Roberto Delgado
Marimba A La Carte





An album that is called Marimba À La Carte reveals everything there is and doesn’t need to be explained in-depth. Except that it doesn’t reveal the predominant style that is interred in the holy womb, if such a remark even makes sense. This review is about bandleader, composer and marimbaphonist Roberto Delgado, otherwise known under his real name Horst Wende (1919–1996). His albums always feature two distinct parts: brass and marimba sequences, but he’s not exclusively narrowing the soundscapes down to these devices, and so flutes, harpsichords, harmonicas and accordions grace the scenes as well.


Released in 1968 on Polydor and recorded in Hamburg, Germany, Marimba À La Carte features 12 songs, four of them written by Delgado himself. Don’t expect drum escapades and Latin mannerisms: this is a soothing cascade without a cloud in sight. The hidden subtheme of the album is Mexico. It is actually not so hidden since the first song is called just that, but the remaining songs are all somewhat akin to the Mexican spirit… as seen – and transfigured – by a German combo, among them trumpeters and frequent collaborators Ack van Rooyen and Manfred "Fred" Moch. The album was a hit back in the day and is now considered bland, pale and tawny, but the amicable warmth and one or two surprises make this a potentially interesting effort after all.


And off we go to Mexico which serves as the subtheme for Delgado’s marimba cascades. The mood is sun-dappled, the brass sections resemblant of Billy Vaughn’s chintzy renditions, the acoustic guitar glistens amid the bass foil. To be utterly honest: Delgado’s vision is not only an affront to the people of Mexico, but the Exotica lover as well. It is too arbitrary and saccharine. Only the shrill off-key flute in the latter section is somewhat cute. But the laughter in that same section evokes a comic relief that is entirely unwanted. The traditional Cielito Lindo, however, turns out to be a cool tune. Whether it is sung by Speedy Gonzalez or turned into a fast-paced drum escapade with complete with diaphanous horns and staccato sunlight in marimba form, it is a lil ditty for sure.


Whereas Buddy Pepper’s and Larry Russell’s Vaya Con Dios sees the same punctilio fusillade conflated with hammock-friendly and quite besotted horn helixes that gleam at noon, Jerry Ragovoy’s Pata Pata is an oft-considered artifact and appears on many a Delgado production. Here, the brass layers are a tad more dirty and wonky which works to the advantage of the song, as crunchy guitars, Honky Tonk dust and green ma(ri)mbas become mercilessly intertwined. The result: bewildering but fun! When the adjacent traditional Latin Romance leaves behind its occasionally dun-colored tone sequences in minor as they are illumined by sunbursts, drugged flutes and harpsichord splinters, it is time for an interpretation of Terry Gilkinson’s Memories Are Made Of This to call side A a day. The shimmering warmth of the arrangement is great, although Fred Moch’s and Ack van Rooyen’s trumpet mélange is incredibly stereotypical. Whatever, the soulful harmonica solo in the middle at least offers some sort of counterpoint after all.


Side B is no different, like it or lump it. Harry Belafonte and Lord Burgess greet the listener at the beginning when their evergreen Island In The Sun unfurls shedloads of sun-kissed marimba woodpeckers, mountainous bonfire guitars and a softly swinging rhythm. afterwards Bob Barron’s and Burt Long’s Cindy, Oh Cindy absorbs the same qualities but sees the return of the sugar-coated harmonica and – unfortunately well-covered and too quiet – organ undercurrents.


Cu Cu Rru Cu Cu Palomaby Tomas Mendez is a favorite in Germany for reasons that better remain untold. The rhythm schleps itself forward, heat is in the air, the flute is drowsy and discordant, making this a funny trip for all the wrong reasons, all the while the album ends with a Delgado triptych: Trip To Nicaragua has a funky attitude guitar-wise but is otherwise keen on depicting a friendly marimba cannelure that flows like a river through the tropical afternoon, Cayenne Pepper is the smoking-fast Rhumba with oompa pianos, lively trumpets and glaucous globs of marimba micas, with the finale Bonsoir Dame adding accordions of savoir vivre carefreeness with the well-lit mallet instrument catenae. Add a Haitian flute to sunnyvale, and you’re good to go.


It’s not hard to see the general appeal of Marimba À La Carte, and one has to give Roberto Delgado props for staying true to the mellow formula. The material is extremely sunny and awash with light, the mood is so mellifluous and harmless most of the time that there is no room for real latinisms. The faint murkiness in Latin Romance is more of an accident, as is the smoking barrels of Cayenne Pepper which does live up to its title at the end of the day. Apart from these two instances, everything remains smooth and in tested waters. Whether this blend is considered bland is up to the listener. It always is.


Here, however, we have the case of an album that is quite unique when viewed in an Exotica context. I can name 20 albums right on top of my head that severely beat Delgado’s marimba concoction to the ground, but at the same time I cannot name even one additional album by another artist that evokes the same kind of ambience, lumen and candela. The light doesn’t blind one’s eyes, and it is more of a soothing filter, softly aglow. Another standout feature is the friendly warmth which is often mistaken for MIDI instruments as the well-groomed sounds of the trumpeters are so flat. If this is a no-go, so be it. Maybe light, thermal heat and the rippled marimba streamlets might let you reconsider. The album is available in several formats and on streaming services as well. 


Exotica Review 483: Roberto Delgado – Marimba À La Carte (1968). Originally published on May 22, 2017 at