“Lemvo and his band, Makina Loca, manage a blend of Cuban and Central African traditions that is seamless and organic - and infectious.”
– The Los Angeles Times
La Rumba SoYo, the album from Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca, is a multinational undertaking that was recorded on three continents and in four countries (US, Canada, France and Angola). It took Lemvo three years to complete and sees him diving even deeper into his Angolan roots for inspiration. Cumbancha released the album worldwide in 2014.
With his band Makina Loca, the Los Angeles-based singer produces an appealing blend of African and Cuban music that has earned him a worldwide following. Lemvo's early recordings drew mainly from Congolese rumba and soukous mixed with Cuban son and salsa. His 1998 hit "Mambo Yo Yo," which appeared on the first of two albums he released on Putumayo, can be heard to this day pouring out of taxicabs and on salsa club dance floors in Cartagena, New York, Tokyo, Paris and beyond.
Lemvo hails from M’Banza-Kongo, Zaire in Northern Angola. He grew up in Congo-Kinshasa where he was introduced to Cuban music by a cousin who owned a large collection of vintage Cuban LPs. Lemvo came to the US more than 30 years ago to pursue a law degree but ended up devoting his life to music. Since forming his band Makina Loca in 1990, Lemvo has toured extensively in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Africa and released six previous albums.
While Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca made their name with a blend of Cuban and Congolese music, Lemvo eventually decided to explore the Angolan styles and languages he also heard while growing up in the Congo. He began singing in Portuguese and indigenous Angolan languages, and adding Angolan rhythms such as semba and kizomba to his mix. With a number of successful albums to his name, and having performed on some of the world's greatest stages, his musical career took an unexpected turn about a decade ago when he suddenly became a household name in Angola. What began as a personal artistic journey led him to be embraced by the Angolan public and his life in music began a surprising new chapter.
Today Angola has become one of the world's fastest-growing economies. Music is an essential part of the country's cultural life. Interestingly, Angola’s recording industry still has thriving record stores and is one of the few African countries where legal CDs are still prevalent in spite of the rampant piracy. Local musicians have developed a unique sales strategy to beat piracy; every weekend, musicians en masse bring their CDs to a series of outdoor markets, where they perform to backing tracks nonstop from morning until evening. Some artists can sell up to 2,000 CDs a day to the throngs of music fans that show up to the many such markets. Lemvo's music is now in high demand in Angola, and he is invited there to perform numerous times a year.
Three songs from the album, “Dikulusu,” “Padre George,” and “Simone CM,” were written in collaboration with Angolan songwriters. With his increasing fame, Lemvo has built strong relationships with revered Angolan musicians and composers. Songwriter Adão Filipe is the director of the National Radio of Angola. A fan of Filipe's work, Lemvo asked him for some lyrics and the result was “Dikulusu” (A Heavy Cross). Fellow Angolan Ndulo Kituxi, who is well known in local music circles, composed the music. It is a humorous song in three languages (Portuguese, Kikongo and Kimbundu) about a man who complains to his ex-wife about the alimony he pays her ending up in her new husband's pocket, “Dikulusu” begins with an accordion-led Angolan semba rhythm then shifts effortlessly into a Congolese rumba.
Lemvo co-wrote “Padre George” (Father George) with the renowned Angolan artist Kyaku Kyadaff. The laid-back rumba, which features the nimble guitar work of Huit Kilos Nseka from the Congo, tells of a man who seeks the advice of a priest to help him turn his life around. “Tell me, tell me, Padre George, what sin have I committed? Please tell me, what shall I do to get out of this mess?" The third Angolan-influenced track is “Simone CM,” which was written with Caló Pascoal as a tribute to the daughter of one of Lemvo's Angolan friends. In this kizomba, a popular Angolan rhythm similar to Caribbean zouk, Lemvo sings “Oh, beautiful Simone. Lock me out of the house. Make me sleep on the sofa. I will still love you.”
While Lemvo explores Angolan styles on La Rumba SoYo, he does not abandon the salsa, soukous and son that has long defined the Makina Loca sound. “Santo António do Zaire” (Saint Anthony of Zaire) kickstarts the album with a smooth mix of Cuban son montuno and Congolese rumba. It is based on a traditional song that tells of a young woman who prays for a child and a better life. She calls on Saint Anthony of Zaire to help her improve her situation.
Some of the songs on La Rumba SoYo may have heady themes, but that's certainly not the case of the album's title track, which is a straight-up party song designed to get people moving. The infectious mix of Caribbean merengue and Congolese soukous is destined to make "Rumba SoYo" one of the feel-good anthems of the year. “I am the rumba king. Come with me and we'll dance the night away."
“Kari Kuyéyé” is a son montuno that Lemvo co-wrote with long time arranger and collaborator Jesús "El Niño" Pérez, who also sings and plays piano on the track. On the upbeat salsa track “El Caburnacho” Lemvo sings in Portuñol, a mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, about a man trying to convince a high-class woman that she's not out of his league. "Tudia Tunua" is based on an old Congolese song that is often sung at funerals, but this soukous version is likely to raise the dead. Lemvo sings “Let’s eat, let’s drink, but there’s a time and place for everything.”
La Rumba SoYo also features the mutuashi beats of "E Moyo," which was originally recorded by the legendary Congolese singer Tabu Ley Rochereau in 1967. The romantic "Bolero Medley VF" is a fusion of classic ballads by Cuban legend Vicentico Valdez and Congolese icon Franco Luambo. La Rumba SoYo ends with a bang as Lemvo reprises one of his most popular songs. On this version of "Samba Luku Samba (Rumba Remix)" Lemvo adds a new bass line and arrangement that completes a song he never felt was as well-produced as he wanted it to be. This version is now up to Lemvo's exacting standards.
With La Rumba SoYo, Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca have created an exciting album that retains their appealing salsa meets soukous grooves and blends them with the Angolan rhythms and styles that have been such an inspiration to Lemvo in recent years.