Los Amigos Invisibles/Orishas, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

While most of the Northern world remains absorbed in romantic notions of the Latin spirit incarnated primarily by sexy salsa dancing, two of the biggest groups to have come out of Latin America in recent years are working in distinctly Anglo-Saxon genres.

The new album from the Venezuelan group Los Amigos Invisibles sounds as though it was made to be played quietly in a Clerkenwell restaurant. But for the Spanish lyrics and a couple of bossa-nova-tinged numbers (which they don't play tonight), its smooth, breezy funk/house is ubiquitous London background music.

Happily, they're better live, producing a robust, energetic party sound. It's fun to watch people playing what is essentially house music as though they were a rock band. Funk guitars are to the fore, Juan Manuel Roura's drum-kit takes a pasting, and the Amigos strut the stage like they're used to playing much bigger venues.

They don't deserve to be, though. This is tight, competent, foot-tapping stuff, but decent is as far as it goes: it's anodyne dance music with a bit of a Seventies feel. The interesting moments - a neat guitar solo, and singer Julio Briceño's incongruous diva impression - stand out precisely because the rest of it is just so four-to-the-floor. The "are you having a good time London?" cries amid "cuchi cuchi cuchi" choruses are irritating, and by the time they get to "Ponerte en cuatro", their celebrated paean to doing it doggystyle, these kids have overstayed their welcome. They might sound amazing at a party in Caracas, but this is Monday night in Shepherd's Bush and we've heard it all before.

If Los Amigos Invisibles play dull music very well, Orishas have the opposite problem. Their last album, Emigrante, was one of the best rap records of 2002. Orishas have three major strengths: colourful, textured backing that mixes traditional Cuban son with hip-hop beats; MCs who sing in harmony, and interesting lyrics about the Cuban experience.

Tonight, they sell themselves short on all three. The decks produce a tinny sound that strips the musical melodies of any impact, and it's hard to tell exactly what contribution the percussionist is making. The microphones, meanwhile, are certainly loud enough, but the quality is poor. Even the more familiar lyrics are hard to make out, and singer Roldan Rivera's dulcet tones don't come across at all.

Though the first couple of numbers are almost shambolic, by the third song, "Represent", they've settled into a groove, and once you get used to the poor sound, it's not bad as a hip-hop show - the people dancing on the balconies certainly look as though they're enjoying it. But, bar an entertaining acoustic "nueva trova" interlude, the Orishas come across like a Spanish-language version of so many other hip-hop acts. Their records suggest they can do a lot better than this.

Comments