Friday, October 30, 2009

SEO2 and CENZI, A.K.A. The Other Makiza dudes

I've talked long and extensively about my favorite former Makiza member, Anita Tijoux, who happens to also be one of my favorite human beings. Now it's the turn of the other former members of the mythical Chilean hip-hop group who coincidentally also released their respective second solo albums in 2009.
Right after the first departure of Anita in 2000, DJ Squat relocated to France and the remaining two members, Seo2 and Cenzi, joined forces to come out of the crisis as a duo, Némesis. As such, they delivered two albums (one on a major, one independently) where Seo2 did most of the rapping first and Cenzi (who in Makiza was only doing beats) started by doing the production and ended up sharing the microphone as well. Then it was Cenzi's turn to leave Chile and move back to Canada and since then the two friends have been working in their solo careers.
Seo2 was the male voice of Makiza, tough job. Being a really good MC, in his own right, he never received as much attention as his female partner. That must have been hard on him, but hey, that's a basic rule in the market, you put a pretty girl in your band and suddenly she's getting all the media buzz, she's in the center of all the pictures, she's getting all the fan mail, etc, etc. In hip-hop, where talented female MC's are an unfortunate rare species, this phenomenon happens more than anywhere else. I'm not saying that Mademoiselle Tijoux didn't deserve the extra attention, because of course, she was (is) an exceptionally talented artist, but Makiza was four people ("four heads" as they referred to themselves) and the concept was never "Anita and her band".
(As a sort of mea culpa I should say that since I was part of the media writing about them, I'm in part to blame for focusing on too much on Anita, rather than the rest.)
Anyway, after the failed reunion of Makiza in 2005 (where Cenzi didn't participate), Anita and Seo2 went separate ways and haven't talked to each other ever since. Something lamentable because I like them both and I wish they could be cool and because I don't really like feuds.
Seo2 recently released his second album as a solo MC, called Relativo & Absoluto (available on Itunes and Amazon.com) and I personally think it's his best work to date. His flow is impeccable over great boom-bap beats provided by the amazings DJ Raff and Bitman, among others. Similarly to Anita's 1977, which is also her second solo album, Relativo & Absoluto is in part an autobiographical opus and sonically focuses on raw purist rap that will please hardcore b-boys a lot more than mainstream listeners.
Cenzi, who also contributes with some beat production for Relativo & Absolute, recently released his second solo album as an MC (he has plenty of other releases as a producer) where, not surprisingly at all, Seo2 contributes as a guest MC in one track. It's called De Mi Menor a Mi Mayor and it can be downloaded for free (along with many of his previous releases) from his website. Unlike Anita and Seo2 who for their second albums went back to a classic hip-hop sound, Cenzi's latest work gets a little experimental with the inclusion of an acoustic guitar at the center of his production, with some quite interesting results. Now strictly from a DJ point of view, I'll be probably spinning Seo2 tracks way more than Cenzi's.
Back in 2000 I was there backstage halfway through my interview when I witnessed first hand Makiza's break up. Since then I always felt an special emotional tie to this talented group of Chilean artists. I don't really care that they are all far apart from each other nowadays, for me they're still the greatest hip-hop crew of Latin America.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

FEDERICO AUBELE-Amatoria Remixed (ESL Music, 2009)

I'm not too crazy about this one here. There was a time, back in the early 2000's when downtempo electronica fused with any cool world beat made me pee in my pants. When Federico's first album, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires (2004) came out, I loved it. They released it in three beautiful 10 inches vinyl EP's which still have a special place in my collection. For many years I was a lounge music DJ at restaurants and bars and I played the shit out of those. Both singles "Postales" and "Esta Noche" have been staples of my DJ sets for a long time, however my personal favorite was "Mona" because of the phrase "En San Francisco se había prostituido" which makes me smirk every time I hear it (I gotta sample that!).
Then it all changed when I saw him live and his show was almost as boring as a baseball game (and believe me, in my book there's nothing, and I mean nothing, as boring as a baseball game). That was the end of my affair with Federico's music. I kept playing his old stuff but more out of inertia than pleasure. Like when you keep fucking with your ex just because you got used to it and she's there and you don't find her attractive anymore but oh well...
So I pretty much stop paying attention to his following releases, Panamericana (2007) and Amatoria (2009), until today when I accidentally ran into this remixes EP of Amatoria and decided to give it a chance because I figured, since they are remixes, maybe they're fun and help me get rid of that idea of instant boredom that comes to my mind every time I picture his jewfro. "Suena Mi Guitarra" (Son Of Kick Remix) is definitely my favorite and I'll probably be playing it in my electro sets, "Otra Vez" (Gianna Breaks Remix) is not too bad either. The rest sound pretty much like Federico Aubele himself except for the house remix of "Otra Vez" that has a cheesy bass line that's just plain horrible.

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gilles Peterson Presents Havana Cultura (Brownswood Recordings, 2009)

You know that Stuff White People Like blog? They should have a post about "white people" liking Cuban hip-hop.
I've always found it fascinating/frustrating how people from English speaking countries would listen to (and fetishize) Cuban hip-hop but completely ignore Latin hip-hop from other Central and South American countries. Me being an active part for many years of the Argentine hip-hop scene, I used to take this kinda personal. But I do understand that this interest in Cuban hip-hop is mostly based on the sociological paradox of the über-commercial-American-music-style-developed-in-an-anti-commercial-and-anti-American-environment more than the music and lyrics themselves. I've seen at least six documentary movies on Cuban hip-hop that explore this paradox, most of them done by gringos. I haven't seen any other gringo documentaries that explore how hip-hop spread through the other Spanish-speaking countries. So that kinda pisses me off a little bit.
That being said, I do agree that Cuba deserves special attention for having one of the richest hip-hop scenes in Latin America. They produce some damn good rap. But the reason why they produce so much good rap is barely ever explored in the journalistic work of those gringos. And that reason is that compared to any other country in Latin America, Cuba has the highest level of education amongst the poor marginal youth. Better education reflects directly in better use of vocabulary, hence better lyrics writing. You'll find plenty of great Spanish language lyricists in Spain, Chile or Argentina, even Puerto Rico (Residente from Calle 13 being the most notable example) but most of them come from middle class backgrounds. With a few extraordinary exceptions. But that strange combination of poor background and great lyricist in Cuba is more the rule than the exception.
Anyway, British DJ and world-music eminence, Gilles Peterson is one of those gringos fascinated with Cuban hip-hop and recently released this great compilation. It comes in a double disc format where one disc is mostly him and some collaborators exploring Cuban jazz, the other disc is a collection of rap songs by some of the most respected Cuban MC's like Doble Filo, Obsesión and my personal favorites Los Aldeanos.

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

KING COYA-Cumbias de Villadonde (Nacional Records, 2009)

King Coya is one of the few Zizek Collective members that I haven't met personally, so I don't know too much about him. I do know that King Coya is the alter-ego of Gaby Kerpel, who way before the whole neo-cumbia thing was already an accomplished musician in Buenos Aires underground.
Unlike most other neo-cumbia artists who started as hip-hop or electronica DJ's (or reggae, or punk musicians) the King started updating Argentine folklore with new technologies in the form of artsy, experimental, ambient music and that took him to traditional cumbia.
Hence, his approach to cumbia is way more respectful than the norm, avoiding the hipster-irony tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that I like so much about this movement.
In fact you could divide the neo-cumbia scene in two: on one side the mash-up or cut-n-paste (or whatever) low-brow artists who make fun of modern cumbia's inner tackiness and make music that's mostly fun and dance-floor oriented (Fauna, Toy Selectah, Kumbia Queers, The Peronists, Fantasma, M.I.S., etc.); on the other side the ones who dig deep into Colombia's cumbia tradition and approach it from a thirdworldist perspective with artsy results in a downtempo or minimalist techno format (Lulacruza, Axel Krygier, Tremor, Doña María, etc). King Coya is like the king of the second group, his cumbias are beautiful and trippy, but they completely ignore the tacky Argentine cumbia context, focusing mostly on the folkloric roots of the genre. Even though the title of the album includes the word "villa" (Argentine slang for slums) this might be misguiding because there is absolutely no "villa" aesthetic or attitude in these cumbias.
Anyway, this album also includes some previously released material like "Cumbiatrón" from ZZK Sound Vol.1 and the Petrona Martínez remix of ZZK Sound Vol.2. There's also a remix of Lulacruza and one of the Yerba Buena hit "El Burrito" in the CuCu Diamantes version with Los Tucanes de Tijuana that was released as a single a couple of years ago. From the new, previously unreleased material, my favorites are ""Solo" and "Trocitos de Madera".

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Monday, October 26, 2009

SONIDO MARTINES PRESENTA-Nueva Cumbia Argentina (Soot, 2009)

If you just discovered cumbia's new school and are all excited about this exotic new music trend you will definitely find this compilation amazing. Sonido Martines is one of the most important players in the movement and a great researcher of old cumbia, an authentic cumbia digger that, not satisfied with Argentinean cumbia, decided to travel the continent in search for the roots and ramifications of this Colombian-turned-Panamerican music style. So if there's an authority you should trust when it comes to neo-cumbia, that's him.
That being said, if you have been following the current cumbia craze for the last couple of years, you probably already have most of the tracks included in this comp. There are two songs from the mandatory ZZK Vol.1 and two from El Hijo De la Cumbia's Freestyle De Ritmos. These are great songs, but there's no purpose in buying them twice, since they are the same versions. From the total of 13 tracks there were only three that I didn't already have. Sonido Martines himself provides only one track, a total rarity: a remix of a Peruvian classic cumbia with a Brazilian MC rapping on top. A great track, no doubt, but kinda doesn't fit in a compilation that has the words Argentina and Buenos Aires in all-caps in the title. There are a couple of other rarities that you might need to add to you collection, one track by Cumbia Villera pioneers Damas Gratis and one by the mythical DJ Taz who most people in Argentina point out to as the real founding father of the neo-cumbia trend (El Hijo De La Cumbia is his proud disciple). DJ Taz has been out of the public eye for a long time now so he didn't get to cash in the success of the hybrid genre he kick-started. Fortunately Sonido Martines was able to track him down and publish one of his songs (I wish I had the liner notes for the album because I don't really know if this is a new track he produced or one of his forgotten classics).
As a conclusion I have to point out the obvious once again, if you're going digital, you don't need to buy the whole album if you already have half of the tracks. However, there is vinyl EP version out there too that you might wanna get instead because most of those tracks have never before been published in that format.

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

LATIN BITMAN-Colour (Nacional Records, '09)

Back in 2001 I discovered and instantly fell in love with this Chilean DJ duo called Bitman & Roban (best name ever!) who personally sent me a copy of their album Robar Es Natural for review consideration at the office of magazine I was working for. The album was pure digger's gold, very downtempo-e, according to the times, but full of that original hip-hop aesthetic of making new original music using only pieces of other existing music mixed together. That was the reason I fell in love with hip-hop in the first place, the idea of a music collage, with hidden nods to the attentive listener.
However, one thing that distinguished Bitman & Roban from the rest of the vinyl diggers out there was that they used, in quite ingenious ways, some super recognizable samples of crossover classics (and this was way before Girl Talk made this trend hipster-cool) making their mixes a little more accessible to the masses of non-obscure-vinyl-collectors. I don't know how they got away with doing that for a bunch of albums without getting sued for copyright infringement, specially after they started getting published in the US by Nacional Records with the interesting but much less amazing, Música Para Después Del Almuerzo (where they combined their sampling skills with live instrumentation). But they did got away with it, flying under the radar, I guess.
Then all of a sudden, Bitman decided to go solo... and go Latin. He became Latin Bitman. Yup. I don't really know what motivated this move, but I figure it was a smart business premeditated decision. Regardless of his talent, he was never going to make it in the international market if he kept on sampling funk and old-school hip-hop, because there are already thousands of other DJ's doing that exact same thing in the US. He needed to distinguish himself from the herd and that's probably why he decided to bank on his Latiness (something the average Chilean hip-hopper is not too much in touch with). Once again, this is just my speculation, because I haven't talked to him since '06.
Anyhow, Colour is the second album he releases under the Latin Bitman moniker for Nacional Records and it just came out. It has some instrumental downtempo and bossa nova, some rap in español, plenty of good ol' funk, some English singing and rapping (all ingredients also found in previous work) and surprisingly, some impressive (and very current) electro and also some obvious reggae. But no easily recognizable samples.
Amongst the many guest, we have once again my very favorite Anita Tijoux (she was also featured in Musica Para Después del Almuerzo) doing a rap song ("Insomnio") that is aesthetically closer to the Anita of Kaos than the new Anita of 1977 (now why Nacional will release this and not Anita's album goes beyond my humble levels of understanding of the music business. By the way, did you see Anita's 1977 clip? Dude, personal friendship and obvious crush aside, that's the most amazing Latin American hip-hop video I've ever seen! I posted it at the end of my previous post, go check it out). All these elements, plus a neutral title in English, make this one Bitman's album with the most crossover potential to date, and I'll applaud it if he does in fact crossover to the gringo hipster crowd (in a Pinker Tones/M.I.S. sort of way) because he totally deserve it, but the DJ in me will always be more satisfied discovering hidden samples in the classic Robar Es Natural.

Available on emusic, itunes, amazon, etc.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

ANA TIJOUX - 1977 (Oveja Negra, 2009)


Today is the day I was expecting for so, so long. If you read this blog consistently you know that I do not miss a chance to share with my readers my unconditional preference for Mademoiselle Anita Tijoux, and of course, the release of a new album by her has to be a main event for me.
Now known simply as Ana, Anita has been one of my very favorite artists for the last ten years but I'm totally biased because she also happens to be one of my closest friends and I adore her to death. Hence, don't expect this to be one of my cynical reviews.
Many people in Latin America (and EVERYBODY somehow involved in Latin American hip-hop) know who Ms. Tijoux is already, but I know I get lots of readers from the English-speaking half of the world who are not necessarily aware of this magnificent MC so this is your chance to catch up.
I first heard of this French/Chilean artist back in 1998 when I was publishing a hip-hop culture fanzine in Argentina. That little magazine had gone from being an underground Buenos Aires thing to a significant publication of continental proportions by then and I had readers in all neighbor countries. Some of them in Chile. Chile was, since the mid-nineties the most advanced and evolved hip-hop scene in South America (out of Brazil) and one of the groups that was making the most noise in Santiago's underground during those days was Makiza. A Chilean reader of my magazine sent me a cassette tape with a live recording of Makiza (along with other groups) and the moment I heard Anita's (one of the two MC's of that group) flow for the first time I knew she had a superb talent that distinguished from the rest and also I got the feeling that if I'd ever meet her personally, we could totally get along. I was right about both my assumptions.
Makiza released two albums, the independent Vida Salvaje (only as a cassette then, later re-released in CD format in 2004) and Aerolíneas Makiza (on Sony Music). I finally met Anita in 2000, right after Aerolíneas was released with the single "La Rosa De Los Vientos" (to this day one of my favorite songs of all time). That album had established the group as the biggest promise in Latin American hip-hop. While everybody else was stuck in the competitive-macho-from-the-ghetto formula, Makiza made rap accessible for all audiences by being human, sensitive and intelligent.
We were all waiting for Makiza to blow up to world-wide proportions at any moment but then something totally unexpected happen. Right before the release of their second single and the beginning of their South American promotional tour, Anita decided to leave the project. Not only did she announce she was breaking off from Makiza, she also said she was dropping rap music all together and moving back to her motherland, France. I remember that moment as one of the most emotionally intense ones in my life. I was there with the band backstage before their last concert when she told Seo2, the other MC, that she was out. She was my favorite artist and a great inspiration and she was leaving us. I cried that night, and I wasn't the only one.
We later spent a lot of time with Anita talking about her departure and her reasons resounded so strongly, that ended up being the final push I needed at that moment to leave my own country, Argentina, and consequently abandon my career as an aspiring MC.
Anita moved to France and almost at the same time I moved to California. But we never lost touch. She went through some big transformations during her stay in Paris, between 2001 and 2003. She took singing classes, trying to become a neo-soul singer. Meanwhile the rest of Makiza's member relocated in other countries as well, except for Seo2 who stayed in Santiago and pursued a successful solo career.
In 2003 Anita moved back to Chile but for a while she stayed at arms length from the hip-hop scene. She sung for a while in a funk band and she dreamt about becoming a solo artist. Her first public sign of life came later that year when she did a guest appearance in Control Machete's last album, Uno, Dos: Bandera (Control Machete, in case you don't know, was Toy Selectah's group). Many of her early-days fans where disappointed that she was singing instead of rapping.
2004 was the year of the big comeback. While promoting the re-release of Vida Salvaje, Makiza got together again for what was going to be a one-time show and ended up being a full-on reunion of Makiza. In 2005 they released their third album, Casino Royale. It wasn't a bad record, but the original chemistry of Makiza wasn't there any more and the new members added to the band where absolutely unnecessary. Soon after that, they dropped the project. Anita was going again through some major changes in her life, she had gotten married recently and soon after she became a mother. Going back to Makiza for a while reminded her of her first love: hip-hop, and she started rapping again but this time she was sure, her next project had to be her solo debut album.
In 2006 Anita crossed over to the mainstream, both in Chile and the rest of Latin America. In Chile thanks to her participation on a kids TV show as a voice over artist. In Latin America thanks to her collaboration with Mexican singer Julieta Venegas in the smash hit "Eres Para ". That song was latter remixed by Toy Selectah's Sonidero Nacional into an irresistible neo-cumbia track. It was then, when I first listened to that remix, that I had this sort of epiphany and I realized neo-cumbia was the next big thing to come in the Latin music world. I tried to persuade Anita into doing more cumbia tracks with Toy Selectah, who's also an unconditional admirer of her, but she had other plans.
During that time she recorded a whole never-released pop/rock album and did a few other guest appearances, with artists like Bajofondo's Supervielle and Chilean DJ's Bitman & Roban, among others. Then in 2007 she finally came out with her first solo album Kaos, which I reviewed in the very first post of this blog. I loved the album, of course, but I very much preferred her cumbia remix by Toy Selectah (even though I truly can't stand Julieta).
Anyway, now it's 2009 and her second solo album comes out, titled after the year she was born, 1977. This album marks a return of the very first Anita MC that I fell in love with back in 1998, a return to the basics, her basics, pure underground, refined, jazzy, introspective, sensitive hip-hop. None of those electro experiments, no pop aspirations (no guest appearances by Julieta Venegas!), a lot less singing, just pure raw rap (both in Spanish and French) to please hardcore hip-hop heads and b-boys alike.
I have to admit that I have been out of the loop in matters of hip-hop lately, listening to a whole other bunch of music styles (you know, cumbia...) but listening to this album for the first time yesterday brought me back to the first time I heard her rapping, the first time I saw her on stage and I idealized her as the ultimate female super-MC, the saviour of all South American rap.
Now the album will be coming out next week in Chile (yeah, I'm the very first one to review it) and hopefully somebody will soon make it available for the international market too. I think this could be a perfect addition to Nacional Record's catalog, don't you think? C'mon Mr. Cookman, could you PLEASE release this in the US?

Buy it here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

SANTULLO - Bajofondo Presenta (2009)

Last night we hung out with the Bajofondo crew again. Remember my video-post of that time I tried to interview Gustavo Santaolalla backstage after their last show of the tour? Well last night it was the last show of another tour and it also happened to be in San Francisco, where I live.
It was a private show so nothing crazy, but after the concert they wanted to have a little party before heading back to their respective hometowns (Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Montevideo...) so with a group of friends we threw them a party at a restaurant and it was awesome. Not food and beer flying this time, though. All the band was there, except the girl who does the video projections, I didn't see her. Lots of hot girls, groupies?
The guys from Bajofondo ended up jamming with the musicians of the restaurant's house-band and whoever wanted to grab an instrument and play, the rest just danced and drunk as much as it's ok to drink on a Tuesday night. Somebody must have a picture of myself onstage playing the güiro along with Oscar-winning überproducer Gustavo Santaolalla. Yes, we played some cumbias! Can you imagine Bajofondo playing "La Negra Tomasa"? Me neither. But believe me, it happened last night. Or was it just a dream? Please someone send me those pics to confirm this.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time talking to Luciano Supervielle, who's Bajofondo's DJ and was the first member of the collective to get his solo album a couple of years ago. We know a lot of people in common with Luciano because he used to be very involved in the Uruguayan hip-hop scene during the second half of the nineties and those were the times when I used to travel to Montevideo to attend hip-hop shows or interview bands. In his solo album he had the guys from Contra las Cuerdas as guests (probably the best in Uruguayan rap) and he also has my dearly beloved Anita Tijoux, who I mention in almost every other post in this blog.
The thing is, there's a new solo album by a Bajofondo member out, Santullo and I got it a couple of days ago but didn't really dedicated enough time to listen to it until today. Let me tell you, I really loved this album, maybe even more than any other Bajofondo release, including Mar Dulce. Santullo sings and raps with the style and swagger of a tango poet which is totally unique. But tango is not only present in his characteristic voice and flow and the half-electronic-half-acoustic music background, it is also very present in the lyrics and the choice of words. I've heard people trying to do this same thing before but nobody can do it as naturally and convincingly as Santullo, he somehow managed to find the perfect balance between early-twentieth-century tanguero slang and very current urban topics.
The album has ten tracks, nine of them are all new compositions, the other one is a version of the hit single "Pa' Bailar" from Mar Dulce's remixes. Definitely worth checking it out.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

ZURITA-The Great Cumbia Swindle (Free Mix)

Like I already stated here once, listening to other people's mixtapes generally bores me to death. I almost never finish them and if I do is after skipping half of the content. Yeah, I know I'm a DJ and I make mixes and I expect people to listen to them so I should be more patient but most of the times those mixes suck and I can't help it.
Anyway, rants aside, I recently downloaded this new mix by Argentinean cumbia mash-up artist Zurita and had it on my Ipod for a couple of days until last night on my way out from the gym I finally decided to push play and oh, what a surprise!
I barely knew this guy, in fact I still don't know much about him but now I'm wishing I knew him before. The Great Cumbia Swindle rocks, it has plenty of classic cumbia with old school rap and Spanish dancehall all mixed with the right set of skills and it even contains a few unexpected surprises. That's what I like to hear. Besides my own megamixes, this is the only other cumbia mix I'm gonna leave permanently on my IPod. Keep up the good work!

Download it free HERE.