Alex ‘Apolo’ Ayala: Bambula

Puerto Rican bassist resident in New York focuses on his heritage in songs that draw deeply on bomba, the traditional puertorricense form

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This is New York based bassist and composer Alex “Apolo” Ayala’s debut album. It celebrates Afro-Puerto Rican culture, and also explores Ayala’s sense of heritage, the importance of family, race and ethnicity. The killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, and the social unrest that unfolded from this, heavily influenced the themes Ayala explores on this album.

The songs draw deeply on bomba, Puerto Rico’s oldest and purest musical art form. This is the music that African ancestors took with them to the Americas. Rich, complex, propulsive and highly engaging, these searing and dramatic rhythms underpin the compositions. The title track Bambula means “the memory of a forgotten place” and Ayala draws on this sense of collective unconscious as well as honouring the memory of his mother and grandmother to really explore his heritage and sense of who he is in this thoughtful, reflective music.

With bass and drums clearly central to the music, Ivan Renta soars above the complex rhythms with fluidity on alto and soprano sax, reminding me in several places of Andy Sheppard’s Introductions In The Dark album from over 30 years ago. Anna Louise Andersson provides pleasing vocals on Café Y Bomba Eh, a celebration of life and place.

Driving the whole album is Ayala’s sense of who he is, and how much he owes to family and his wider culture. A thought-provoking and enjoyable listen in equal measure.

Discography
Bambula (To My Ancestors); Jibaro Negro; Bozales; Café Y Bomba Eh; Matriarca; Agosto; Ma, Bendicion; Las Caras Lindas (49.50)
Ayala (b, arr); Ivan Renta (as, ss); Fernando Garcia (d); Nelson Mateo Gonzale (bomba d); Anna Louise Andersson (v). Power Station, New England, 28 and 29 June 2021.
Truth Revolution TRRC060