Justo Betancourt classic album “Lo Sabemos” was released in the midst of the Salsa boom in 1975. That puts it at over 40 years old, but you would never know by its music and sound quality.
“Lo Sabemos” is the Fania All-Stars in Disguise
“Lo Sabemos” is one of my favorite albums from the Salsa boom times. That’s considering that I have many albums I love from that era. The album is well balanced between mostly classic salsa dance songs and a couple of boleros.
Justo is a veteran cuban “sonero” who excels in both genres. Besides his singing talent, the “sonero” from Matanzas, Cuba is backed by an All-Star cast. The musicians in the album resemble the ranks of the Fania All-Stars at the time.
The recording personnel includes Bobby Valentin on bass, Papo Lucca on Piano, Cachete Maldonado and Tony Jimenez (from Larry Harlow’s band) on conga, Nicky Marrero on timbales, and Orestes Vilato on bongoes. The wind section includes Juancito Torres, Hector “Bomberito” Zarzuela, and Victor Paz on trumpets, and Mario Rivera on sax. The chorus vocals are by Yayo El Indio, Marcelino Guerra, and Roberto Torres. And the cherry on top is the appearance of Charlie Palmieri on marimba and maracas. All of this was produced by Larry Harlow. How can you go wrong with this lineup?
Justo Betancourt, Great Performance in “Como Lo Canto Yo”
Justo Betancourt shows once again that he is one of the great “soneros” of the time. The very 1st album song, “Como Lo Canto Yo” is a great song and yet it was the #3 song of the album in radio playtime. I’ll get to the other two shortly. Justo provides a lot of “guaperia” and demonstrates how to sing with clave. It’s also one of the first times he uses what became his trademark sound “prrrr”.
In “Como Lo Canto Yo” you can hear Nicky Marrero’s strong timbale (with the foot bass drum) and blowing his whistle. There’s also a nice trumpet solo by Panamanian virtuoso Victor Paz. You can distinguish Vitin’s trumpet as he hits those sharp high notes, like Arturo Sandoval.
This song was recently recorded by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra in the voice of Ruben Blades. The SHO is a strong Salsa dura band, directed by veteran pianist Oscar Hernandez. They sound terrific and Ruben does a great job. So much that the album “Across 110th Street; featuring Ruben Blades” won a Grammy. Yet, with all that said, I prefer Justo’s version of the song.
Not many times you can go against Ruben Blades, but the difference to me is that Justo sings this song with heart, and Ruben with his mind. Both great performances, so I’m sure some of you will prefer the SHO – Ruben Blades version.
Other Great Songs in “Lo Sabemos”
The other 2 songs that got more playtime where Tite Curet’s “De Mi Para Puerto Rico” and “Pedregal”. “De Mi Para Puerto Rico” starts with a catchy “Sa-ba-ra-ba” vocal and an upbeat son montuno, which really hits the spot for listeners and dancers alike. Per Tite Curet’s style, this song was tailored made for Justo, who had moved to Puerto Rico and was in the works of forming the Conjunto Borincuba. “Pedregal” was the other very popular song from this release, with the band performing at its high point. Nicky Marrero gets his whistle out, and Juancito does a solo of the flugelhorn. The percussion of Tony, Cachete, and Orestes keep pushing all the time.
The album also has “Demuestrame Tu Que Sabes”, a great son in the “guaperia” theme. This song as well as “Como Lo Canto Yo” go along Justos “bravo” (brave) marking persona at Fania. His previous Salsa hits “Pa’ Bravo Yo” and “Sigo Bravo” established him as the guapo of Salsa. Another cool song in the album is “Cambia Palo pa’ Rumba”, a guanguanco where Cachete Maldonado and Tony Jimenez (on quinto) get loose.
Here’s the Youtube audio of “De Mi Para Puerto Rico”.
Latino Music Cafe Highly Recommended
If you like old Salsa Dura, I highly recommend you add this album to your collection. It is a well produced album with good music by a great salsa singer.
Let me know if you have hear this album. Which version of “Como Lo Canto Yo” you prefer; the one from Justo in this album or the one by SHO with Ruben Blades?