I'm gonna start this new blog the fast easy way, with a list of what I consider the best ten records published during 2007.
Now I know that buying CD's is way out of style and most of you people just download the music -for free- from the web, and the album format as we know it is dying, now it's all about the song itself. So it was kinda hard to put together a list of ten Latin music albums instead of songs.
To tell you the truth, as much as I love the old LP's and I still collect them, I'm not a big fan of the album format. There are probably less than ten records that I own where I enjoy listening to each and every one of the songs, in order, as a unit. Most of the time, even in my favorite albums, from my favorite artists, I like one out of five songs. Hence, I'm not very disappointed with the eventual death of the CD and the whole album format. As long as they keep printing 7 inches, I'll be fine...
1.- MEXICAN SESSIONS - Up Bustle & Out: That's a given. I knew it was going to be at the top of this year's list way before it came out. Way before Toy Machete told me about it last year in New York. Man, I've been waiting for this album to come out since 2005, when I interviewed Up, Bustle & Out and they made a side comment about this project they were working on with Toy. Now the reason this is the shit and you MUST own a copy of this, in vinyl if possible, it's because this is the music style that everybody else is gonna be trying to copy, two years from now. Yes, we all know reggaetón is almost done annoying us and everybody is wondering, so, what's up next? I tell you what's next: the neo-cumbia, or coombia, or cumbow, whatever you wanna call it (I even heard some un-PC intents of naming it white cumbia). There have been plenty of experiments with this traditional Colombian beat, dominant all over Latin America, done by underground producers coming from the grounds of hip-hop, dub, dancehall and electronica, but this is the first full album dedicated to this new genre. Toy Machete, (former beat producer of Mexican hip-hop group Control Machete) is nowadays the top producer in Latin American music with his visionary crew, Sonidero Nacional, they've been mixing cumbia and dem-bow getting amazing results for years, which lead them to become some of the most requested remixers in the industry. So, he hooked up with many other Mexican underground heads to collaborate on this project by the innovative UK based combo Up Bustle & Out who are always on the look for some cutting edge shit from unknown corners of the planet to add to their always interesting mix, and this is what came out! Now, you know how every other year the DJ's and producers of dance music in Europe, in search of new sources of inspiration suddenly "discover" a traditional beat from the third-world, they start sampling it and it becomes a the world-beat standard of the season? Then after the success in Europe, the local DJ's in the third-world countries where the music originally came from (those same ones who used to look down on that certain type of music for considering it hick and uncool, but now since they use it in Europe, it magically became cool overnight), start to pick it up, trying to capitalize on the market trend until they saturate the market... It happened with Brazilian bossa-nova in 2000, it happened again with Argentine tango in 2002, now it's gonna happen again with cumbia. So if you wanna be ahead of the game and be able to say, "hey I was spinning that shit way before all you suckers heard it on the radio", then you must own this album now. AVAILABILITY: buy legal high quality downloads here
2.- RESIDENTE O VISITANTE - Calle 13: Before you start with the oh-how-much-you-hate-stupid-reggaeton routine, let me tell you, I know, I know, I used to feel the same way. But that was until I found out about these guys, who actually play some real music, and they have some brain and they know how to use it when it comes to writing lyrics. Calle 13 can compete on the dancefloor with the top-notch reggaeton artists we love to hate while bringing into the mix a lot of other flavors (tango, cumbia... again! I told you!) that the average reggaeton producer is not at all familiar with, because they all grew up on a bachata-and-merengue diet (blame their parents!). But that's not all, most people criticize reggaeton for having terrible lyrics, with very basic metric structures and predictable rhymes (does everything have to rhyme with "candela"? don't they know other words?), and they are right: the average reggaeton lyric can easily be written by a 12 year old glue-sniffing boy (Gasolina anybody?). And others will answer, "oh, but reggaeton doesn't need to be intelligent, it's just supposed to make you dance and that's it, nobody really pays attention to the lyrics. It's just functional music, and it's only function is to provide the excuse for drunk chicks and horny boys to rub against each other". Well, that, my friend, was until Calle 13 entered the game, and brought some bad ass lyrics that can compete syllable-to-syllable with the best of the bestest of hip-hop-in-Spanish lyricists (Zatu, Kase-O, Tremendo, Chilli Parker...) and since most of the time the best of the bestest hip-hop-in-Spanish lyricists are doing boring-ass music because they are scared to death of being accused of selling out, Calle 13 kills them all because their shit can be enjoyed the same in the nightclubs and your I-pod. AVAILABILITY: everywhere major label CD's are sold.
3.- MALAMARISMO - La Mala Rodríguez: Since we are on the topic already... Back in 1998 Spain's hip-hop scene blew up and the consequences of this were felt all over Latin America. Spanish hip-hop was the new hope for a whole generation bored of rock en español (me included). It was modern, intelligent, progressive, sophisticated, had some great beats (Griffi!) and some incredible MC's (like my very favorite, Zatu of SFDK) who found the way to rhyme in Spanish without sounding like a Chicano caricature (Control Machete, Illya Kuryaki). The problem was, none of these artists could make anybody shake one finger. The music wasn't dance-floor friendly at all and when they tried to pump up the BPM's and make you dance it sounded horrible. Right out of that scene of hardcore orthodox b-boys came this girl called La Mala María (she later changed to her last name) and her style was so distinctive that she automatically captivated the A&R's of the major labels. She soon moved out of the rough screamo style of her beginnings into a more radio-friendly freestyle-rhyming-kind-of-singing and, since she was from Sevilla, her singing style sounded, naturally, very flamenco-ish. As a result of this, stupid people in the media started talking about flamenco-hip-hop and out of nowhere came out this avalanche of clones trying to mix the two music styles (some, like Ojos de Brujo and Bebe, became a lot more famous than whom they copied: La Mala Rodríguez). The obvious result was that La Mala Rodríguez was perceived as a sell-out by the rest of the hip-hop scene in Spain and she became the target of all these so-called hardcore b-boys posting in web-forums about how she was not "real" or "street" and "that's not rap, that's pop". All that because of what? She dared to make people dance. She kicked in some up-tempo beats and released a few interesting club-oriented singles all that in her unique style. She actually became like a sort of ambassador of hip-hop-in-Spanish for the non-Spanish-speaking markets (same goes for Orishas) because of the catchyness of her flow and and the fact that she was the-one-foreign-rapper-who's-not-trying-to-sound-like-a-black-
person-from-over-here and unlike 99% of the other rappers, you didn't have to understand a word of Spanish to appreciate her music (and her lyrics never said that much anyway). With all that on her favor, La Mala Rodríguez, released this, her third official album, in 2007 with -finally!!!- some really great production (Griffi!) and top quality recording and mixing (what she was lacking in her first effort) resulting in her best album to date, only partially ruined by the mediocre guest collaborations that include Tego Calderón and Julieta I-sing-choruses-for-anybody Venegas. AVAILABILITY: everywhere major label CD's are sold.
4.- KAOS - Anita Tijoux: Talking about post-hip-hop female MC's who collaborate with Julieta Venegas... here is the beautiful French-Chilean Anita Tijoux with her way overdue solo debut. Back in the late nineties Santiago de Chile's hip-hop scene was the Latin American avant-guard of progressive rap. A group of hip-hop purists born abroad (during their parents' exile) called Makiza, was the spearhead of this movement of intelligent non-violent hip-hop more inspired in the early nineties East Coast's Native Tongues and French hip-hop than then ubiquitous West Coast's gangsta rap. In 1999 they released an amazing major label debut, Aerolíneas Makiza, that to this date is considered one of the best rap in Spanish records of all time. Anita Tijoux was one of the two voices of the inventive foursome but soon after the album gained notoriety, she freaked out and abandoned her rap career altogether to go back and hide in her native country's capital, Paris. After a four year hiatus she went back to Chile in 2004 with new energy and new musical influences that took her beyond rap. She collaborated with diverse artists (Julieta Venegas, Control Machete) and one year later she rejoined the other MC, Seo-2, to bring Makiza back to life. Unfortunately this second coming of Makiza was far from successful, the new material wasn't bad at all, but it couldn't recreate the feeling of the original group with two of the founding members gone and a new third MC sharing the mic, when he wasn't necessary at all. After the second break-up of Makiza it was obvious that the next step was going to be Anita's solo debut, something that her fans all over the world have been waiting for, for almost ten years. Kaos shows us a very different Anita Tijoux than the one we all fell in love with while she rapped-whispered "La Rosa De Los Vientos" back in '99. Marriage, a baby, a divorce and the sudden mainstream exposure of Mademoiselle Tijoux, both locally (with the children TV show Pulentos) and internationally (with her guest appearance in Julieta Venegas' biggest hit: "Eres Para Mí"), changed her, big time, and she felt that changing process as chaos, hence the title of the album. However, Kaos, doesn't sound chaotic, nor powerful, it sounds clean and laid back, too pop for the hardcore b-boys, and at the same time not pop enough to conquer the new teenage audience who discovered her through the high radio rotation of "Eres Para Mi". Anita Tijoux could've easily been a sort of South American version of Lily Allen-meets-M.I.A. and she's got way more skills than La Mala Rodríguez both on the mic and writing lyrics, but she really needs to let loose, don't be so shy, and show us more of her chaotic side. AVAILABILITY: only in Chile.
5.- KUMBIA NENA! - Kumbia Queers: Not only progressive hip-hop/electronica DJ's turned their ears towards the contagious cumbia sound in 2007. This Argentinian-Mexican combo of riot-grrrl lesbo-punk-rockers are playing with cumbia the way Le Tigre used to play, ironically, with 80's electro-pop. They have some songs of their own but the best are their covers of classic Anglo standards, transformed into hilarious gay cumbias. My personal favorite was their take on The Ramones "Sheena is a punk rocker" wisely titled "La China es cumbianchera", but you'll also be amused by their covers of The Cure ("Kumbia Dark"), Black Sabbath ("Chica del metal") and, oops, Madonna ("La isla con chikas"). AVAILABILITY: I have no idea where you can buy this but I downloaded it from here.
6.- EL APAGON-Dante: Back in the early-to-mid-nineties rap in Spanish produced in Latin America was kind of embarrassing, in big part, thanks to people like Illya Kuryaki & The Vaderramas who bastardized the genre rapping with fake cholo's accent with little to no respect at all for hip-hop culture. Finally in 2007 Dante, one half of that Argentine duo, decided to gain props from the fundamentalists hardcore rap fans by releasing a proper rap album: El Apagón. It usually goes the other way around: artists start as purist hip-hoppers until they realize they have too much talent for the genre inner restrictions and they start experimenting with post-hip-hop. Dante Spinetta (son of rock in Spanish pioneer Luís Alberto) never played by the rules of any style and now, after around ten records of experimental Latin-funk-wanna-be-Chicano-rap-pop, after being a father twice, after turning new born Christian, after years of ignoring the critics of hip-hop headz, he suddenly comes out with a 100% pure rap album... and against all expectations, he nails it! He actually learned how to rhyme with some sort of a flow and for the first time in his career he tried writing battle lyrics with punch lines and egotrip. His lyricist skills are still not ripe enough to conquer the hearts of the average rap-connaiseur but he makes up with charisma and incredible production and unlike most rap-en-español stars he's not afraid of "going commercial" with some catchy dance-floor-friendly songs. Oh, and guess what, he also has Julieta Venegas doing choruses... AVAILABILITY: CD only available in record stores in Argentina or on-line here. Free illegal download from this site.
7.- LA RADIOLINA - Manu Chao: Big respect to Manu Chao. First, he was the most influential musician in Latin music for way over a decade. He gives the best live performances you'll ever see. Even being French, he helped people in Latin America to learn to appreciate the inner coolness of their own local traditional rhythms. His version of Latin Punk music (with former band Mano Negra) was a lot more accurate than all the previous intents of importing punk rock to Latin American capitals by local angry teenagers. His reggae sounds simply beautiful. He produced other amazing artists like Tonino Carotone and Amaou & Mariam. I mean, this guy is a fucking genius and he released two amazing solo albums: Clandestino and Próxima Estación Esperanza that everybody MUST own. Even his live album, Radio Bemba, kicks ass because the live versions of his songs are so different from the studio ones, that it totally makes sense to release a live album. In fact, that must be probably the ONLY live album that is worth having in Latin music, period. In his latest opus, however, Manu Chao disappointed me. La Radiolina is more of the same. It adds absolutely nothing new to his previous work. It is still great music but it could've easily been the second disc for Próxima Estación if Próxima Estación was a double album. Five years passed and there is no evolution at all between the two albums. That said, even being his worst album to date, La Radiolina is still better than 99.9% of all the crap that fills the racks of the Latin section of your record store and it's even available in vinyl for you true music lovers. AVAILABILITY: everywhere major label CD's are sold.
8.- LA LENGUA POPUAR - Andrés Calamaro: In case you still don't know him yet, Andrés Calamaro is basically the best lyricist in pop-rock music in Spanish and probably one of the most prolific composers of the genre. He's been releasing a lot of amazing (and a few crappy) songs since the early 80's, as a part of Los Abuelos De La Nada, Los Rodriguez or by himself. He reached his peak of popularity in the late nineties with his two must-have albums Alta Suciedad and Honestidad Brutal, then he went nuts for a period, released the weird pandora's box El Salmón (a 5 discs album!) and disappeared from the public eye for a while. Later, contradicting his singer-song-writer ethos, he reappeared doing covers, first of boleros (El Cantante) and then classic tangos (Tinta Roja). But his official return to rock music didn't happen until 2007 with the release of La Lengua Popular. This new record is not at the level of his greatest creations but it delivers a handful of immortal songs, surrounded by some weird crap. If you don't understand a word of Spanish, skip this recommendation. If you want to learn some Spanish music lyrics writing do yourself a favor and pay close attention to the South American Bob Dylan. AVAILABILITY: I found it here.
9.- LOGO - Kevin Johansen: Now imagine a mix between the previous two. That's Kevin Johansen. He writes smart funny lyrics like Andrés Calamaro but he's nomadic, multilingual and eclectic like Manu Chao. This Alaskan/Argentinian singer-songwriter is the best of both worlds and for the curious Anglo listener of Latin new music, he's the perfect bridge between American folk and South American traditional sounds. However, if you never heard of him, I suggest you start by Sur o No Sur, his genius second opus, released internationally by Sony/BMG in 2003. If you, like me, are already in love with his witty wordplay and own his previous 3 albums, then of course check this one out, I guarantee you'll at least love a couple of the songs. I personally liked the cumbia "Chica Rollinga" and "Cliche Latino Cliche Gringo", the rest are so-so but I guess I just need to give it a second listen. AVAILABILITY: You can buy it here or download it illegally for free here.
10.- MAR DULCE- Bajofondo: I hate to be the one who says this but the whole electro-tango thing is over. Back in 2002 when Gotan Project came out with the immortal La Revancha Del Tango (still the best album of the sub-genre) I knew exactly this would happen, and I even predicted it in the album's first review: Tango is going to be the new third-world beat for the European DJ's to sample from, for a couple of seasons, until the Argentinians jump in on the last train wagon and oversaturate the market with way too much more remixed tango that we can dance or lounge to. It's been five years since the insertion of this new-and-improved tango in the young-and-cool music market and I hereby declare its death. I mean, Gotan Project can still do some incredible stuff and Lunático was probably the best album of 2006 but what else can be said or done? I think that's pretty much all this revamped genre could give. Nevertheless Mar dulce (sweet sea, in reference to Rio de la Plata, the river that separates Argentina from Uruguay, the two countries where these musicians come from) by Bajofondo (the mega group directed by super-producer and Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla) is a pretty interesting album with great collaborations by the likes of Gustavo Cerati, Nelly Furtado, Elvis Costello and, my personal favorite, La Mala Rodríguez. Finally one album without Julieta Venegas as a guest! AVAILABILITY: as an import in some big record stores or here.