Very Be Careful, Cargo, London

Nick Hasted
Tuesday 06 May 2008 00:00
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This is an LA sound we're hardly used to. Very Be Careful draw on the driving mid-20th-century versions of Colombia's cumbia and vallenato music, styles forged from a mixture of African slave, Amerindian and Spanish traditions with rock'n'roll's polyglot energy, which spread through Latin America. The way this band play, long into the night, even this club in Shoreditch starts to feel like a back-street cantina.

Charismatic, physically intense singer-accordionist Ricardo Guzman is at the heart of things, throwing himself back in his chair as he shoots riffs from his instrument like a guitar or horn section, or cradling it like a baby at melancholy moments. Arturo Guzman's lazy, short plucks on his double-bass subtly help the music sway, while Craig Martin's guacharaca (a scraped shaker), Dante Ruiz's struck wood campana and Richard Panta's caja drum mean there are four beats of high colour.

Even martial, 4/4 rhythms give a clean sense of space and constant internal movement between instruments, with off-beat accents. It is top-grade organic dance music, a South American alternative to James Brown's funk.

As "Ardillita" kicks in, and Guzman's voice implores more strongly, and he draws wild shrieks from his accordion, the dancing becomes almost maddened. The shanty rhythm eventually sinks to a bare beat, letting us down gently. "OK, we're almost ready to start, pretty soon," he says with satisfaction. Some of the crowd are Colombians, dragging along British friends. But the distinction between those who are Latin and Latin for the night soon disappears, as they limbo and improvise moves, and Very Be Careful become a true night-time band, playing on in the background at the massed dancers' service.

As Very Be Careful move deep into a second hour, band and crowd keep each other going. Songs are rolling into each other now. On one, the campana acts as a Caribbean steel drum, on another there's a Spanish flourish (the accordion at the heart of this slave-born music is a colonisers' gift). There are pauses for breath, when the beat becomes a slow heartbeat. But the most committed dancers are in a sort of sweating ecstasy, and the band accede to their demands. Very Be Careful only stop when they and we are wrung out. And everyone leaves satisfied.

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