I originally picked up this single by Peru’s Niko Estrada because I wanted the A-side, a cover of Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe’s big hit, “La Murga.” However, when I flipped it around, I realized that Estrada wasn’t content with just one cover of a New York salsa dura smash, he decided to make it twice as nice by covering “Se Traba.”
“Se Traba” is both the first song and first single from Ray Barretto’s 1972 album, The Message, his first LP that finally leaves behind his Latin soul years and drives hard into salsa, full force. One of the things that strikes you about Barretto’s “Se Traba” is how slick and smooth it is; the production, mixing, mastering, all create a very well-balanced, polished sound.
Part of what I love about Estrada’s version is that, even though it’s obviously the same song (and close to the same arrangement), it sounds grimy as fuck. Not quite “garage band” but you imagine that wherever they taped this, the floor was cracked, there was only a handful of cheap mics and Irving Greenbaum wasn’t at the boards. Start with just the opening piano – on Barretto’s original, it comes lightly dancing in. On Estrada’s cover, it sounds like an excitable pianist, hammering away on a slightly out-of-tune piano. Estrada’s horns are also dirty as hell, adding even more to the lo-fi fury of this version.
Both songs share something else in common – the use of repeated phrasings that, first time I heard the song, made me think “oh snap, this is skipping!”. This is most obvious at 2:30, especially since the repetition feels just oh-so-slightly off-tempo, which makes you quickly run to the turntable and squint your eyes to see if the stylus is jumping back.
I’m not that familiar with Estrada’s other recordings but I hope to god he’s got a whole bank of these – scuffed up covers of NY salsa classics. Bring the motherfucking ruckus.
O-dub from Soul-Sides never lets us down – the guy has always showed us love here at Super Sonido. Thanks a ton for this wonderful post and amazing song!!!