Biography: Bio Ritmo
For several years, a small pool of progressive, independent-minded salsa musicians has bubbled up from the underground like the spicy juices in a sofrito. They have been able, against tough odds, to creates meaningful and fresh music, which has given fans some reason for hope. This is a good thing, because after the debacle of the salsa romantica movement ascending to the top in the ‘80’s, and the one-tow-three sucker punch of merengue, bachata, and reggaeton, it’s a wonder that any new and interesting salsa has been produced at all in the last fifteen years, especially considering the general downturn in the music industry.
La Exelencia, Grupo Fantasma, Jose Conde y la Fresca, Alex Wilson, Sergent Garcia, and Ricardo Lemvo have all produced excellent samples of contemporary salsa, but surely one of the best original and longest running must be Bio Ritmo. Since their founding in 1991, this Richmond, Virginia-based orchestra has fearlessly carried on the spirit of tradition/innovation that once was so prevalent in the 1970s but is rarer today. These self-produced, veteran indie-label warriors are all accomplished musicians in their own right, coming originally from disparate musical backgrounds outside the realm of salsa-reggae, punk, classical, and modern jazz. They possess a confidence and skill born not only of paying dues but also from actually knowing what they want to do with their music, unlike some mainstream, big-label artist. Though diverse, the band members are united by a preference to emulate the classic salsa dura they all love, rather than to slavishly reproduce it. Though the membership and sound of Bio Ritmo has definitely gone through some changes over the decades, by maintaining a core of free-thinking and high-caliber musicianship, they have been able to steer towards ever-higher achievement. The last five years have seen them hone their vision to a laser beam that is brighter and sharper than ever, producing the ability to blow multiple holes in both people’s minds and the soles of their feet.
Their most recent album, La Verdad (The Truth), is the consummation of years of struggle and triumph, frustration and breakthrough. Released on vinyl, the record sports a cover by talented visual artist Rei Álvarez, the band’s vocalist and frequent composer. As with their last four releases, punk, disco, electronica, Brazilian, African, funk, dub, Middle Eastern and classical all have a place in the recording’s musical vocabulary, along with serious Latin chops. The fact that the band has not only survived but continued to evolve in the current harsh climate for makers of real music is something that must be celebrated.
Conservative salsa purists find Bio Ritmo challenging and confusing, branding the group as “too jazzy”, leading to a certain lack of support in some camps. This sort of inability to comprehend is a pity, because those same self-proclaimed “true salseros” probably love the similarly groundbreaking music of yesteryear. But none of this really matters, because the band was nurtured (and has survived) away from the epicenters of Afro-Antillean music anyway, finding it’s fans in spite of industry marginalization-a diverse international audience that loves how the band mixes it up in such original ways while remaining true to their roots. It is this commitment to truth that sets Bio Ritmo free.
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