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Son Palenque Afro-Colombian Sound Modernizers
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In the history of Afro-Colombian culture, Son Palenque is without a doubt an exceptional band, and its history has a place at the very heart of ancestral palenquera music as well as at the musical intersection between Africa and Colombia, which took place on Colombia’s Caribbean coast in the 70s and 80s and which continues today through champeta, a musical genre and dance that also bears a strong African influence.

The members of Son Palenque band grew up in rural communities fixed in time, with deep musical roots, duels between tambora players and a legendary musical profusion of traditional musicians that built the foundations of today’s Afro-Colombian music. Later they all migrated to the city and bit by bit made a place for themselves. The story of this record starts on a night just like any other, at a picó, a musical block party, of the Pablo VI neighborhood, in the city of Cartagena. It was the peak of Afro-Coastal psychedelic music, of African music and of an endless number of musical fusions. Excited by the gigantic party they had been at until dawn, rocked by the deafening noise of the speakers and the records played at the picó, a few friends went to the beaches of Marbella and improvised a musical rumba; one of them grabbed a beer can, the other one a stick, Justo Valdez sang his beautiful melodies and the magic of palenquera music grew mystically in front of the waters of the endless sea. “That’s where Son Palenque was born,” recalls Justo with excitement and nostalgia. Enrique Tejedor and Luciano Torres as the back-up singers, his brother Tomás Valdez in the tambor alegre (a Colombian drum), Pánfilo Valdez as the second lead vocalist…

Little by little the group started to consolidate itself. The first chance came in 1980, when they recorded their first single for the Fonobosa record label. Two years later they recorded an LP, again with Fonobosa, along with Estefanía Caicedo. Then the group recorded two LPs for the CBS music label: “La arepa asá” and “Los trotamundos del sabor”, with the production of Willie Salcedo and the sound engineering of Alfonso Abril. These albums were recorded in the Unisón studios in Barranquilla. Later on the band signed with the label Felito Records, in Barranquilla, which during the 80s produced some of the finest gems of psychedelic and Afro-roots music of the time. With Felito Records a new era began for the group. They recorded the LPs “Ane Jue” and “African Erotic” for Félix Brutón, the owner of the label, with sound engineering from Eduardo Dávila and the participation of great musicians like Michi Sarmiento on saxophone, Abelardo Carbonó on guitar and his brother Abe on bass, among others. These two LPs were a milestone in the history of Afro-Colombian music: for the first time they showed us traditional palenquera music, chalupa, bullerengue, lumlalú and other traditional rhythms mixed with modern arrangements of bass, guitar and saxophone on extraordinary records.

In the mid-90s, the musical scene underwent significant changes. The LP industry started to decline, new technologies for digital recording appeared, sequencers and effects, that forever changed the future of music. Son Palenque lost its recording contract, and Justo Valdez started recording songs as a solo artist for the nascent industry of champeta criolla.

In 1999 Son Palenque recorded for the label Palenque Records the song ‘Kumina’, along with guitarist Sekou Diabate “The Gold Fingers”, legendary leader of the band Bebeya Jazz (Guinea-Conakry). Subsequently they recorded for the same label, under the production of Lucas Silva, the record “Ma Kamajan Ri Musika Ri Palengue”, released in 2012, which marked the folkloric group’s resurrection. And so Son Palenque continues to play, 30 years after its foundation, and still has a bright future ahead of it. The band has gone through various phases throughout time and they always come back innovating and breaking the mold, with the depth of their roots, their legacy and mastery in the composition of songs, masters in the conception of a unique musical universe.

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