Totó La Momposina y sus Tambores, 2015Tambolero

You don’t normally get the chance to go back in time and recreate an album. Building on a classic project that began 24 years ago is a challenge and a delight.

In 2009, the Swiss producer Michel Cleis released a house tune called La Mezcla, which featured two samples from Toto La Momposina’s album La Candela Viva. The track took off and his label, Cadenza, requested access to the multi-tracks so they could produce extra mixes. It was agreed and John Hollis (producer and now son-in-law of Toto) came to Real World Studios to seek out El Pescador and Curura, which meant locating the original 2 inch tapes from 1991 and 1992.


Hollis had been at those original sessions, and had often thought of one day revisiting them, but that summer day in 2009 when he listened to the recordings it was an experience that took him completely by surprise. “I was in the very room we had worked in during the 1992 sessions and when Greg, the engineer, pressed play and brought up the faders the sound was amazing. For me it was a deeply emotional moment; the presence of the musicians in performance was surreal, it felt like they were in the room, that the music had been made both just then and long ago. What’s more, I could now speak Spanish, understand their comments and laugh at their jokes. Apart from the album tracks selected at the time, we had all forgotten what had been recorded and I discovered a treasure trove of material.”

Totó early years

Marco V. Oyaga, Gilberto Martinez, Totó, Paulino Salgado (Batata), Julio Renteria

It was agreed at the time that it would be great to do something with the wealth of music sitting in the cupboard but at that point there was no clear idea what. Five years later, the moment arrived and a plan was formulated. The deeper everyone went into the project the more profound it became and the result is a reimagining of an album that was already special. It has also become a celebration of Totó’s career, which will soon reach a landmark 60 years – six decades dedicated to preserving, researching and developing an ancestral tradition, the identity of a people, passed down through the generations. La Candela Viva helped kick-start Totó’s international career and became a significant album for many, especially in Colombia, where she inspired a generation to embrace a culture long neglected by the mainstream.

Toto Gold copy

Totó – Photo Kevin Clifford

The first job was to bake the tapes to remove any moisture that had accumulated on them, making them playable again so that the recordings could be digitised and worked on with modern technology. There were no track listings or notes, so Hollis ended up going through everything – some 20 tracks and 40 takes.

That process threw up some real gems. At this point it occurred to John Hollis that Totó’s granddaughters would add a nice texture to some of the chorus lines and Totó happily agreed: “Claro, ellos son mis coristas! [of course, they are my backing singers].” Shortly after, Maria del Mar and Oriana Melissa entered The Wood Room studio, the very same space in which Totó and her band performed their set live 23 years earlier. Maria was present, a toddler at the time, and Oriana hadn’t been born. It was the second surreal moment and they delivered their parts beautifully. “I couldn’t resist the opportunity to drop double-bass into the sexteto songs, so we sent the tracks to Colombia, where Totó’s son, Marco Vinicio, went into the studio with Nestor Vanegas, the band’s current bassist. They added some lovely bass parts and now those tunes groove and breathe with fresh flair.”

Oriana Melissa

Oriana Melissa – Photo: York Tillyer

Maria del Mar

Maria del Mar – Photo: York Tillyer

Positive input from the original engineers, Dickie Chappell and Richard Blair, was invaluable and Peter Gabriel allowed the use of his personal studio for the work to be done in. Buoyed by this support, engineer Oli Jacobs and Hollis began mixing the recordings. The aim was to liberate the sound in a way not possible in 1992. The key to it all; unlocking the sound of Totó’s musicians’ drums. The beautiful tambores from the Caribbean coast of Colombia carry a rich range of frequencies, delivering an awesome sound. Hollis again “I wanted warm, bass-heavy colours from the heart of the wood and the crisp slap at the top edge of the skin. On these recordings the tambores are played by masters of the art and include the legendary drummer Batata. Hailing from an Afro-Colombian lineage, Batata was a key musician who worked alongside Totó and her family for many years. He has since passed and this album is imbued with the wonderful feel of his performance and presence. In tribute to him and the tradition championed by Totó for so long and in such an inspiring way, we renamed the album “Tambolero.”


David Bottrill, John Hollis, Richard Balir and Totó – Photo: Jeremy Andrews


4/5 – This re-creation of her most canonised work is a timely reminder… …of what the singer is fully capable of. Read more UK Vibe (UK)

Number 2. European World Music Chart European Broadcasting Union (Europe)

* * * * * An ingenious, and justified, remastering project. Songlines (UK)

Outlook’s Arts Daily slot on the BBC World Service listen here BBC World Service (UK)

An amazing well done package and a wonderful CD… …with the most amazing music by one of the most important artists in Latin America of all times. <ahref=”http: www.latinosinlondon.com=”” magazine_view.php?id=”250″”>Read more Latinos in London (UK)

* * * * Totó’s rich and powerful voice riding a wave… …of propulsive percussion, urged on by her feisty backing singers in the time-honoured call-and-response tradition. Read more The Irish Times (Ireland)

A syncopated, joyful delight you can sink into… … Beautiful and reliant on drums while preserving the indigenous cultures of the Colombian coast. Read more The Guardian (UK)

Can’t get to WOMAD this month? Here’s and armchair – and dance floor-friendly way to catch the Afro-Colombian singer who’s show is almost certain to be one of the highlights… Those declamatory vocals sound as pungent as ever, and the traditional percussion has the raw intensity of a field recording. The Sunday Times (UK)

* * * * (Toto) makes a rare visit to the UK for the WOMAD Festival… With Toto’s commanding voice backed by a rich variety of drums and percussion, it is earthy, vibrant and supremely danceable. Evening Standard (UK)

* * * * Inspired and life affirming. The Epoch Times (UK)

The CD is an absolute delight. It’s also one of the most handsomely dressed silver discs to come my way in a long time. Coming in hard back book form and packed with photos, commentary and most importantly great songs, it tells the story of what made this music special first time around and why it was also worth revisiting. The results, sounding so fresh and immediate, are to all intents and purposes a whole new record, which pays a fitting tribute to one of Colombian music’s most vivacious stars and the incredible legacy resulting from her original breakthrough. Read more FolkRadio (Online)

Les rythmes haletants des tambours… …présents d’un bout à l’autre de l’album, racontent avec clarté l’histoire à l’origine de cette identité. En savoir plus Le Monde (France)

La percussion demeure… …prédominante et les flûtes indiennes toujours aussi obsédantes dans ces jaillissements de vitalité joyeusement offerts à l’air et au soleil. En savoir plus Les InRocks (France)

Des inédits et des ajouts de choeurs … …(les petites-filles de la chanteuse de 75 ans) complètent cette nouvelle version, qui magnifie sa voix envoûtante et chamanique, mais aussi l’exubérance de son répertoire : des danses à percussion et métissées, où les flûtes andines rencontrent les tambours africains, relatant l’histoire métissée de la Colombie moderne. En savoir plus Livre (France)

La Momposina précise… …que pour elle le mot “folklore” n’a pas de sens, qu’elle le transforme en « conflor (avec des fleurs) ce qui signifie que chaque chanson est une fleur différente. En savoir plus France Culture (France)

Listen to Toto La Momposina perform… with her Grandchildren on BBC Radio 4 – Loose Ends. BBC iPlayer

Picture gallery BBC Radio 4 – Loose Ends (UK)

A commanding album that talks a tale of the ages. Read more The Audiophile Man (Online)

* * * A fresh, attacking set… …that provides a reminder of her powerful, compelling voice. Read more The Guardian (UK)

* * * * The mix of percussion and voices emanates a joie de vivre that is vibrant and expressive as are lyrics like those of Dos de Febrero, which challenges single-motherhood taboos. Read more… The Morning Star (UK)