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Rio Mira - Marimba Del Pacifico (Aya Records)
Based in the coastal town of Esmeraldes in Ecuador, named after a river that runs from Ecuador into Columbia, formed as a collaboration by musicians from the two neighbouring countries and guided by the distinctive warm percussive tones of the marimba, this is stunning music that blurs boundaries and borders. The marimba that opens the first track and underpins much of the music of this album is a symbol of the band's Afro-Pacific identity and is intertwined with the escaped slaves known as maroons who made the region their home from the early 16th Century onwards. But that history and the distinctive African call and response vocals are channelled into something that is new and joyous, infectious and uplifting. In 2015 UNESCO declared the marimba music of South Pacific Columbia and the Esmeraldes Province to be Intangible Cultural Heritage. The legacy of those who escaped from shipwrecked slave ships, or nearby plantations, seeking refuge along the Pacific coast, is then undeniably a positive one with the music demonstrating the unity that binds together regions divided by state borders.
Adios Morena and Agua, the first two tracks are built around the resonant warm sound of the marimba and wonderful call and response vocals, creating a spiralling cyclical sound. That sound builds slowly with two syncopated marimba rhythms that envelope you and carry you like waves on the shore. Guarapo and Nina Elena bring the striking vocalist Kara Kanora to the fore and have strong twisting dance rhythms that will be recognisable to anyone of South American and Cuban music. The beautiful call and response vocals are still there but they rise and fall over infectious pulsing beats. The drum sounds get bigger and bigger on Roman Roman with a huge frame drum behind the vocals adding to the hypnotic effect. Rain sounds and atmospherics on Aguacerito title the song and with a beautiful and simple vocal piece create a delightful interlude like the flipping of the sides on an LP. With Patacore, Ronca Canaleteand Andarele the tempo and layered drums with three separate rhythms are infectious and captivating with the vocal chorus driving everything on, this is definitely not music to sit still to. Estaban Llorando features softer percussion textures with the strong pulsing beat coming as much from the call and response vocals and again is hypnotic and utterly beguiling. Chikungunya is another short vocal piece, perhaps an interlude to prompt you to stop, breathe, take a moment, flip the record and start all over again.
From the slow hypnotic warm marimba, to the rich textured vocals, the layered rhythms and the rich history, there is much here to reward repeated listening. Rio Mira's Marimba Del Pacifico is released on AYA Records a newly formed offshoot of an Argentinian label, an outlet for projects from across South America. The band, the album and the label brim with a sense of the new, the infectious, and the exciting.