Blazing a trail by playing some of the hardest hitting and far reaching modern salsa for 23 years now, Bio Ritmo have grown into one of the most intriguing and influential Latin dance bands of the last two decades. They are true rebels who have defied being pigeonholed and have helped pioneer a new generation of musicians (aka nueva generación) that thrive on the spirit of experimentation that once defined the 70s Latin sound that became known as 'salsa'. From hipster rock clubs in Brooklyn to 'salsa bars' in Cali, Colombia, Bio Ritmo keeps the bodies on the dance floor with their nitty-gritty, vintage grooves while turning heads with their experimental synth tones, innovative harmonies and thought provoking lyrics. They convert the skeptics who only know the overly commercialized, tacky veneer of Latin music and challenge the purist who hitherto believed the genre died during the 90s. They have a fierce, almost punk rock DIY ethos that pervades their attitude and style, releasing their records either by themselves or on indie and hip hop labels like Merge, Fat Beats and, Electric Cowbell. They cite Stereolab and Brazilian psychedelic music as influences in the same breath as name-dropping Ray Barretto, Roberto Roena and classic Fania records. It's no surprise that their new record, "Puerta Del Sur", is coming out on Vampisoul, a Spanish label whose mission is to resurrect 'lost' Latin music.
"Our mission from day one was to write original music in the classic salsa style," says Bio Ritmo's Puerto Rican-born lead singer and composer Rei Álvarez, "and experimentation is as much a part of the tradition as the wide-ranging Afro-Cuban genres that it's based on. Working on "Salsa System" (2006) with legendary Fania Records engineer Jon Fausty was like going to salsa boot camp," Álvarez says. This experience plus a tour to Puerto Rico that same year boosted the group's confidence and gave them the vision to persevere and embrace their identity. "On "Bionico" (2008), we stopped trying to be a salsa band." That is to say, the group realized that it wasn't about proving themselves as much as they simply wanted to be authentic to themselves. Then on "La Verdad" (2011, Electric Cowbell) with veteran producer Aaron Levinson (Spanish Harlem Orchestra) it all came together producing "one of the most life-affirming albums of the year" (PopMatters.com). It launched Bio Ritmo on the European festival circuit plus a special invitation to The Republic of Georgia.
"This album ["Puerta Del Sur"] is more Bio Ritmo because it's more and more 'us'," says Álvarez. The title of the record, "Puerta del Sur", which translates to "Door to the South", addresses Bio Ritmo's unique and seemingly incongruous placement in the locale of Richmond, Virginia. It's a cosmic coincidence that has nurtured the group for its entire career. "It's where we're from. We're a southern band," Álvarez posits.
"Richmond's raw, thriving artist community has really shaped us," adds pianist and composer Marlysse Simmons. She stands strong, with a unique flare and represents one of the few women pianist and composers in the industry who also leads the band of ten eccentric members. "We come from all over the map culturally and musically speaking with punk rockers to jazz heads and it just so happens we all share a passion for salsa music and met in Richmond."
"It's a detox of everything that's wrong with music today and also a great workout," adds percussionist Hector "Coco" Barez, a Puerto Rican native who's clocked years touring and recording with one of the world's most popular reggaeton groups, Calle 13. "It's a family environment of good musicians. When I was asked to play with Bio Ritmo I jumped at the opportunity." Each track on "Puerta Del Sur" takes the listener on a different journey through Afro-Cuban and other rhythms mixed with far-reaching harmonic movements blended with vintage keyboard sounds, analog synthesizer surprises and sophisticated, stylized horn arrangements. "It really shows the evolution of Bio Ritmo," says Fausty. "It's the best yet."
'Codeína', the final track, stands out as the most unique and innovative song on the album. Written in the aesthetic of a Latin bolero-meets-1960s Egyptian-classical, it features a string section, Farfisa organs and various Arabic percussion instruments. It is a collaboration between Bio Ritmo's main writers Giustino Riccio, Álvarez and Simmons, who cite inspiration from their obsession with 60s and 70s Arabic, Greek and Turkish music.
Bio Ritmo are true Latin music visionaries. The group's innovative and unique approach to the genre puts them at the forefront of the "new generation of salsa music". "They continue to represent the past, present, and future of salsa, and the shit sounds like melaza pura. "Puerta Del Sur" is Bio Ritmo's best album to date. Punto y fin." (Christian Martir, DJ, founder of Pa'lante! NYC)