England may not be the most likely place to find a thriving Latin music scene, but blimey, the U.K. is indeed producing some brilliant Latin jazz. Case in point: the flurry of mambos on the latest release from conguero Snowboy and his band, The Latin Section. Mambo Rage is the seventh full-length album from the London-based percussionist and he aims to keep things upbeat. “Latin music has become so bloody mid-tempo at the moment,” he says. “This music is supposed to be exciting for crissakes.”
The arrangements on the album are rhythmically complex but quite open, leaving room for improvisation without being over-the-top and cluttered. Snowboy’s main influences, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria and Poncho Sanchez, come from the old-school style, which he prefers. “A lot of the young conga players are into this ultra-speed drum rudiments—type playing,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with that and they’re great players, but it does nothing for me really.”
As a DJ during the UK Jazz Dance movement in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Snowboy found himself naturally drawn to the exotic sounds of Latin-based music while spinning bebop, fusion, and Latin jazz. Lured in by Brazilian percussion in particular, he eventually bought a cuica and sought a teacher. As fate would have it, his first mentor steered him more towards Afro-Cuban percussion.
Today, Snowboy is one of the UK’s top percussionists. His credits include tours with soul singer Lisa Stansfield, acid jazzers the James Taylor Quartet and pop star Basia. He’s busiest now as a bandleader and session player and his monthly Hi-Hat Session at London’s Jazz Cafe brings in artists as renowned as Airto and Mongo Santamaria.
It’s important to Snowboy to keep an eye on the roots of the UK jazz dance movement, to preserve it as the scene expands into new territories such as trip hop and drum ’n’ bass. “But people outside of the jazz dance scene don’t see my music as anything different, and it’s not really, is it? It’s just Afro-Cuban jazz at the end of the day.”