When it comes to music that transports you out of the banality of your office cubicle, there’s no one like nuyorican house DJ “Little” Louie Vega, one-half of 90s music production team Masters at Work – not Lou Bega of that “Mambo No. 5” foolishness – to pilot you from Harlem to Havana to Harare and back. You don’t have to be “into house music” to appreciate the melodious, dance-inducing journey of Vega’s one and only full-length album, 2004’s Elements of Life, which sits squarely atop my list of the most inspiring cross-cultural music collections in existence.
Having grown up with Puerto Rican salsa legend Hector Lavoe as his uncle and the re-mixing of black and Latino cultures Uptown in the 70s, Vega connects all the cultures of the Diaspora with a solid polyrhythmic foundation on each track. He seamlessly links salsa, samba, bossa nova, R&B, jazz, tango, house, and a little Santería for good measure, while singers coo and croon in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Yoruba. Vega harnesses the energy and verve of each rhythm in a way only a New Yorker born-and-bred can: the rumba “Summer Night in Spanish Harlem” is a popping percussion-only paean to the spirits that inhabit black folks’ music, recorded live on the subway, that morphs deliciously into a raucous salsa.
This is the perfect starter for your new, internationalized music collection. Get this album and get lifted.
My favorite track: “Cerca de Mí,” house with a sprinkle of soca (a French Caribbean beat) and smooth-voiced Raúl Midón laying it down in English and Spanish. Religious. (Ignore the video…just close your eyes and listen).