Los Chicos Malos was a short-lived Colombian “super group” of sorts from Cartagena with acclaimed pianist and composer Víctor M “El Nene” del Real as orchestra director and arranger. Vocals were shared by John Jairo Murillo and Víctor Meléndez, both known for their work with The Latin Brothers, a popular Discos Fuentes band that El Nene had collaborated with previously as well. The three also worked with Víctor del Real’s close childhood friend Joe Arroyo and his orchestra La Verdad during the 1980s, while El Nene had written and arranged for Michi Sarmiento in the 1970s and Adolfo Echeverría in the early 80s, later going on to found El Nene y Sus Traviesos in the 1990s. After Los Chicos Malos, Jairo founded and led Orquesta Libertad in the later half of the 1980s.
The sole Los Chicos Malos long-playing album was produced by the legendary Mario Rincón and released in March 1980. The record features a range of tropical dance floor bangers that include fan favorites like ‘Los chicos en salsa” and ‘Con gusto y con gana’ plus the killer cut ‘Pobre soy yo’ with a smoking piano solo by El Nene. Four earlier Chicos Malos recordings came out on a various artists compilation, “Guerra de ritmos”, on the Fuentes subsidiary imprint De Lujo. These tracks are equally impressive but were a lot less polished, being produced by pianist Roberto de la Barrera and featuring a different singer, “El Guachi” Meléndez, while El Nene played electric piano for the recording date. In a way, the style heard on the later Los Chicos Malos long play was not much different than The Latin Brothers in that it deployed an irresistible mix of uncompromisingly hard salsa and cumbia infused with infectiously happy melodies punctuated by a distinctive double-trombone attack inspired by the Nuyorican street sound of Willie Colón. The record also aimed its sights at the Venezuelan market with the tune ‘Viajera’ and the costeño home crowd with the two merengue colombianas ‘La carestía’ and “Ritmo con la punta del pie’ plus the cumbelé ‘El hombre aquel’ and the cumbia anthem ‘Cumbia y mechones’.
Don’t let the childishly silly album cover of “Los Chicos Malos” fool you, this record is a monster in sheep’s clothing. Just as uncompromisingly hard sounding as Fruko y sus Tesos and The Latin Brothers’ recorded output, it is stuffed with lots of mid-tempo numbers propelled by a stripped down sound. This forgotten gem is perfect for the DJ and dancer alike. In the classic Fuentes assembly-line production style of the time, you can hear the distinctive voice of Joe Arroyo on coro (chorus), and there are many other musicians from the label’s studio stable featured as well. For some reason the record was not originally pressed in great numbers, making it scarce and consequently a highly sought-after collector’s item. Reissuing this important yet lesser-known release (with remastered sound taken directly from the tapes) will make it available to a larger audience and will thankfully restore it to its deserved position as one of the best later Fuentes salsa brava classics. As the coro sings, “Ven a bailar con Los Chicos Malos!”
Review by Pablo Yglesias aka DJ Bongohead