The moment you get on this ride you will feel, smell, and taste the sabor of Puerto Rico. A lover of life, women, and song, master singer Ismael Maelo Rivera, along with his compadre Rafael Cortijo, changed the sound of popular Afro-Caribbean music. Mario Hernández’s use of the tres on the opening number recalls a country/bluesy feeling of strolling through hills and swaying through lush valleys, continuing with a florid string of crafty guitar chords and arpeggios throughout the entire recording. “De Todas Maneras Rosas” is an affectionate ode to women with the scent and variety of flowers as metaphor for females as well as gift and olive branch.

Penned by Tite Curet Alonso, Maelo reviews various customs and occasions for bringing flowers to women before taking us back to Panama. At this point, he transports us to the town where his friend Rosa Bonilla ran her bar. Rosa, better known as Black Rosa, fearless Rosa, big Colgate smile laughing Rosa, is a larger-than-life character who carried a gun and entertained the military clients while tending bar. The earthy, laid back guaracha of “Hola” has a nostalgic feel that gently embraces the tenor that still makes Maelo so charming, although you can already hear his voice getting deeper throughout this recording.

The same tune was recorded as a rumba, guaguancó later that year by Marvin Santiago on the Bobby Valentín Afuera LP in a completely different style from this romantic treatment. What is Maelo without a bomba? With this bomba, the great sonero mayor caught much criticism from a changing young student movement. With all the wonderful tunes that Bobby Capó has written, no one is quite sure what possessed him to write this one can—perhaps a way to assert his macho roots. “Si Te Cojo” talks, quite literally, of threatening women with beatings if her tasks as housewife, cook, and servant are not met. All this is within the context of a demanding male sexual appetite as reward. Not cool. Maelo is back to singing about the flavorful son that only he sings in his style.

Calling out chants to the African deities, his yembelecuyeyes echo from the wall of sound already above it before the band begins its mambo. Composer Johnny Ortiz penned this bomba about the black Christ in Portobelo, Panama, that Maelo made yearly pilgrimages to every October 21. “El Mesias” outlines the 27 kilometers Maelo and other followers trek to get to San Felipe Church in the coastal town where thousands would gather to make promises to the saint of the poor and forgotten. This journey kept Maelo away from heroin for 16 years. Shouting out to key folks like his girl Janet and his guide El Cholo, “El Mesias” tells a spiritual tale of the master singer’s sojourn. “Mi Música” perfectly describes El Sonero’s style. Almost an explanation for adding a bomba like “Si Te Cojo”, here he makes no apologies for not being politically incorrect or leaning to the left or to the right. His music comes from the center of the drums, the real drums. He plays and sings salsa, bolero, calypso, and swinging bomba and plena. “Profesión Esperanza” takes us back to the Island of Paradise describing, from the depths of Maelo’s soul and pride, the beauty and poetry of Puerto Rico. Taking a tally of people and places he visits while there, this Alonso tune goes from salsa to bomba like children go from toys to candy. It’s seamless. “La Oportunidad” is a saucy, fancy stepping dance number that wraps around Maelo’s voice and verses in a playful, rhythmic, and joyful musical format. With a chorus composed of Tito Allen, Rubén Blades, Adalberto Santiago, and Sammy Ayala, how could you go wrong. ¡Yemaya!

Credits: Javier Vásquez – Piano Elpidio Vázquez – Bass Mario Hernández – Tres Héctor “Bomberito” Zarzuela – Trumpet Manolín González – Saxophone Jerry Chamberlain – Trombone Juan C. Ross – Conga Vitín González – Bongo Carlos Malcom – Timbal Sammy Ayala – Percussion Chorus – Tito Allen, Rubén Blades, Adalberto Santiago, Sammy Ayala Producer – Ismael Rivera, Louie Ramírez Recorded at – La Tierra Sound Studios, New York Engineers – Gretchen Zoeckler, Irv Greenbaum Remixed – Jon Fausty Arrangement – Javier Vázquez Original Album Photograph – Caren Golden Original Album Design – Ron Levine Original Art Direction – Elliot Sachs

Written by Aurora Flores