Usually when I listen to youth or High-School band records, I am surprised to find one funky track that stands out. I had the rare chance of going through the opposite experience when I first heard the Har-You Percussion Group. Such a solid LP full of latin bangers could not be have been made by teenagers, could it?
Indeed, an offshoot of the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (aka Har-You), a social activism organization founded in 1962, the Harlem Youth Percussion Group encouraged creativity and offered a way for young African-Americans to get in touch with their musical heritage. Their mentor and maestro, percussionist Montego Joe, taught African and Jazz percussion as an after school program. So after four years of training, eleven young men, aged 16 to 19, created an album, Sounds of the Ghetto Youth, whose royalties went into a scholarship fund.
The resulting record is an exquisite mix of funky latin tracks that has a feel only youthful optmism can generate.Though not in actuality a straight percussion group, Har-You were a multi-instrument ensemble heavily based in Afro-Cuban rhythmic structures, with a horn section and vocals. Throughout the many descargas and son montuns these sections do some damage, but one track stands out without them, the infectious Welcome to the Party. Har-You’s Afro-Latin Jazz feel is represented in its rawest form since the track features out of control percussion and a strong piano lead helped on by the grunts and hollering of the band members. However it’s all about the bass, when I first heard that thumping bassline, I knew I had to find that record! It turned out to be quite and expensive ordeal, but this record is worth every penny. The cover and the backstory alone are very worthy, but it’s the strength and variety of the songs that put it over the top. As a ‘percussion’ record and a privately pressed release, let alone one made by after school program teens, you will never find something as powerful or complete as Sounds of the Ghetto Youth.
PS : Jazzanova made an interesting remake of the Welcome to the Party track, that flips the original on its head and turns a groovy party track into a dreamy lounge beat. LINK