Though the modern style of New York Latin music known as salsa penetrated South America during the mid to late 1960s, and Colombia had its share of bands and recordings influenced by this new strain of Cuban-influenced urban Latin dance music, it wasn't until Medellin's Fruko y sus Tesos first hit the scene in the early 1970s (and Discos Fuentes put its full marketing and production forces behind it) that the genre began to really take off in a home-grown, domestic form. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, band-leader/bassist/producer Julio Ernesto Estrada (aka Fruko) would develop and tweak his own take on this sound, the arrangements becoming more complex and original over time. In 1968 Fruko personally experienced the burgeoning salsa scene on a tour with Los Corraleros de Majagual when they went to Caracas and New York, inspiring him to form the Tesos (local slang for tough guys who know it all and are on top of their game, bestowed upon the band by Fruko’s lead trumpeter, Jorge Gaviria) in 1969.
"Tesura" (from 1970) is Fruko y sus Tesos' debut record. It displays a diamond-in-the-rough simplicity born of the street, flaunting an uncompromising macho menace that is compelling in its focus and elemental integrity, heavily influenced by Willie Colón's gangster posturing in New York. As Fruko has said, when "Tesura" was first released Colombians were convinced it was in fact recorded by a Nuyorican group, so thoroughly did it break with previous Colombian tastes, which until then (at least in the interior of the country) had been mostly for bambuco, tango, ranchera or cumbia. Though it was a hot little number, and certainly a harbinger of things to come, the record was not an immediate hit, only managing to sell 400 copies at first. Such is the fate of many a band and recording that is misunderstood or feared at the time of its release, only to inspire a new generation to launch a thousand more in its wake.
From the severely separated audio channeling to the uncompromising rhythmic approach and ubiquitous sharp trumpet stabs in the style of Ricardo Ray and Ray Barretto, "Tesura" more than lives up to its title (slang for 'toughness'). Fruko is right out front, his giant electric bass positioned in the center. The emphasis is on allowing the musicians to flex their muscles and strut their stuff, with many purely instrumental sections in a descarga (jam session) style echoing the freedoms being explored by the previously mentioned New York heavyweights Ray, Colón and Barretto, as well as Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, Louie Ramírez and Johnny Pacheco. Indeed, tough most of the tracks on the record are original, there is a cover version of Pacheco's 1970 hit 'La esencia del guaguancó' and 'Botando corriente' seems to borrow heavily from Louie Ramírez's 1963 descarga 'Botando candela'. The vocalist for this record is Humberto "Huango" Muriel (shown on the cover with the cigar and attack dog), who had been in Sexteto Miramar and was, according to Fruko, a fellow fan of Joe Cuba and the only domestic singer capable of being a sonero in Medellín at the time. He was soon replaced by Afro-Colombian vocalists from the country's tropical coastal areas in order to appeal to a larger potential fan base in salsa-friendly cities like Cali, Baranquiila and Cartagena. Fruko recruited Piper "Pimienta" Díaz from Los Supremos for the second album, and subsequently Joe Arroyo and Wilson "Saoco" Manyoma became his dynamic duo in the ensuing decade, leading to much greater success by the end of the 1970s.
Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead