Let's Rumba, Babe

Let's Rumba, Babe

Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca celebrate summer and new album at Levitt Pavilion Saturday night

By Bliss Bowen 08/14/2014

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It's a long way from Union Street to Levitt Pavilion — if you take Ricardo Lemvo’s route, that is. The Congo-born artist regularly performed at Old Pasadena venues like Café Santorini’s Rococo Room in the 1990s, but he graduated to bigger stages after the title track of his 1998 album “Mambo Yo Yo” became an international hit. He returns to Pasadena this Saturday to headline a concert at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park. 


It’s a continent-hopping journey not unlike that made by the rumba that the smooth salsero grew up hearing in Congo-Kinshasa: Congolese soukous, which evolved out of Cuban rumba, and Southern soul and R&B, whose roots wind back to Africa. The music of American artists like James Brown poured out of speakers at a bar by his family’s home, while his cousin’s record collection educated him on the finer rhythmic points of Cuban salsa and son. After moving to California with plans to study law (he was a poli sci major at Cal State LA), Lemvo started hitting the LA club scene, where he earned notice for his natty attire, multilingual (English, Lingala, Portuguese, Spanish) singing an adventurous mingling of African, American and Cuban rhythms. 


His first album, 1996’s “Tata Masamba,” focused on those Congolese-Cuban connections, as did his 1998 breakthrough, “Mambo Yo Yo,” which brought global acclaim and tours as well as an appearance in the 1998 Vanessa Williams-Chayanne film “Dance With Me.” In 2000, his excellent “Sào Salvador” explored Cuban traditions a bit more deeply.


But while growing accustomed to playing festivals and concert halls in Australia, Europe and Latin and North America, Lemvo — who remains an area resident — also hungered to reconnect with the Angolan music he had heard as a child and in which he has been immersing himself during recent concert tours through Angola. “La Rumba SoYo,” three years in the making and released in June by the Cumbancha label, finds him tracing the similarities between Angolan kizomba and Caribbean zouk rhythms while collaborating with celebrated Angolan songwriters Adão Filipe, Nduolo Kituxi and Kyaku Kyadaff. Where beats were angular on 2007’s “Isabela,” here they are more rounded. The sing-along cadence of “E Moyo” gives way to the steamy “Bolero Medley VF”; the Western African guitars and melodic flow of “Simone CM” balance the robust horns of the son montuno “Kari Kuyéyé” and accordion-led “Dikulusu,” which segues from an Angolan semba rhythm into rumba.


All of which may be purely academic to dancers who want to get grooving under the stars. It’s more than just feel-good music for the summertime, but that doesn’t mean you can’t shake your hips Saturday night. 


Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca perform at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, North Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street, Pasadena, at 8 p.m. Saturday. Admission is free. For more information, call (626) 683-3230. makinaloca.com


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