ROCK / A hot taste of Dominica: Philip Sweeney talks to the Dominican merengue man, Cuco Valoy, and, below, finds there's plenty more where he came from

SABOR - flavour, tastiness - is a word much used by Latin Americans in praising tropical dance music. It is a quality Cuco Valoy possesses in spades. If the culinary equivalent of Juan-Luis Guerra's music (see below) is a souffle - light, clever and international - Valoy's is mondongo, the rich, dark Dominican cowsfoot stew which Valoy relished until recent digestive problems turned him into a reluctant semi-vegetarian.

Although his bands have featured other great singers, no voice in 30 years has been more flavoursome than Valoy's own, whether in humorous jaunty peasant mode or in superbly melodramatic salsa thrillers such as 'Mendigo de amor' (Beggar of Love), where the trumpets and trombones 'cry with emotion' over a hypnotic piano tumbao, stinging 12-string guitar, chanted male chorus and powerful, swooping bass, played by his brother Martin. Women feature prominently among Valoy's 300 hundred or so compositions. Often, as in 'Mendigo de amor', they are betrayers and heartbreakers - key words in a Valoy lexicon would be feminine adjectives such as condenada (accursed), mentirosa (lying) and abusadora (mistreating). In this, Valoy is close to the country-like bachata sub-style known as canciones de amargue (songs of bitterness) - though the maestro's power and intensity raise him far above the average campesino rum- stall lament.

A woman - Senora Valoy the second - answers the phone in Valoy's home in New Jersey, where he has lived for two years. 'Hang on Sweetheart,' she says in English, and in Spanish, off, 'Hey] Papy] A reporter from England] Rapido]' Valoy, courteous and open, affirms that his personal experience is a minor source of inspiration for his lyrics. 'I find it easy to write songs on the bitterness of love gone wrong because it's a part of the everyday life of ordinary people - everybody recognises it.'

Though he describes himself as apolitical, Valoy's early compositions include the nearest thing the Dominican Republic has to the Cuban revolutionary anthem 'Guantanamera'. He was born in Santo Domingo, in 1937, the son of a carpenter, and began his musical career in the late 1950s in a duo, Los Ahijados (The Godsons), with his brother Martin.

Their models were the star Cuban country duos and trios of the period, above all Los Compadres, and the light, swinging blend of the two voices, Martin's metallic 12-string guitar (taking the part of the traditional Cuban double-stringed tres), percussion and bass, is still treasured by aficionados. Re-worked Ahijados numbers have peppered the repertoire of Valoy's subsequent groups, though the political rallying song 'Paginas Gloriosas' (Pages of Glory) has been little heard latterly. In 1965 it was the anthem of the short-lived 'constitutional revolution' which was suppressed by the military government helped by US Marines. 'I was young,' says Valoy. 'I identified with the impoverished and marginalised against the wealthy establishment in power . . . but it was a long time ago . . .'

In 1971, the Valoy brothers first visited New York, and began to mix with Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto and other stars of the nascent pan-Latin salsa scene. In 1975 they formed their first full-size band, the 12-strong Virtuosos, which later turned into La Tribu (The Tribe), and finally the current Nueva Tribu (New Tribe), playing a deep, powerful blend of salsa and Dominican merengue.

Cuco's first wife contributed to the boom years of Valoy's reputation. Two sons (out of today's total of 14) became group members: the elder, Ramon Orlando, is now a major Dominican star. And Valoy Senior acquired both a nickname and a rumoured association with the Afro- Christian voodoo cult of santeria as a result of his 1977 merengue hit 'El Brujo' (The Sorcerer). In it a woman with a wayward husband is prescribed a santero potion (a bit of tobacco, a black cat's tail, love oil etc) to bring him home 'tame as a lamb'. 'I don't believe in Santeria much,' comments Valoy. 'But my wife's mother who was a santera used to receive people looking for preparations for their problems.'

Valoy has continued to work hard and successfully for the last few years, playing three or four dates a week across North and South America. A four-month-old album, El Que Sabe, around his fortieth, is selling respectably. The current retro mood in the Latin musical world is excellent news for lovers of the early, tastiest Valoy, however. Young salseros are beginning to pick up old Ahijados songs, and Valoy himself has returned to the studio to record an album, due out in April, of the old Cuban songs he first loved. 'This may be the direction I will take now . . . it's the music which I feel most deeply.'

The only thing to regret is the absence of brother Martin, who returned to Santo Domingo two years ago to sort out 'problems with his papers'. And, one surmises, to get a decent mondongo.

Cuco Valoy and his Nueva Tribu play the Equinox, Leicester Square, London on Sunday 7 March.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat