World Music With A Latin Flavor

Originally published on October 4, 2011 11:51 am

As he often does during weekends on All Things Considered, Betto Arcos visits the show this week to talk about some of the best new sounds he's been spinning on Global Village, his world music program on KPFK in Los Angeles. His picks this time around include a flamenco-jazz hybrid from Spain, joropo from Colombia, canchona from Washington, D.C. (by way of El Salvador), and a Cuban-inflected dance number from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host: Time now for music.

Today, global music DJ Betto Arcos is back to give us a taste of the latest in Latin music from Spain, Columbia, El Salvador, even farther afield: the Democratic Republic of Congo. But we start in Spain.


MARTIN: Betto is the host of "Global Village" on KPSK in Los Angeles. He joins us from our studios at NPR West. Betto, thanks so much for being here.

BETTO ARCOS: Thank you so much, Rachel.

MARTIN: Pleasure to talk with you. So the music that we're hearing right now is from a new jazz tribute album to Miles Davis and his 1960 album "Sketches of Spain" and it's called "Miles Espanol," and, you know, there are countless Miles Davis tribute albums out there. Betto, how is this one different?

ARCOS: Well, what makes this album special and different is that it's really an album of the music and roots that influenced "Sketches of Spain." The album brings together top Latin jazz musicians from the U.S. and a few big names in jazz like Chick Corea and Ron Carter, musicians who play with Miles Davis, as well as some of the top flamenco musicians in Spain.

The song we're listening to here is called "Saeta/Pan Piper," and halfway through this piece, there is a really, really cool brass section in the middle of the song and you can hear that it's making a reference, not to "Sketches of Spain" but to "Kind of Blue," the Miles Davis classic. And that's the connection to Miles Davis in this particular case.

But what really drives this song is the percussion, that immense, intense energy which you can hear coming through right now.


ARCOS: Now, this particular piece illustrates perfectly just how diverse and how rich Latin music can be. Now, the song begins with a melody played on this Galician bagpipe, then toward the end, it's transformed into a Colombian style of music called joropo, played by the incredible, the amazing harpist Edmar Castaneda who's from Colombia, by the way.

MARTIN: So there's actually this evolution that's happening. I mean, it makes sense that this is an echo of Miles Davis. As you mentioned, the song completely changes by the time you get to the end of it.

ARCOS: It is like a suite. It's like three parts, and it really just gives you the whole range of colors that you can get in jazz and Latin music, in any music. It's just an amazing piece of music of this double CD "Miles Espanol."


MARTIN: Betto, you mentioned Colombia. You talk about the Colombian style of music called joropo. Colombia is where the next band that you've brought us is from, right?

ARCOS: Right. They're called Cimarron, and they play a style of music called joropo, which is roots music from the plains of Colombia and Venezuela. This song is called "El Gavilan," "The Hawk." It's a standard of Colombian and Venezuelan music from the plains, very popular in that part of the country.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

ARCOS: Many of these instruments that you hear in this music can be found only in these areas. They are offsprings, if you will, of the guitar. There's a tiple, a Colombian instrument that has 12 steel strings. There is a bandola, which is shaped like a pear, has four strings and is plucked with a small pick. But the essential instrument of joropo, and this particular music from the plains of Venezuela and Columbia, is the cuatro. There's no way you can play this music without this instrument. It's a four-string...

MARTIN: What's a cuatro?

ARCOS: A cuatro is a four-string instrument. It might look like to some people like a ukulele but it's got its own sound, and it's strummed. And it's like - you hear - in this particular tune, you hear this, like a galloping of the strumming that the musician is playing.


MARTIN: There's a lot going on there. We're listening to the band Cimarron. My guest is Betto Arcos, host of KPSK's "Global Village" in Los Angeles, and we're listening to some of his favorite new Latin music.

Betto, let's move on to the next band. They're called Los Hermanos Lovo, and although they're from El Salvador, they're kind of a local band because they're based right here in Washington D. C. Let's take a listen.


LOS HERMANOS LOVO: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: So I don't know what that percussion instrument is, but it kind of sounds like a clip-clop of a horse, you know?

ARCOS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Is there any way – what's this story about? Is there a journey involved in this?

ARCOS: In fact, yes. The song is called "Las Tres Fronteras," "The Three Borders." It's about Central Americans, specifically from El Salvador, who come to the U.S. in search of a better life and they have to cross three borders: Guatemala, Mexico and the U.S. They play this music called chanchona which is really connected to Colombia, believe it or not. Cumbia comes from Colombia, and cumbia in the 1950s and 1960s, it became very popular throughout Latin America. Every country or every region of Latin America has their own way of playing cumbia. In El Salvador, it became this kind of roots music.

MARTIN: And you're right. It does have a folk music feel to it. I mean, you could just imagine being on a street somewhere and seeing a group playing something like this, a very stripped down kind of acoustic sound.

ARCOS: That's right. You can hear them either in El Salvador or you could hear them not far from where you live in the D.C. area. They're actually based in Northern Virginia.


LOVO: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: That's Los Hermanos Lovo.

Betto, we've got time for just one more band, and unlike the other artists that we've been listening to, this group isn't exactly what you think of when you think of Latin music. They're from the Democratic Republic of Congo.


MARTIN: I love this. So this band is from Congo but you're obviously hearing some pretty strong Latin influences coming through. Tell me about them.

ARCOS: This band is called Staff Banda Bilili, and what you're hearing in this particular tune is definitely a direct link to the music of Cuba.

Cuban music has been absorbed and reinvented and popularized in African countries like the Congo. This particular brand of Congolese music called Congolese rumba. And you can definitely feel the energy and this amazing emotion coming through in this particular tune.


STAFF BANDA BILILI: (Singing in foreign language)

ARCOS: Staff Banda Bilili is an incredible band with a remarkable story. They're a group of six musicians, most of whom are paraplegic.

MARTIN: Really?

ARCOS: And who were discovered by French filmmakers who were filming a documentary in the area about the music of the Congo and found them playing, believe it or not, outside of the Kinshasa Zoo where they were living basically in cardboard boxes. Now, most of the musicians in the band sit on tricycles and play guitars and sing but the youngest member of the band, who's about 18 years old, would join them when he was just a teenager, plays an instrument called a satonge.

He made it out of a powder milk can and a metal string and it makes this incredible sound. Let's hear some of the solo.


MARTIN: It sounds like an amazing electric guitar riff. That's a milk can and a metal string?

ARCOS: Yes. Isn't that amazing?

MARTIN: Unbelievable.


MARTIN: That's the band Staff Banda Bilili. Their album is called "Tres Tres Fort." There's also a documentary about the band that's just hitting theaters. And that's just one of the many artists that you can hear on Betto Arcos' show. It's called the "Global Village." You can hear it on KPSK in Los Angeles. Betto, it was a pleasure. Thanks for sharing the music with us.

ARCOS: My pleasure, Rachel.


MARTIN: And for Sunday, that's weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Remember, you can hear the best of this program on our podcast. Subscribe or listen at iTunes or at We post a new episode Sunday nights. I'm Rachel Martin. Thanks for listening. Have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.