Un Toque Latino

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Swing may be the thing these days in the United States, but the hottest fad in France is salsa. Anything from Cuba and anything with a Latin beat seems to be the trend in Parisian nightclubs and on Parisian airwaves. For the past decade, Kassav has been France’s most popular Caribbean band. It hails from the Antilles island of Guadeloupe (a French territory), and, since 1979, the group has been at the forefront of a movement called zouk. In France, all of Kassav’s zouk albums have reached gold status, mixing reggae, Haitian compas and salsa with a touch of Afro-Guadeloupean grooves. With Un Toque Latino, Kassav rerecorded salsa versions of their greatest zouk hits. Many of the tracks are extremely catchy, and more often than not, these new versions are better than the originals.

While the album is extremely danceable, it is missing the brilliant musicianship such as percussion, piano, and tres solos so often found in Cuban music. The majority of the lyrics have been rewritten in Spanish with a few of their original Creole choruses thrown in for the die-hard Kassav fans.

The vocals are certainly one of Kassav’s strengths, alternating between the romantic, throaty sound of Jacob Desvarieux, the delectably sweet seductive chants of Jocelyn Beroard and more typically zouk-sounding Caribbean backing vocals. Even though much of the production seems formulaic — alternating between son, salsa, and charanga versions of the zouk originals — the album has its infectious moments despite its shortcomings.

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