On Saturday night, Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, a visual album full of poetry, black resistance, marital strife, and women’s empowerment. The record and its visual embodiment is an exercise in everything that makes Beyoncé one of the biggest and most essential artists of our time.
Along with the remarkable cinematography and the striking narrative, there’s amazing music here too. This is Bey’s most daring sonic album to date, with collaborations, samples, and inspirations culled from artists ranging from Jack White to James Blake to Animal Collective. However, one of the most distinctive musical sections comes on the track “Freedom,” which, besides featuring a cameo from Ibeyi, also boasts a fuzzy guitar and organ groove as its foundation.
Turns out “Freedom” samples “Let Me Try” by Kaleidoscope, an obscure Puerto Rican band from the late 60s. Although they’re mostly known among psych diehards and vinyl collectors, Kaleidoscope have a very interesting history. The band recorded their lone, self-titled studio album after winning first place in the Dominican Republic’s Dominican Music Fest in 1968, which granted them the prize of recording at the island’s Fabiola Studios. Present during the sessions was Peruvian singer Edgar Zamudio, who had contacts with Mexican record label Orfeón and hooked them up with a deal. The band then moved to Mexico, where they played regularly with contemporaries such as La Revolución De Emiliano Zapata, Javier Bátiz, and Angélica María. They even appeared on TV and toured the country.
Orfeón pressed around 600 copies of their album to send as promo material to DJs and the press, but never formally released it to the market. Their song “Colours” was a radio hit, yet fans couldn’t go out and buy it (Fun fact: now, originally pressed copies sell for about $8,000). During the writing and recording sessions for what was to be their second album, Kaleidoscope broke their contract with Orfeón and embarked on an ill-fated U.S. tour. By the time they reached New York, they had broken up.
The kicker is that Kaleidoscope’s music is one of the most distinctive and energetic of the acid rock era, lost to the ages until reissue label Shadoks Music secured the rights to the album from the band’s own Francisco Tirado. The reissue came out in 2011, and was later licensed by Now-Again in 2013, the same year Beyoncé dropped her self-titled album. Coincidence or not, it’s great that two forward-thinking musical entities, separated chronologically and geographically, can come together for something as special as “Freedom.”
Update, 4/26/2016, 10:55 a.m.: An earlier version of this post erroneously stated that Kaleidoscope’s self-titled album was reissued in 2013 by Now-Again. The album was first reissued by German label Shadoks Music in 2011, and later licensed by Now-Again in 2013.