The song is “Como Una Hoguera”—“like a bonfire”—and vocalist Xiomara Torres is in conflagration mode. Born in Colombia, she knows the salsa romantica groove of the original version and ups the ante. By turns playful and regal, she engages the horns, the marimba-fueled percussion, and the backing chorus of singers as the arrangement sends them her way.
It is one of many highlights on La Voz del Mar (“Voice of the Sea”), a polyglot album of organic intimacy. Torres was raised in a family of iconic folk musicians; her father, Omar Torres, is on percussion on both “Como Una Hoguera” and the aching bolero “La Puerta.”
Led by Torres, marimbaist Dan Neville, and composer/arranger David Obregon (all three of whom co-produced), La Voz del Mar is a compelling mixture of the hallowed traditions and variant strains that constitute Colombia’s music. “Tarde Lo Conoci” is a lilting, accordion-powered vellanato popular on the country’s Caribbean (northeastern) side. “Me Quedo Contigo” is a flamenco-tinged rumba that reflects the Spanish influence in the Pacific coastal region, but the vocals of Torres and the bass of Latin-jazz titan John Benitez add a more modern danceability. “Tio” is a Diego Obregon composition done in the traditional curullao style, with the “marimba de chonta” and call-and-response vocals. Trombonist Wayne Wallace guests on Obregon’s harmonically rich aguabajo composition “Te Habla Mi Alma.” The Beatles’ “Let It Be” gets a salsa makeover and the closing rumba, “Filomena,” features Torres’ aunts along with legendary folkloric singer Nidia Gongora in the chorus.
This “voice of the sea” is at once familiar and refreshingly different. And there are more bonfires to come from Xiomara Torres.