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Lisandro Meza y su Combo Gigante Salsita mami Lisandro Meza
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Lisandro Meza (born in 1939) is one of Colombia's most talented all around musical giants, still going strong today. Equally adept at playing musical instruments (accordion, piano, guitar, bass, gaita) as he is at composition and singing, Meza has recorded just about every type of Colombian genre as well as his own decidedly Colombian versions of salsa, Afrobeat, funk and disco, though he's arguably most famous for his vallenato recordings of the 80s and 90s. He is one of a handful of Colombian musicians whose work is universally revered in South and Central America; he has done so much to promote his region's coastal music that he's seen as a cultural ambassador by his fellow countrymen, affectionately referred to as "El macho de América". In 1961 Meza joined Los Corraleros de Majagual under the leadership of Manuel Cervantes; in 1965, he started his own small group (conjunto) to play dances and enter competitions, while still performing and recording with Los Corraleros. After traveling to Venezuela, Panamá, México and the US with Los Corraleros in the mid to late 60s on several tours, Meza decided to change his sound, augmenting his solo work by creating his own big band in order to play some of the non-Colombian genres he encountered along the way, especially the Cuban-based dance music being played by the young generation of New York Latin musicians referred to (in Venezuela and later New York) at the time as "salsa".

Perhaps taking a page from bandleaders like Benny Moré, Cortijo and Kako, Meza decided to name this new band his "Combo Gigante" – indicating a compact unit but with a big sound, inspired by Cuban, Puerto Rican, and New York orchestras of the time. Meza's outfit was augmented by two additional vocalists, Lucho Gómez and Lucho Peñate, who had a good feel for the New York sound. Gómez also sang on the Orquesta Ritmos de Sabanas LP "El Pechugón" and had his own outfit, Lucho Gómez y su Grupo. Unlike many budding salsa bands at the time, for the first record "Salsita mami" (released 14 September 1970), Meza's arrangements put the saxophone out front on several songs (it would be supplanted by Meza's own electric guitar on the subsequent album, "En Nueva York con Lisandro Meza y su Combo Gigante"). The band also features the tambourine, a major addition to New York Latin music during the boogaloo craze, with plenty of space for the piano, timbales, and brass to stretch out on the largely improvised montunos. If one listens to Fruko y sus Tesos from this same time period, a similar uncompromisingly hard sound is apparent, especially with the bass (electric, played with a pick) and prominent cowbell, as well as swaggering, ominous melodies and a certain odd funkiness inspired by the coastal rhythms of the indigenous cumbia and porro. Whether or not Fruko was directly involved with playing on or producing the sessions is not clear, but he was well known to Meza from his stint playing timbales in Los Corraleros from 1965-70, and was credited with composing the lyrics to album's lead tune, the fiery descarga (jam session) 'Me quedo en Cali' – a nod to Colombia's salsa-loving clientele. There are no Meza originals here, but the cover tunes are inspiringly done: check out the fiery version of Joey Pastrana's 'Cha Ca Boom' or the fun 'A romper el coco' – called 'El coco' here –, made famous originally by Benny Moré with Pérez Prado; plus there's 'Soy dichoso', which was a smash for Tommy Olivencia and Chamaco Ramírez in 1967, a version of Milton Zapata's 'Milton's jala jala' (called 'Arrebata' here) and the Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera anthem from 1961 'Sabroso guaguancó' (also done by Eddie Palmieri y la Perfecta); not to mention 'Cuca la loca' – a hit for Willie Rosario and his vocalist Adalberto Santiago in 1968 but originally performed by Bienvenido Granda and La Sonora Matancera. The only truly Colombian tune on the record is 'El cocinao', a paseaíto (sort of a fast cumbia) by Hernando Barrios. Long a sought after rarity for collectors and DJs of "salsa dura", "Salsita Mami" has been lovingly remastered and restored from the original tapes and is now available for your dancing and listening pleasure.

Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead

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