Album of the Week // 7–11 December

“Bichos is not only a superb introduction to Raúl Monsalve, it is also a brilliant window into the rich musical history of Venezuela.”

Ancestral Afro Venezuelan rhythms meet futuristic Latin jazz, raw funk and Afrobeat on Raúl Monsalve y Los Forajidos’ exhilarating new album, Bichos. Venezuelan bassist Raúl Monsalve leads an all-star ensemble of musical trailblazers including “the voice of Venezuela” Betsayda Machado, singer Luzmira Zerpa (Family Atlantica) and drummer Dave De Rose (Agile Experiments, Moloko, Mark Ronson).

Raúl Monsalve has dedicated much of his life to understanding and learning traditional Afro Venezuelan music, and studying under some of its greatest proponents among the percussionists of his home country, whilst at the same time taking as much interest in the sounds emanating from the fearless edges of jazz, rock and early electronic music.

In Venezuela, Monsalve played with a number of bands before forming the first incarnation of his Forajidos band, and self-releasing two increasingly popular albums. A move to Paris, via London, led to opportunities to share stages with a vast array of musical giants, not least of all the legendary Nigerian saxophonist Orlando Julius, as well as the Heliocentrics, Venezuelan master percussionist Orlando Poleo and members of Fela Kuti’s Afrika 70. Meanwhile, a new line-up of Forajidos toured Europe, celebrating the release of a sought-after 7” on Olindo Records. Since then, he has recorded and received critical acclaim with Paris-based Venezuelan avant-folk four-piece, Insólito UniVerso, whilst slowly putting together the pieces that would make up this new Forajidos album.

With producer/engineer/drummer Malcolm Catto (Heliocentrics, Quantic, Yussef Kamaal) behind the recording and mixing desk, Raul brought together a like-minded cast of friends from Venezuela, Paris and London, to help him create a fresh sound. He captures the essence of both the African and indigenous roots of Venezuelan music, alongside the forward-looking sounds of Afrobeat, gritty Latin jazz and experimental electronic music. Bichos — Spanish for ‘vermin’, ‘bugs’ or ‘beasts’, used in Venezuela to refer to someone as a ‘nasty piece of work” — draws all these strands together. The album uses a variety of animals such as the mosquito, butterfly, pig, snake, rooster and flea to represent a wide range of human qualities. These include greed, hate, love and compassion. The album discusses these characteristics and their impact on the diverse themes corruption, division, the strengths of friendship, family, collaboration, rebellion and survival.

The ancient-to-future direction of Raul’s music is best captured on album opener ‘Malembe’, featuring Venezuelan folk group Vasallos del Sol chanting over a razortooth synth bass and ‘La Mariposa’ (the butterfly), featuring singer Lya Bonilla. The Afro Venezuelan ‘Sangueo’, a traditional invocation to dance in celebration of Saint John the Baptist, is given a brand new funk. The polyrhythmic quitiplás percussion of Monsalve’s home country, created by hammering the ground with various lengths of bamboo tubes in a particular manner compliments the feel of ‘Bocón’, where Family Atlantica’s Luzmira Zerpa leads the call-and-response.

Acclaimed singer, Betsayda Machado, is magnificent on the Afro Venezuelan funk of ‘Mosquito’, attacking the blood-sucking politicians afflicting populations across the world, but particularly in Venezuela. Closing the record, ‘Pa’ los Maestros’ is a funked-up cha-cha groove dedicated to the maestros, or masters, of Afro-Latin culture and music. Bichos is not only a superb introduction to Raúl Monsalve, but also to a swathe of incredible musicians you might still be unfamiliar with. It’s also a brilliant window into the rich musical history of Venezuela, and an excellent look at how it might interconnect with wider musical parallels.

Hear tracks from the album all this week on Morning Mari*, 9:00–9:15 GMT.

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