wax Poetics

Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound


Released 1973
record label International Records
Written by Oliver Wang

Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound
Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound

Most Latin newcomers are understandably thrown off by the ten or so sequentially titled albums by Roena and his Apollo Sound orchestra. What’s better, 1 or 9, 3 or 7? (It could be worse: see Tim Maia’s identically self-titled Brazilian funk albums on Polydor.) Salsa fans could take this debate into the wee hours; however, if for just one song, “Que Se Sepa,” 5 is a personal favorite in the lot. Besides, it also sports Roena’s best cover, with the percussionist resting hands on his drum, while swirls of smoke float off his burning cigarette.

“Que Se Sepa” is, by any standard, a remarkable Latin dance song, integrating a variety of styles so well it sounds far longer than its compact three minutes. The song opens on a quick drumroll before sliding into a powerhouse, five-man brass section led by newly hired trombone arranger Julio “Gunda” Merced. Mere seconds in, the track strips down to just timbalero Julito Morales, while the vocalists (Sammy Gonzales, Frankie Calderon, and Tito Cruz) chant vocals for four bars until the full orchestra comes swinging back in, complete with a wickedly funky backbeat that sounds suspiciously like a drum kit (though none is credited). This infectious rhythm holds sway until the song suddenly reverts back to Morales’s timbales, and Jorge Millet pops in with a montuno piano riff. The song isn’t even one minute in yet, and it’s already transformed itself twice.

The remainder of “Que Se Sepa” stays in a more conventional (but still delicious) salsa groove with vocalists and percussionists anchoring the main rhythm while the fiery brass section plays counterpoint. The song is a masterful display of genre- and tempo-switching, packing enough surprises to delight dancers as they shuffle through a variety of step-styles to keep pace. Always a great Latin track to keep in the crates—que se sepa—let it be known.