|Tom Hayes||15-August-2002||Chango at a Glance|
Imagine yourself walking the barrios in Queens, New York circa 1975. Bums, pushers, hookers, street musicians and the smell of tortas vendors. You see a small club, it has a name like "Enrique's Hell Hole," you venture in. Torches are a-flaming, you tiptoe over the junkies and needles scattered about the floor. There are hundreds of sweaty men and women grooving to the most energetic music the American Latino community ever produced. On stage are six fried dudes, cranking out some intense music. I do mean intense. Two percussionists and a drummer drive the speedy pulse, while organ, bass and guitar roar, slash and sing. This is all Chango's first album and for anyone who likes the early Santana vibe, then you are in for a treat, cause Chango goes where Santana let up. That's right - forget "Soul Sacrifice" and get ready for some serious jamming. This is Santana IV, the culmination of heavy Latin groove rock. This album has it all, the screaming Carlos guitar licks (and what chops!), the swirling organ (do you like Hammond? Oh boy, get a doctor, you'll need it), the speed freak machismo lead singer (messed up chicks swoon for this) and of course those danceable and tranced-out rhythms (even this stiff white guy noticed). The lyrics are just what you want from this kind of album: Sex, life-in-the-ghetto, grade-school mysticism and well, sex.
Right off the bat, you're pulverized with "Fire Over Water" followed by the eight minute "Walk on Hell". Do I really need to describe these tracks? Put the environment, instrumentation, song titles and influences together and you've got an aural vision. Many of the songs are catchy too - you'll be humming them for days. "Caminando", "Solid Karma" and especially "Mira Pa 'Ca" just have KILLER melodies. But where Chango excels is in the instrumentals like the pounding "Bollo" and "Bembe" plus the beautiful "Sacapa." But the best is saved for last. The nine minute title track combines relentless energy, tuneful melodies and fiery instrumental playing. It's awe-inspiring. Careful though, as you may find yourself in a big heap afterwards. Of course the closing moments have a 15 year old's imagination-girl-moaning-in-ecstasy bit. It's stupid but somehow fits.
How this album missed the big time is a mystery to me. Being 1975 perhaps it was too late for the early Santana sound, but not too many groups went down this road. I'm guessing that ABC records, not known for their marketing muscle, had no idea how to promote it. There are few albums ever that contains this kind of energy and instrumental virtuosity and combines that with a strong melodic sense. A true masterpiece and a really undiscovered gem. Fortunately the Akarma record company has done us all a favor by releasing this on CD and an exact gatefold LP.
For Chango's second album, Honey is Sweeter Than Blood apparently
lead singer Pepe Gomez got too big for his britches and tossed all the
members except one, changed labels to Mercury and went soul-pop. The music
isn't even recognizable for those who love the first album and is a huge
disappointment. For Latin Soul music, it's not bad but not exactly what I'd
hoped for. I seriously doubt anyone will reissue this and it doesn't need to
be. Just go straight for the first album and never look back.
|Links for further information|