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Published: 2003/06/26
by Glenn Alexander

Uno – Ghandaia


Success is often the product of good listening. For the length of human
history, listening has been an inseparable aspect of living: a way to
decipher animal sounds or to listen for a flood in a desert slot canyon. It
is a means of survival. There are innumerable ways in which we utilize this
sense to overcome adversity or to learn new traits. In the world of music,
if you do not listen well, you do not respond, negotiate, create, or
communicate well. You will fall, stumble, and ultimately fail. For bands,
listening is the glue that holds their collective sound together.

Ghandaia, a nine-piece ensemble from
Texas, show us they've kept their ears to the ground for some time, and have
evidently come up with something to say. Uno, their debut, is a
lengthy excursion into a world fused together by rock, reggae, and funk,
with Afro-Cuban beats and Brazilian nuances. With horns, inventive guitar
work, two distinct vocalists, and some very inspired songwriting, Uno
to be a remarkable listen.

The album opens with a pulsating, salsa-influenced guitar line. Shortly,
it's surrounded by an array of rhythms and then the horns fly in, holding
the song's melody together for the track's length. Soon, the vocals of Alex
Marrero come in. With his baritone, cello-like vocal styling, he summons
passion out of the song's heart and gives the album a catchy, strong
opening, singing from the depths of his chest. Many of the songs on the
album, such as "Marieta" and "En El Alma," act as this one does. Horn lines
pick up the song by the shirt and carry it along, while the vocals keep it
grounded, dancing around the song's ambient periphery, leading the listener
through the soundscape.

On the track "In and Out of the Way," John Branch (who composed the majority
of the horn charts for the album's songs), shows his strength as a
songwriter. With complex horn lines holding together this bizarre, yet
compelling composition, Branch moves the album into new territory for a few
minutes. This short, punchy song shows that the band is just as capable of
pursuing aggressive Latin-funk as they are the delicate, earthy sounds.
Somewhat reminiscent of "Last Tube" by Trey Anastasio, "In and Out of the
Way" moves the listener along with an undulating motion anchored down by
fiery horn lines drenched in Ghandaia's distinct Latin flavor.

With his soft, flute-like voice and Brazilian accent, Frederico Geib takes
the listener to a different place than Marrero on songs like "A Cor Do Som"
and "Odara."
Although the band shines equally with each of
these singers behind the microphone, Frederico's excursions are utterly
unique in their soft, yet impassioned nuances. On "Do Avesso," Frederico
jumps up and down in carefully controlled tonal shifts, lending the song its
wave-like qualities. Guitarist John Branch accentuates the ocean-like
feeling, adding depth to the crests and troughs that go along with it. On
this song, the band shows its talent through holding back. Something few
bands know how to do. Adding gentle flourishes of percussion throughout and
very infectious horn solos, "Do Avesso" is arguably the album's most
hypnotic, fluid track.

Reggae pokes its head through in a few tracks, giving the average listener a
touch of something a little more familiar. "Contra Mare" and "Esa Rola" are
original reggae pieces featuring Frederico and Alex on vocals in both
instances. It is rare in modern music to hear an original reggae piece that
doesn't make one instantly think of at least one Bob Marley song. Perhaps
it is the Brazilian influence of Frederico or the strong-hearted Mexican
force of Marrero, but these reggae songs well on their own.

Uno is a fluid album from end to end. With interludes between most
performed by a traditional African ensemble (Bata), and a solid foundation
of original material, the band has created something with great dexterity
and cohesion. They all move through the songs carefully, without
compromising the vision of each song's structure. Ghandaia is a band with
something completely unique to say and with the ability to say it clearly.

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