Various Artists
Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque

Every hardcore music fan has that moment when they realize that there’s a great big world of music out there and they’ve barely scratched the surface. Thank heavens for a label like Strut. If you’re into expanding your sonic horizons, the British label has become the one to watch. They’re frighteningly adept at finding rare gems and rediscovering forgotten music scenes. But what puts their releases over the top is that the music is presented in a way that makes it seem less like a stiff musicology lesson and more like a rocking party. For Strut’s most current endeavor, they’ve teamed with the Sofrito collective.

The UK-based crew, lead by DJs Hugo Mendez, Frankie Francis and the Mighty Crime Minister, has been kicking around since 2007 and has slowly expanded to a worldwide presence. The collective started by throwing warehouse parties, but rather than spinning electronic music, Sofrito focused on “tropical” sounds, diving into Afro, Caribbean and Latin rare grooves. While too many current DJs are content to let a high-speed internet connection and a mouse do the digging for them, Mendez and Francis are still getting their fingers dirty in searching. It makes sense as most of the tunes have had only limited runs on tiny labels. Yet these guys take it a step further. They’ll re-edit, remaster and then repress the tunes to give them the sonic punch modern sound systems demand. And after a few 12-inch releases they’ve finally dropped a full-length compilation, Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque.

Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque is a selected overview of the past four years with the crew. The disc encompasses Congolese, soukous, calypso, highlife and soca, to name just a few of styles heard. But more importantly it’s a party-starter. There’s no type of DJ megamix madness. Instead, each song stands on its own two feet, so there’s no interruption of the hypnotic guitar lines on Les Ya Toupas Du Zaire’s “Quiero Amanacer” or fading out too soon on the timbales solo in “Sabroso Bacalão.” And there’s no attempt to modernize anything, hence no banging electro breaks or guest vocalists to sell it to the kids. Nope, nothing but the same grooves that rocked crowds decades ago.

Too often when these types of tunes are presented it’s as “world music,” which tends to ignore the fact that these songs are products of actual scenes. It might seem like a slight distinction, but if Western music can get untold millions of gallons of ink on the various rock subcultures then at least acknowledge that there are other things going on in other areas of the world too. The Sofrito: Tropical Discotheque packaging helps to fill in the pieces by having nice liner notes that explain the stories behind the songs. While you may not have known anything about Sir Victor Uwaifo or El Timba at least now you can fake it. And even if your body is in the icy grip of old man winter, this comp will put your mind somewhere sweaty.
Dorian S. Ham