SEPTEMBER 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 9


Lou Bega "A Little Bit of Mambo"

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Mambo Jumbo

A Little Bit of Mambo
A Little Bit of Mambo

13 Tracks


The admen who crafted the Gap "Khaki Swing" commercial to the tune of Louis Prima's "Jump, Jive, and Wail" deserve much credit. They tapped into a swing revival that not only proved a tremendous success for the trousers, but benefited the likes of Brian Setzer, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddies (of course, Setzer is probably saying, "It's about time!" since he's been playing this kind of music since his Stray Cats days). There is no longer any doubt that swing has made a comeback. So what comes next?

Lou Bega would have you think it's Mambo. Finally getting air time in U.S. outlets, Bega's "Mambo No. 5" is supposed to be the next big thing. And upon hearing the 24-year-old artist's debut album, one can fairly say it's not. "A little bit of Mambo" is certainly an ambitious album that intends to bring Mambo to mainstream rock. Songs like the popular "Mambo No. 5" pack in high energy and a singular message: Have fun. But on further inspection, many of the tracks are poor man's renditions of classics or simply amateurish tributes to Bega's artistic influences.

"Mambo No. 5" does not so much remind one of the might of the Mambo kings as it does a cross between the rhythm of Perry Como's "Papa Loves Mambo" and, lyrically, "88 lines about 44 women" by the Nails. The refrain is a dance instruction (turns to the left, turns to the right), a style dating back to Jackie Wilson's "Baby Workout." The "uniqueness" of the music comes from Bega's incorporation of modern technology, mixers, synthesizers, and other such applications. Perhaps the only saving grace - and what makes this tune listenable - is the dominating brass ensemble. And this is probably the best song on the album.

The pace slows considerably with the second track, "Baby Keep Smiling," which is a takeoff on Louis Jordan ("Knock Me a Kiss") and Dean Martin's "Powder Your Face With Sunshine." The backup vocals are ambitious since there is no attempt to conceal their campiness and such stylings haven't been popular since Elvis discarded his Stamps Quartet. Interspersed throughout the album are live segments, intros, sidebars, attempting to evoke a Havana nightclub or a sun-draped beach.

It would be too easy to label the fourth song, "Can I Tico Tico You," as simply offensive. But it is - and not in the lyrics, but rather, in the cacophony of keyboards and, worst of all, Bega's stab at rapping. It is obvious he has been influenced by the two most profound rappers of our time: Tone-Loc and Will Smith.

A later song entitled "Icecream" offers the first change in rhythm, less Mambo and more Caribbean, as evidenced by the steel drums. On his "Beauty On The TV-Screen" one hears the echo of Louis Prima's "Just a Gigolo," piano and raspiness both. The rendition is decent and the preponderance of the upright-sounding piano is a relief.

"The Trumpet Part II" (where's Part I?) is an instrumental pause that allows the singer to go behind the scenes and showoff his mixing skills to our delight. Actually to our dread. A recurring high-pitched squeak is not so much mesmerizing as it is annoying, although the trumpets, themselves, are just fine. And running over six minutes in length, it can get old. New artists should rarely be encouraged to go past the 3:05 marker or if they do, not to allow it to fit into your debut album. After all, this isn't Led Zeppelin performing "The Rain Song."

In two instances, "I Got A Girl" and "1+1=2," we see mere variations on "Mambo No. 5." While catchy, too much of a good thing can lead to little or no additional air time. In an awful dialogue segment entitled "Behind Stage," a greasy club manager who sounds like the merchant Watto in "The Phantom Menace" pleads with Bega to perform an encore. "But my band has left and I don't do Salsa," states the singer. What follows is "Mambo Mambo," a song incorporating Salsa into Mambo leading to Mambo's triumph. Does anyone really care?

"A little bit of Mambo" should have been renamed "Mambo Down Your Throat." It comes across aggressively and does not display any depth. Then again, Lou Bega has openly said his only intention is to convey fun, introduce Mambo to a new generation, and let everyone in the world know he loves women, whether it be "my mother, who raised me with so much love and then my first girlfriend" whom we assume showed him that other kind of love.

Yes, there is room for error in my dismissing this hokey album. It could catch on like the Macarena and be a stunning success. After all, as Bega's press release states, "'Mambo No. 5' is a huge success, having sold in excess of one million units in Germany alone...and there is a real 'Mambo tidal wave' rolling down from the North Sea to the Alps." And we all know what musical aficionados those Germans are. After all, they made David Hasselhoff the King of Rock 'n' Roll.


VICTORINO MATUS , the associate editor of The Weekly Standard, is a contributing writer for Renaissance Magazine.

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