Magazine

Barrabas - On the road again

Publié le 28 novembre 2007 par Stoba
Barrabas holds the distinction of being in at the early stages of disco music and then disappearing during it's peak only to resurface again in it's aftermath. Quite interesting for an artist. But then Barrabas was never really a "disco group."
The roots of Barrabas actually starts in the 1960's with Juan Pardo and Fernando Arbex. They formed Los Brincos as an alternative to The Beatles. Their mentor Luis Sartorius was killed in an auto accident in 1964 but the group persisted. A move to Milan in 1966 brought them further success when "Lola" became a breakthrough hit. After recording a third album in 1968 the group made the move to the U.S. Between 1968-70 the group experimented with different sounds and musical textures and released "Mundodemoniocarne" in 1970. With no commerical success the group disbanded.
Fernando Arbex pulled together 5 fellow musicians to form his own band later that year. At its formation, Barrabas was Tito Duarte, Miguel Morales, Ricky Morales, Ignacio Egana, and Joao Vidal. (Members changed occasionally; the most significant change occurred when vocalist Jose Luis Tejada was added to the lineup.)
They spent two years refining their sound. A sound that was rich in funk and psychedelic rock, jazz and even disco. Their first album released in the U.S. was 1972's "Wild Safari" it spawned the radio hit "Woman."
They followed their debut with 1973's "Power" another album that featured their varied and stylistic interests. The most interesting numbers were the instrumental number "The Horse" featuring Tito Duarte's flute and "Time To Love" a breezy pop confection.
By the time of their next release in 1974 ("Barrabas") disco was in full swing and the group, who flirted with many different styles, added disco to their repertoire. They asked Herbie Mann to guest on their version of his hit "Hi-Jack" and turned in a killer club smash with "Mad Love."
Interestingly "Mad Love" was serviced to club D.J.'s on a 7" 45 rpm with a 33 1/3 hole punched in it. See in 1974 record labels were grappling with this new phenomena of club D.J.'s and discos. They knew that the market was there for sales and exposure but unsure of how to service it. And Tom Moulton had yet to invent the 12" single. So they modified the traditional 45 into something more manageable for disc jockeys, hence the "disco single." So Barrabas has the distinction of being one of the only actual groups to be distributed in the old and new club single formats. Still their popularity remained underground confined to the latin and club sects.
By 1975 disco had exploded, Moulton had invented the 12" single and Barrabas was poised for their greatest disco success. When Atlantic released "Heart Of The City" they had no idea how to market this multi-faceted group. Given their initial club success they choose the logical marketing ploy of issuing a 12" single of "Mellow Blow" to radio stations and club disc jockeys. The results were astounding. Radio, which has always been prone to following instead of leading, missed the song altogether. Clubs however embraced the spicy group and early charts show them in the Top Ten in most areas.
Their 1976 release "Watch Out" has the group turning in another hard edged disco album. The album is even and consistent yet there were no standout cuts. Perhaps because the entire album was worthwhile and enjoyed massive club exposure. My favorites are "Weekend" and "Sweet And Mellow." Original club playlists from that year show Barrabas ranking in the Top 40, despite a lack of a 12" single.
After the success of their 1976 album and 12" ("Desperately") the group disbanded for unknown reasons. Fernando Arbex, the key figure in Barrabas, went into producing and writing for other artists in the latin community.
By 1982 Arbex was enticed back to recording when his own creative energies could not be satisfied by producing others. He re-formed Barrabas but only brought back Tito Duarte for the new Barrabas. The re-designed group were quickly snatched up by RCA, a label that they had originally recorded for.
Three albums were issued between 1982 and 1984. "Bestial" was the first album and like their other six they took their cues from the music of the day. Heavily synthesized rock beats and blazing guitars brought numbers like "Leather Queen," "Lover Of The Night" and "Viva Maria" to life.
"Piel De Barrabas" came next. Employing Susi for vocals the group tackled more dicey material than their previous releases. Tracks like "Please Mr. Reagan, Please Mr, Bresnev" and "Jeronimo" showed a depth more deeper than you would imagine. While other tracks were rock songs that happened to be danceable like "Wild Cat" and "Laura."
Their last album, "Forbidden," was actually the best of the three 1980's releases. Their muscianship, which was always tight and refined, shines through. The flaw would be the over use of male vocals. However tracks like "Sex Surprise, Big Surprise," "Hello Hello (7th Ave./54th)" and "Hollywood Ten O'Clock At Night" are quite good in retrospect. Still the group remained fairly anonymous.
RCA dropped the group in 1984 and though Arbex continued to perform concerts as Barrabas, the group was for all intents and purposes gone. One of the main reasons for their lack of success in the 1980's was RCA's apparent lack of proper promotion. No remixed 12" singles were released which would have, without a doubt, helped the sales of their albums. Instead RCA was content to promote them to the Latino community. And at that point latin music/artists had not crossed over into pop like they would in the next decade with Selena, Gloria Estefan and Ricky Martin.
Arbex continues producing and writing for other artists today and has no plans to re-form another Barrabas. But thanks to compact discs we can enjoy one of disco's pioneer groups still today. Our hats off to Fernando and Barrabas for being there in the beginning of disco music.......we love you!

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