Home Read Albums Of The Week: El Dragón Criollo | Pase Lo Que Pase

Albums Of The Week: El Dragón Criollo | Pase Lo Que Pase

Colombian multi-tasker Paulo Olarte Toro of Acid Coco, Contente & Jaguar goes it alone with an album of hip-swivelling psychedelic cumbia laced with hopeful lyrics.

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THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “On his debut album as El Drágon Crillo, Colombian producer, musician and singer Paulo Olarte Toro finds a meeting place between bouncing Caribbean cadences and dance floor-ready beats that threaten to propel your body into motion.

Pase Lo Que Pase (translating as Whatever Happens, Happens) is one of those albums that threatens to take you someplace new — in this case to the Colombian Caribbean sometime around the ’80s or ’90s, when analog synths, punchy drum machines and Afro-Caribbean guitar melodies ruled the roost. The fact that this was the era when Olarte Toro was growing up in Colombia should not go unnoticed. Now based in Geneva, Switzerland, it’s like he’s dialling back the years to a more innocent musical time, re-imagining what it was like for those early pioneers of reggaeton (long before it became so commercial) and for the musicians on Colombia’s Caribbean coast augmenting their tropical vinyl sets with rough-and-ready samples and lo-fi drum sounds.

Within this sonic milieu, there is joy at every corner, from the moment opening track La Número Uno sets off on its stripped-back champeta rhythm. In its swirling guitar lines, programmed beat (slowed down to cumbia pace) and unrushed vocals, it’s impossible not to lose track of time. Scratchy samples that mimic a dog’s bark and a beatific synth that enters the fray late on only add to the summery shimmer. Further twisted guitar lines are to be found on following track La Brisa, which was influenced by U.S. West Coast ’90s rock a la Jane’s Addiction (spot the reference if you can), while Líbrame de Todo Mal finds an unlikely union between reggae, a disarmingly-anthemic ’80s synth line and stinging guitar, with the odd klaxon letting you know this is a party you’re at. It’s a fiesta at which you’re never far from cumbia, as on the mesmerising Cumbia Fantasia, but also throughout the album, where cumbia’s rhythm, instrumentation and traditions are continually hinted at.

If musically there is much playfulness and a hint of nostalgia, albeit thrust up-to-date thanks to Olarte Toro’s production (lest it be known he has been making electronic music for nigh on 20 years), lyrically there is a heavy heart at play. The title track is a perfect example, as Olarte Toro states: “Pase Lo Que Pase talks about the situation that Latin America is experiencing at the moment. It’s a situation that, even though it is old, has become more important and has gained much more awareness on the part of the people. It talks about how the new generations are afraid of a situation that is no longer bearable, that people want a change and that they no longer care at what price, they no longer care if the price they have to pay is their life.”

While despairing at the continued inability of Colombia, and Latin America as a whole, to find peace, equality and a sense that the fight is there to be won, Olarte Toro is also hopeful. Hoy No Morire (Today, I Will Not Die), with a Brazilian influence in its percussion and guitar, is the story of someone who faces social injustice every day and has grown increasingly tired of the struggle, yet in its chorus, it also shows resistance and hope for a better time. Ojos de Bosque, a duet which likewise has a sprinkle of Brazilian bombast and is unafraid to get close to ‘pop’ terrain, was written when the first pandemic hit. It’s dedicated to Olarte Toro’s daughters, telling of the sadness that came with uncertainty and confinement, but likewise it’s optimistic, looking for inspiration in daily life and showing that you should never lose the desire to continue.

With his arsenal of guitar, bass, analog synths (chiefly Roland Juno-106 and JX-3P), samplers and percussion, not to mention his guiding voice, Olarte Toro has created an album that could only have been made by him, by a Colombian who grew up with Latin rock, reggaeton, cumbia, champeta, etc., and who moved to Europe to become a noted name in underground dance music circles. Since switching to making music wholeheartedly with a Latin tinge a few years ago he has not held back, releasing albums as a member of Acid Coco, Contento and Jaguar. Now, with his debut as El Drágon Criollo, we find him at his most playful, joyous and paradoxically realist, summoning a mesmeric sound that represents the Colombian Caribbean’s past, present and future.”