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Salsa with a hint of Gallic

Fatal Mambo
Fatal Mambo
By Fatal Mambo

Tinder Records: 1997

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This review first appeared in the November 22, 1997 edition of the American Reporter.

If you want to know just how far the world music movement has gone in breaking down barriers between musical styles and making a mockery of nationalism, then Fatal Mambo is your outfit.

Consider this: Salsa is an American derivation of Cuban son that was developed in New York by Cuban and Puerto Rican expatriates in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Okay, but even then, the Cuban sound the expatriates were basing their efforts on had been deeply influenced by American big band swing – the top Cuban bands of the '30s, '40s and '50s were all configured like Fletcher Henderson's or Benny Goodman's outfits, with the addition of Latin percussion. And of course, no matter how derivative of Cuban styles and traditions, the U.S. salsa musicians were also influenced by American swing (among other domestic styles).

Now enter Fatal Mambo, which hails from the south of France and plays a swinging brand of salsa that's something all its own. This is salsa that's just as influenced by Carlos Santana as by Eddie Palmieri, salsa with a hint of Edith Piaf. It is salsa sung in French – which, oddly enough, never seems odd.

The beat is what one would expect, it's the other instrumentation that delightfully veers from the expected into all kinds of new sounds – the soaring electric guitar, the plaintiff Eastern-sounding soprano sax on "Tu Le Sais," the sultry salon vocals of Sonia Sala on "Les Affaires."

Is Fatal Mambo what purists would consider a salsa band? Is this legitimate Cuban music? Oh, who cares – it swings like crazy, it's infectious as hell and it'll have you up out of the easy chair cutting a rug.