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Beny Esguerra and New Tradition Music
Northside Kuisi, A New Tradition Volume 3

Review by Bruce Miller

Beny Esguerra has an amazing story. Born in Bogota, Colombia surrounded by music, his family had to flee to Canada when his parents’ work as activists and educators placed them in danger of being disappeared by the country’s then-repressive government. Since then, the multi-instrumentalist and writer has taught at York and Ryerson Universities in Toronto, worked with a roving music studio going neighborhood to neighborhood in NW Toronto, been nominated for a JUNO as well as becoming a finalist for Toronto’s Community Arts award. He raps, deals in spoken word, and mixes indigenous South American sounds with just about anything else you can name.

For his third album, Esguerra continues to mix Colombian instrumentation such as gourds, accordion, hand drums, or Guacharaca with hip hop, Congolese rhythms, recorded speeches, horn riffs, and metallic guitar for music that focuses on North and South American Unity. In the process, both musically and lyrically, he eradicates borders. He ends up with a near-perfect gumbo of the entire hemisphere, all of it coming off as a natural extension of his own experience.

“Let The Rain Fall” mixes auto-tuned vocals with Afro-Colombian call and response, trombones and indigenous flutes. Ultimately, the track is interrupted by radio transmissions in Spanish and English. “She was There” is nearly Benga, with shimmering guitar and a horn line. Yet, before this can settle in, the tempo shifts to make room for Esguerra’s growled rap, before bouncing back and featuring gaitero Leang Manjarres Wong on flute.

Knowing Esguerra’s travels and his omni-cultural approach, “Stay Rooted” seems like an ironic title. Yet, the tile references a rootedness in one’s activism without ever sounding preachy. A New Tradition vol 3 is flurry of styles, samples, field tapes, beats, and choral vocals; it pits the whicka-whicka of turntable scratching against violin, handclaps, frantic rhythms, and pugnacious horn lines. Yet, its Latin identity is its largest drawing card, and no matter the multi-cultural pot this band stirs, Esguerra’s Colombian roots-even after years spent in Canada- still loom large, even as he gives shout outs to Northside Toronto during a rap about the racist notion of borders. This is what happens when Caribbean coastal Colombian music traditions meet urban graffiti and beatboxing. Hear the borders melt.

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