Santero was formed under mountainous aspirations. They claim to be “founded on the premise that music can transform society and create a fundamental shift in consciousness.” A rare feat managed by the artists name-dropped in Santero’s bio such as Bob Marley, Fela Kuti, and Marvin Gaye. Interspersed with party chants, Santero’s newest album Arawaks & Maroons is quick to invoke themes of revolution, anti-racism, and slavery, but fails to inspire any call to arms. The weight of intent compared to the realistic effect is akin a peace treaty in a children’s snowball fight. It feels real enough to those playing the game, but at the end of the night, teeth get brushed, kids tucked in, and the 10 o’clock news rolls tape of night vision bombs sailing down in wars beyond the neighbors fence post.
An amalgam of cultures comprising several decades of influence from traditional Latin Pop forms, Reggae, Hip-hop, and Electronica, Santero is a small collective of San Francisco Bay area musicians fronted by Erick Santero. An eclectic sound that juxtaposes call and response Nu-Soul ballads with Dub heavy Latin DJ tracks.
Let me preface this by saying I don’t speak Spanish, and therefore cannot comment on the quality of content in any of the Spanish lyrics, but rhythm is universal. You know Busta Rhymes is coming with some shit long before you understand what his micro-machine delivery is saying. That said, Santero’s plodding 8th note flow recalls schoolboy battles around the monkey bars full of name checking to a beat-boxed soundtrack. Predictably, phrases begin on the one and stop on the downbeat of every 4th beat. It’s an archetypical rhythm in hip-hop, but when repeated ad nauseam sounds amateur. Lines like, “If my woman calls, says she’s feeling all alone/ Well I just pick up the phone/ Say ‘Babe I’ll be right home.’” This flow is consistent on nearly every track on the album.
The strengths of the record lie primarily with the production. The front stoop summertime dusk invoked by the down tempo “El Cocuyo” is a beautiful instrumental so mellow that it slips by on the first listen without even realizing the delicacy of it. “Kailash” is the album standout, highlighted by soulful, gritty vocals and without question the best rap Santero lay’s down on the whole album. Still, the gaps between excitement inspiring tracks are great enough to make Arawaks & Maroons little more than background music your neighbor’s party.