The late sixties was a time of great change. Ismael Rivera, or Maelo as he was known to his friends, was just getting acclimated to the City having resigned himself to living in the metropolis after the rejection from Puerto Rico. Along with his long time “compañera,” Gladys Serrano, Maelo took up residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side periodically showing up at the Central Park “rumbas” while mingling with everyone from peace loving hippies to radical protestors, Maelo could rub elbows with the best of them. ...MORE >
The late sixties was a time of great change. Ismael Rivera, or Maelo as he was known to his friends, was just getting acclimated to the City having resigned himself to living in the metropolis after the rejection from Puerto Rico. Along with his long time “compañera,” Gladys Serrano, Maelo took up residence on Manhattan’s Upper West Side periodically showing up at the Central Park “rumbas” while mingling with everyone from peace loving hippies to radical protestors, Maelo could rub elbows with the best of them.
Controversia reflects these changing times. Having spent time in a penitentiary in Kentucky, Maelo felt first hand the racism that penetrated the South. An Afro-Puerto Rican, he let his own Afro go natural, wore jeans, wrote many songs and even organized a few bands while in the joint. After his release, he attempted a reunion with his “compadre” Rafael Cortijo, but it was not to be. He returned to New York, formed his own group that he named after a pipe, Los Cachimbos, and began smoking the clubs once more, this time using the moniker casually placed on him by Cuba’s Benny Moré, “the master singer.”
Controversia is a great recording from “El Sonero Mayor.” Produced by the King of Latin Music, Tito Puente, Controversia brings us a mix of Africa via Boricua and Cuban folk mixed with New York style salsa and r&b infused boogalu with “jala jala.” The title tune opens with a traditional rumba, popular in New York’s Central Park during this time. It is a call of empowerment, musical empowerment that breaks into a danceable guaracha taking no prisoners on the dance floor.
Doña Margot’s bomba ‘La Arañita” follows with a charming beat and a catchy coro. Maelo’s mother was well known for her infectious song writing that graced many of Cortijo’s recordings.
Victor Mercado’s “Lo Que Dijo la Gitana” features some wonderful keyboard work by Javier Vasquez coloring Maelo’s vocals. Here the coro praises the beauty and goodness of women in an upbeat, dance style format that is as soul inspiring to sing as dance.
The bolero “Ama” by Rudy Calzado again highlights the tinkling chords and colors of Vasquez’ piano behind Maelo’s smooth and sultry phrasing.
“Jala Jala” jams on the dance floor. A cousin to the boogalu popular at the time, Maelo also wrote this foot stomper.
“Tambores Africanos” is a salsa chant to the African “orishas” where Maelo sings in some of the African dialect left to us through the African Diaspora. Bringing down Chango, Yemaya and Obatala, Maelo takes us to the roots of the music that traveled to the Caribbean only to find its spotlight in New York.
“Compay Guito” written by José Davila Lopez tells the tale of a colorful character, el compay Guito, who drinks, lies and picks fights in the ‘hood. This tune practically segues into the following uptempo descarga sounding, “Gulliver.” A smoker on the dance floor and a challenging tongue twister for the coro, Gulliver rocks like no other tune on this recording. A taste of carnaval, a feeling of exhilaration and a challenge for any singer, Maelo tests his own mettle on this provocative number. Featuring a driving piano vamp by Javier Vasquez, and a soaring trumpet solo, Gulliver is exhillarating.
Maelo’s Cordero y Belmonte centers on two popular Puerto Rican horse jockeys of color that made a community proud. The coro says it all when they sing “Son los campeones, aca por el Norte.” The champions of the North, and probably a reference to all the horse races that Maelo would accompany his pal Cortijo to.
“Increible,” a Raul Marrero number focuses on the primal envy and jealousies of humanity. In a typical Javier Vasquez arrangement style, the number is custom made for Maelo where he advises that death saves no man from his punishment. Maelo uses his voice as instrument here melodically slurring the mouthed rhythms above the percussion intoning scales while rhythmically singing an ending that comes too soon for my taste.
Producer - Tito Puente
A & R – Charlie Palmieri
Engineer – Pat Jacques
Recording – Broaway Recording Studios
Original Album Design – Izzy Sanabria
Original Photo – Bradley Olman