Records That Made History

Malo – Malo

todayJanuary 13, 2024 16

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Malo is the first album by the 12-piece band Malo from San Francisco, released in 1972. Their name means “bad” in Spanish but good in the Mayan language.

On April 22, 1972, Malo performed the song “Suavecito” on the ABC-TV program “American Bandstand”. Two months earlier, on February 27, 1972, “Suavecito” had entered the Billboard Hot Top 100 at No. 76, and on April 30 of the same year, it reached No. 18, staying there for one week, and spending a total of twelve weeks on Top 100.

It was the fifth track from the album, which reached No. 10 on Billboard’s Black Albums Chart and No. 14 on the same magazine’s Top 200 Albums.

“Suavecito” managed to make a song sound like Chicago, with its smooth incorporation of Latin rhythms and the irresistible “la la la” chorus it had. The track, however, represented only one facet of a band that, despite the expected similarities to Santana, played some of the most exciting and refined compositions in rock, soul and Latin music.

The six sprawling tracks, all over six minutes, lean more towards a warm Latin jazz brass sound than Carlos Santana did, though his own brother, Jorge Santana, did plenty of soloing with hot electric his guitar. It’s no exaggeration to say that by the time the album was released in 1972, the Latin rock played by Malo sounded fresher than Santana’s, if only because they seemed more musically hungry and less formulaic than Santana at the time.

Comparisons to Santana are inevitable, although in this case they work in Malo’s favor as they strike a balance between improvisational musical passages, robust and multi-layered percussion rhythms and emotional and romantic delivery of songs in both Spanish and English.

The album has been reissued on CD as one of the discs on Rhino Handmade’s Celebracion box set, with the addition of five bonus tracks, which are essentially edit single versions of songs contained on the album.

While never reaching the ethereal majesty of his brother Carlos’ band and his guitar, Jorge Santana possessed an impossibly tight Latin soul-rock bent, shaped into something decidedly harder, more stylistically diverse, and always different in tone and execution.

Unsurprisingly, given Jorge’s background playing in the Fania All-Stars, the insanely tight and rhythmic atmosphere here is entirely due to this impressive ensemble. All the six tunes on the album are very well worked and of course in Suavecito, the track which I select, it’s one of the defining Latin rock tracks of the 70s.


Tracklist

1. Pana 6:45
2. Just Say Goodbye 8:00
3. Café 7:21
4. Nena 6:28
5. Suavecito 6:36
6. Peace 9:21

Written by: Dimitris Sigalos

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