From time to time I come across a CD that begs the question of what Americana actually is. Most people will define Americana as music derived from or associated with country music. The truth however is a little more complex. Americana, in the way the word originally was intended, was a term to describe American cultural institutions. A term that meant to capture American images as diverse and broad as ranging from the American chrome laden diners, the Fords and Cadillacs that conquered the highways, the sounds of Gershwin and Bill Monroe or the art of Norman Rockwell. As such the music genres it was intended to capture was a tad broader as it tends to do today in the minds of many people. The term pointed to institutions where the American melting pot solidified in cultural institution. With its African banjos and Spanish guitars, Bluegrass music is one of those institutions that springs too mind. Americana exists on that point where the old cultures fuse into something distinctive American.
Latin American art is not quickly viewed as Americana these days. The genre is sooner associated with a white America’s country, sometimes extending into black art forms such as blues and soul. This of course is a simplified image of the truth. Even the three art forms mentioned above exist in a constant dialog with each other. And the recent critical acclaim Alejandro Escovedo got from the music press and this site already underscore that the social reality in which music is born is much more complex than is often apparent on the surface. In cities as New Orleans and Memphis, a vibrant multi cultural society (with all its rough edges) led to many of the American institutions that are held dear today. In its essence country or blues aren’t white or black, they are products of a more complex American melting pot. Every time Willie Nelson strikes one of his trade mark Spanish chords, he testifies to that.
San Sebastian 152, out on Truth and Soul, is one such albums that make me question my conception of Americana. Though seemingly a Latin American record on the surface, the music on San Sebastian 152 is a marriage of various Latin American cultures that could only happen on American soil. With historic ties going back as far as Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella of Spain or the acquisition of Texas, there has always been a strong Latin vein in American culture. A fact that today is often obscured by iffy discussions about immigration. Yet with 40 million Spanish speaking US citizens the US holds the fifth largest Spanish community of the world. A community that is typical American as it is a mix of various Latin American cultures. It is no accident that this fine music group decided to name itself after the historic US route Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County.
With musicians that shared the stage with legendary names as Tito Puente, Celia Cruz and Ray Baretto, Bronx River Parkway has strong ties with a distinct American music form, the New York born Boogaloo, a highly explosive mix of various Latin American sounds with funk and soul. Bronx River Parkway successfully manages to recapture the exitement of that genre, with firm roots in the sixties, and take it to a new level. Fully acoustic, the album links Boogaloo to new trends in Latin American music and Hip Hop. The throbbing swampy bass locks you into a strong infectious groove that is guaranteed not to let you go for the full length of the album. Though there are few to no hints of country and blues on this album, Bronx River Parkway marries institutions that are undeniably American in an explosive and sweaty mix. Highly recommended for those who feel the need to sneak a peak into the American Barrios.
Samples of the album are available on the group’s MySpace page.
Pre-order now through Truth and Soul.
About the author: I started blogging out of a fascination with Soul music, Bruce Springsteen and Americana in general. Over at Boss Tracks I'm blogging on Bruce Springsteen and the songs he covered. http://bosstracks.blogspot.com/