Sometimes, it's hard to decide which track to listen to next.

The only "mistake" to my ears was a medley of three mento numbers and one reggae song from Jamaica - never mind the fact I love reggae. For some reason, the inclusion of a song in English just seems to break the spell of the rest of the disc - a type of mystique, if you will. Still, this is a minor complaint against an otherwise great disc.

What's sad about this disc is that many people most likely will be afraid to pick it up and give it a spin or two - we tend to back away from that which we do not know. What would be cool to me is if some schools gave this album a chance in their music programs - I can't wait to see what my 22-month-old does when I play this disc for her. If the adults refuse to see what's in front of their noses, then at least the kids could experience the sheer joy of these 14 songs.

C'mon, don't be afraid. Get up and dance, man! - ¡Kalinda Kaliente! only asks that you approach it with an open mind and a willingness to let yourself be controlled by the beat. Not a lot to ask for 50 minutes of sheer joy. Here's hoping that Ensemble Kalinda gets a nod for a Grammy in the world music category in 1999.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Ocean Records, and is used for informational purposes only.