Various Artists – Sofrito International Soundclash review

While re-issue specialists such as Harmless, Far Out, Strut or Mr Bongo enjoy a respectable following thanks to their long-established nature and strong track record, very few new labels rooted in the world of global rhythms have managed to make waves outside of the dusty-fingered world of record collecting.

Since launching at the tail end of the noughties, the London based club night and label Sofrito have joined this select group. Focused primarily on 12” singles, often boasting new re-edits of little-known afro-disco, calypso or tropical gems, the label overseen by Hugo Mendez and Frankie Francis has tickled the fancy of a wide range of DJs. This is no fluke. By joining the dots between the past and the present and offering listeners formidable, floor-flaying material tailor-made for open-minded dancefloors, Sofrito has picked up a reputation as a must-buy label – a notoriously tricky feat in these days of falling sales and digital saturation.

Here, they return to Strut – regular employers of Francis for his formidable re-mastering and engineering skills – for a second compilation. Whereas the first, 2011’s Tropical Discotheque, had a distinctly tropical theme, Sofrito International Soundclash takes a more wide-ranging approach. The results are predictably enjoyable and deliciously heavy. Opening with the classic Soca of Lord Shorty & Vibrations International, the compilation moves through styles of pan continental music both past and present at a furious rate. There’s some contemporary Kenyan beats with London/Nairobi collective Owiny Sigoma Band presenting a new version of “Nabed Nade El Piny Ka”, a highlight from their 2011 debut for Brownswood, while the booming “Information Par Le Mistral” from Sartana et Son Groupe Mistral brings a taste of heavily-percussive gwo-ka. Sofrito’s own editing skills with beautiful calypso rhythms are showcased with a reworking of Concept Neuf’s 1979 cover of jazz-fusion mainstay “The Path,” while Afro Festival bring some joyous but unlikely fusion sounds.

It’s the contribution from the latter that neatly sums up the gloriously unpredictable and global approach of Sofrito. Originally released in 1979, “El Manicero Se Va” was recorded in Lagos by a Congolese artist, but somehow fuses Mexican, Caribbean and Middle Eastern sounds. At eight minutes, it’s a real highlight as the compilation nears its end and worth every glorious moment. Mendez and Francis ensure there is plenty more unusual and floor-friendly preceding it however; see the celebratory afro-boogie of Bell’a Njoh’s “Ebolo”, with its fuzzy early synthesizer solos, heavy clav backing and punchy bass, or the breathless dancefloor workout from Kiland Et L’Orchestre Mabatalai, a soukous outfit from the Ivory Coast whose career spanned the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Aside from the enthusiasts that gather at Sofrito parties in London and beyond, where many of these tracks are dancefloor staples, few will know much about many of these styles of music, let alone the artists who make them. But that’s the point: through International Soundclash, the Sofrito crew is opening our eyes and ears to brilliant sounds we never knew existed.

Matt Anniss


Tracklisting:

1. Lord Shorty & Vibrations International – Vibrations Groove
2. La Pesada – Cumbia y Tambo (En La Lluvia)
3. Midnight Groovers – O Ti Yo
4. Les Difficiles de Pétion-Ville – Fe’m Confiance (Tropical Treats Edit)
5. Owiny Sigoma Band – Nabed Nade Ei Piny Ka F
6. Mas Ka Klé – Lésé yo Palé
7. Kiland et L’Orchestre Mabatalaï – Pour Chercher le Magot
8. Bell’a Njoh – Ebolo
9. Concept Neuf – The Path (Sofrito Edit)
10. Grupo Canalon – La Zorra y El Perol
11. Les Vikings – Ambiance (Guhe Huiamo)
12. Sartana et Son Groupe Mistral – Information Par Le Mistral
13. Luis Kalaff y Sus Alegres Dominicanos – Agarralo Que Eso Es Tuyo
14. Afro Festival led by Fantastic Tchico Tchicaya – El Manicero
15. Melodica Teens Band – Mwekuru Muthao