Tuesday, December 28, 2010

BEST 11 ALBUMS OF 2010

And I left this one list for the end. It's really hard for me to compile a list of 11 albums, because, as I've pointed out many times before, I don't really care for albums that much, I prefer smaller formats like singles and EPs. I get albums, I listen to them once, I save the songs I like and/or can use on my sets and I get rid of the rest and never listen to it again. In this time and age, when like 90% of the music DJ's play come from soundcloud and shared files alike, albums are almost an anomaly kept alive only to please nostalgic rock fans and capricious record label execs. There are extremely few albums I like as a whole where I can enjoy each and every one of the songs, a lot less if I can only count Latin music albums, for this blog. So here we go, these are the 11 albums I saved in their entirety in 2010, without deleting any of the songs from my hard-drive. (Compilations and reissues don't qualify).


1.- FRENTE CUMBIERO MEETS MAD PROFESSOR
File under: Cumbia-dub.
Reason to keep it all: I've been waiting for this to be released for over two years and honestly, I wouldn't be able to wait much more. Since I saw that video of Mad Professor mixing this on youtube, I knew this was going to be a must-have, I'm happy to announce I wasn't wrong in my prediction.
Mixability: Out of 14 tracks, 13 went straight to my playlist and you'll definitely hear some of it on my next megamix. Most tracks come in two versions, the original and the dubbed-out one. Great for playing around and do some live remixing.
Favorite track: "Chuchusteady"
Available: CD if you happen to live in Colombia, Amazon.com for everybody else.


2.- KUMBIA QUEERS-La Gran Estafa del Tropipunk
File under: Kumbia Grrrls With Attitude.
Reason to keep it all: Toy Selectah and Pablo Lescano both contributed to the production of this masterpiece. Need any more reasons?
Mixability: Unlike Queers previous work, this one is obviously a lot more DJ friendly, with plenty of club-oriented bangers. Still they keep it real to their punk roots and that's why I love them so fucking much!
Favorite track: "Celosa"
Available: In Argentina and Mexico only?


3.- CALLE 13-Entren Los Que Quieran
File under: Rap en español with brain.
Reason to keep it all: Anything with Residente rapping on it is worth keeping because you keep discovering dope hidden verses with further attentive listening.
Mixability: It's not a club-oriented album, but still has a couple of dance-floor bangers. He even dumbs down the lyrics level on "Vamos a Portarnos Mal," an otherwise-mediocre merengue-rap tailor-made for the evidently drunk and raunchy late-night crowd. And it works great.
Favorite track: "El Hormiguero."
Available: If you could find this blog, you certainly have enough knowledge to find this album -or its bootleg- without any effort.


4.- PONCHO-Ponchototal
File under: Daft-Punk meets Argentine rock.
Reason to keep it all: From the first one to the last one, they're are all certified club bangers. I personally didn't care for the Banda de Turistas' song (paradoxically that's the one they made a video of), but over all this album has no filler.
Mixability: You can tell when a great DJ is the brain behind a great album because all the tracks are ready to be mixed, beats are strong and they have monumental break-downs
Favorite track: "D.I.S.C.O." has crossover potential to become a massive worldwide hit.
Available: Everywhere Nacional Records CD's and/or downloads are available.


5.- SEU JORGE & ALMAZ
File under: Brazilian soul.
Reason to keep it all: Honestly, I first bought only four tracks from this, but I like them so much that I went back and bought the whole album.
Mixability: Not really a dance piece, actually quite the opposite. I just bought this one to play while we have breakfast with bloody-marys with my girlfriend during the weekends. I'm planning on sampling some of it on my next megamix.
Favorite track: "Cirandar"
Available: Everywhere, in every format, including double vinyl LP!


6.- MATORRALMAN-Guateque Estelar
File under: Sample-based retro psychedelia.
Reason to keep it all: I loved the concept, the aesthetics, the sound, the samples used. It's very original. I just wish more music like this would come out from Mexico instead of all the other crap.
Mixability: It's definitely mix-friendly but not necessarily dance-floor oriented unless you have a very open minded crowd. Perfect for DJing at cocktail lounges.
Favorite track: "Go Go Girl."
Available: Everywhere Nacional Records CD's and/or downloads are available.


7.- EMPRESARIOS-Sabor Tropical 
File under: All the Latin rhythms you can eat.
Reason to keep it all: OK, maybe not all the album is that great. I don't really care for the reggaetón tracks. If I wanted to play reggaetón in my set I already have all the commercial crap that's on the radios and that's what the reggaetón audience likes anyway. The dub, the cumbia and the Latin funk are exquisite.
Mixability: It has the Fort Knox Five seal of approval, there's no doubt that this will be fire on the turntables like everything else they release.
Favorite track: "Cumbia."
Available: It'll hopefully be available soon. Vinyl singles? Please?!


8.- GRUPO FANTASMA-El Existential
File under: Chicano Cumbia/Latin Funk.
Reason to keep it all: Best cumbia live band in the US and maybe world wide.
Mixability: Real cumbia lovers will dig this for sure. Pop-cumbia, nü-cumbia and sonidero listeners won't get it, but fuck them, I've been playing at least three of these tracks on my sets and I don't care if they get them or not, I love them!
Favorite track: "La Conozco."
Available: On Itunes, Emusic, etc. Probably on CD somewhere. Unfortunately no vinyl.


9.- SACASSAIA-Sampleando Deus e o Mundo
File under: MPC-based Brazilian hip-hop and beyond.
Reason to keep it all: After listening to so much orthodox Paulista hip-hop and cheesy baile funk Carioca, it was very refreshing to find out such eclectic mix of styles and influences, combined with admirable sense of good taste and sophistication while being accessible to pop crossover audiences.
Mixability: I've been mixing "El Culebrón" in my sets a lot but there are plenty other DJ friendly tracks, like their remarkable cover of "Genius of Love."
Favorite track: "Ululai"
Available: Free download on their site!


10.- CHAVEZ-Morón City Groove
File under: Nü-cumbia-reggae-urban-pop.
Reason to keep it all: I've been spinning the demo versions of many of these tracks for a couple of years before the official release dropped. Now I just replaced them with the new, better sounding versions.
Mixability: Six out of the ten tracks are mandatory on my sets. They blend in perfectly with every nü-cumbia out there.
Favorite track: "Antares"
Available: Only in Argentina?


11.- SKA CUBANO-Mambo Ska
File under: Mambo Ska?
Reason to keep it all: They are from England, they combine Cuban with Jamaican roots in their music and somehow they manage to come up with some of the best analog cumbias any hardcore Colombian cumbiero could conceive. I loved every single release by these guys since they came out, I'm sorry I feel I neglected them a bit on this blog.
Mixability: Not necessarily mixer-friendly since they have not been recorded with a DJ as target audience. But you can definitely just go ahead and drop any of these in your sets and real cumbia appreciators will go nuts.
Favorite track: "Cumbia del Monte"
Available: Itunes, Emusic, Amazon and everywhere else.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

BEST OF 2010: The Hard Data Awards II

BEST EP: Suave Patria by Mexican Institute of Sound

There were a lot of good EPs released in 2010. Especially since that was the preferred format for most ZZK Records' releases of this year: Frikstailers' Bicho de Luz, El Remolón's Pangeático, Tremor's Caracol, Lagartigeando's Neobailongo. Not that many albums, but I don't care because I like this format a lot.
The reason I picked Suave Patria is first because I love the idea of Nacional Records releasing more vinyl and second because it plays like a cohesive cut-and-paste collage mixtape more than a collection of independent tracks, and they are all equally great. I think that's a great idea. And I loved seeing Camilo Lara focused on his DJ work rather than his dorky singing/pseudo-rapping, which is fun as a novelty for a bit but it soon wears off.
OTHER CANDIDATES: All the ones mentioned above from ZZK plus DJ Lengua's Cruzando, Chicano Batman's self-titled and DJ Sabo's Bersa #6.
WORST EP: Can't think of any at the moment.


BEST REISSUE OR COMPILATION: Mambo Loco by Anibal Velasquez

Honestly, I'm still trying to come up with the money to purchase this LP, it's quite pricey as an import and I usually don't like to spend more like, say, $10 on a record. But this one is definitely worth it. I know it and I know I'll definitely buy it soon.
I was gonna choose VampiSoul's Cumbia Beat for this category, but they already won best art. Besides there were a lot of amazing reissues released this year, mostly by European labels (like this one by Analog Africa). It's like all of a sudden they realized there had been some great music recorded in the 60's and 70's in South America and originals are extremely hard to find and the few that are available are victims of speculation on ebay.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Ranil's Jungle Party (Masstropicas), Palenque Palenque! (Soundway) Roots of Chicha II (Barbés) and The Afrosound of Colombia (Vampi Soul)
WORST REISSUE: Diggin' Down Argentina (Argie garage rock oddities from the pre-Rock Nacional era, who wants to listen to that? Not me! And that ugly ass cover, ewww!)

BEST NEW ARTIST: Frente Cumbiero
As a Colombian, Frente Cumbiero has the knowledge and respect of the old cumbia tradition, but unlike other Colombian neo-cumbia artists he's been very focused on cumbia's migration, mutations and adaptations throughout the Americas. That gives him an unique perspective to approach cumbia that I really... envy. Part DJ, part digger, part cut-and-paste producer, part live band leader, part historian, this guy is everything that I wish I was, and better. Plus, he got to hang out with Mad Professor!
He's been doing stuff for a while but it wasn't until 2010 that he had his first official release. 2010 is Frente Cumbiero's year.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Los Reyes De La Milanga, Don Conejo, Matorralman, Lagartijeando, Munchi.
WORST NEW ARTIST: Paco Mendoza.

BEST NEW MUSIC BLOG: Cassette Blog
Hosted by no other than the Frikstailers themselves, this blog is just a couple of months old and it's already making a lot of noise with their constant avalanche of new content. I don't know where this guys find the time to do this, I mean, with all the touring and all the side projects they've been working on (like DJ Sandro de América and Sonidero Cordobestia), but it really seems like everything these guys have the Midas touch or something and everything they set out to do, turns into a big hit.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Rita Indiana's debut.

There was so fucking much blog-buzz about this Dominincan woman for the last year or so that at a point it felt like a universal tacit agreement that she was like the best next thing to come. Then her album finally dropped and I was like bleh. I listened to it only once and I didn't like any of the songs. I'd never include any of them on a DJ set, voluntarily, and I very much doubt people will come up and request them. I don't think she's so original or ingenious as other bloggers pointed out. And I can't get over that fact that she looks like a Dutch professional Dominatrix, or what a Dutch professional Dominatrix would look like in my imagination, (because I've never met one). It's probably the whole tall-skinny-woman-with-short-hair stereotype, which I find scary and utterly unappealing. I mean, if I ever, for some reason, wanted to see a female Dominican star, I'd go for someone who looks more like, let's say Maluca, right?

BIGGEST BULLSHIT BUZZ: Moombahton tie with Tribal Guarachero

Nowadays anybody can mix two existing genres together, change the pitch and come up with a made-up word and call it a "new" genre. So what the fuck is so special about Moombahton? I'm still trying to figure it out. It sounds pretty much like everything else that's out there. Dave Nada invented that, nada. He's probably really good at self-marketing (he even has a creation "myth" and a wikipedia page dedicated to it) and he definitely has the right connections to get the right people in the blogesphere to write about it. There are probably thousands others creating "new" genres out there every day, they just don't come up with stupid names like that, so nobody talk about them.
And Tribal Guarachero? It's just cheesy bad early 90's techno with a cumbia guiro beat sped up to 130 BPM. And it sounds horrible. It sounds like cheap productions made by teenagers in their cheap computers with the demo sounds of fruityloops, because that's exactly what it is. But Toy Selectah came out saying it was the best next thing and all of a sudden, suckers all over bought into it. Granted, Toy talked to me personally about new cumbia back in like 2003 and I didn't give it any credit at all back then, so, you might wanna follow his advice instead of mine, he definitely knows a lot more than me about this shit. Maybe I'm just too old and the whole raver-teen-on-ecstasy thing is not for me anymore.

Friday, December 24, 2010

BEST OF 2010-The Hard Data Awards

BEST ALBUM COVER ART: Cumbia Beat Vol.1 (Vampisoul, 2010)

Dear record industry, do you want to start selling records again? Get some kick ass graphic art for your album covers. At least it worked with me. I actually bought this album twice! First as a digital download as soon as I saw it on emusic, and later, as I promised on my review, I bought again on vinyl. (The last time I remember buying an album twice it was M.I.A.'s Arular in 2005, which I bought on vinyl and CD). And it wasn't a cheap purchase either, but it's a double album with a bunch of visually appealing inserts and notes and just that cover in itself, designed by Victor Coyote Aparicio is frame-worthy. And it says Vol. 1 meaning we can all hope for more of thees goodness coming up soon. I can't wait.
OTHER CANDIDATES: DJ Lengua's Cruzando, Monareta's Fried Speakers, Gotan Project's Tango 3.0, Sacassaia's Sampelando Deus e o Mundo, Rita Indiana's El Juidero
WORST COVER ART: Cuarto Poder's In tha House.

BEST ALBUM TITLE: La Gran Estafa del Tropipunk by Kumbia Queers


The title is an obvious reference to the Sex Pistols' mockumentary The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle which Spanish translation was La Gran Estafa Del Rock and Roll. And nobody could embody that perfect title better than the the Kumbia Queers. It's ingenious, witty, cynical and most of all, true.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Sampelando Deus e o Mundo by Sacassaia, Neobailongo by Lagartijeando, Piratas de Sudamerica by El Guincho, Discotape by Capri.
WORST TITLE: In Tha House by Cuarto Poder.

BEST ALBUM INTRO: Calle 13's "Intro" for Entren Los Que Quieran

When I had my phone-interview with Calle 13's Visitante he kept repeating "wait until you hear the intro, it's all in there." He was right. With a style and sense of humor that resembles Family Guy's musical bits at their very best, this is quite possibly the best intro to a Spanish-language album I've ever heard. I can just close my eyes and imagine some cartoon characters dancing while singing "nos cogieron por el culo."
OTHER CANDIDATES: La Mala Rodríguez's "En la Línea" from Dirty Bailarina (just because she opens an album repeating "deja que te coja" and -taking it out of dialect context- I wanna let her do just that).
WORST INTRO: Dante Spinetta's "Pyramide" for the album of the same title. I wonder where I found the strength to keep listening after that awful auto-tuned monstrosity.


BEST MASH-UP/REMIX: Aaliyah's "Try Otra Vez" by DJ Still Life

Brooklyn's own DJ Still Life released this collection of Aaliyah's classics vocals over tropical beats right around the anniversary of her death. I played this one that same night and it was an instant success so it remained in all my DJ sets since then. I never even played any of the other mashups included in this digital release. Just that one.
OTHER CANDIDATES: "Hola Cumbia," (Lyrics Born vs Calle 13), by DJ Zeph, "Jimmy Cumbia" (Los Empresarios vs Old Dirty Bastard) by J-Boogie, "Mostro" by Dante Spinetta (remix by Super Guachín), "Fuego" by Bomba Estéreo (Frikstailers remix)
WORST MASH-UP: Pitbull & 50Cent Pshickedelic Cumbiass by Brujjas (nothing that has those to walking insults to rap music together in one track can be any good).


BEST 7'' SINGLE: "Ananas Tornillo"/"Pitchito" by Frente Cumbiero


I already explained this one before, so don't be lazy and go read it in my previous post. Oh, and go buy this single right now, if you haven't done so yet, because this, I can guarantee, will turn into a collectible item.
OTHER CANDIDATES: "Silbando" by Los Rivereños, "Dina's Mambo/La Muralla" by Bio-Ritmo, "Primavera en la Selva" by Chicha Libre.
WORST 7'': I love this format way too much to hate any.


BEST COLLABORATION: Li Saumet + Niña Dioz + El Remolón + Villa Diamante on "Cumbia Prohibida"
OK, maybe it's not their best song, the lyrics are not like original or anything, but it was probably written on the spot the same day of the recording and the results are quite powerful, in fact "recontra-power." What makes this collaboration so significant is the fact that it unites nü-cumbia ambassadors from the three main nations where this movement has developed: Colombia, México and Argentina. I think it's the first track to have artist from those three nations together, trying to find the common ground in their distinctive approaches to cumbia. The only other example I can think of is the still unreleased "Cumbia Nena" song we did with Nes (from Mexico), Ephniko (from Colombia) and myself (Argentina) as Bondi Blaster.
OTHER CANDIDATES: Shakira + Calle 13 on "Gordita," Don Omar + Lucenzo "Kuduro," Poncho + Shannon Funchess on "D.I.S.C.O"
WORST COLLABO: Shakira + Pitbull  on "Rabiosa," tie with Dante + Adrián Dárgelos on "Cumpa-El Mero Mero"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

MONARETA-Fried Speakers (Nacional Records, 2010)

The Colombians-by-the-way-of-Brooklyn Monareta have evolved quite a bit since I found out about them through one of those early Nacional Records compilations with that song "Matanza Funk." I didn't like them back then, because of the wacky rapping, but later I started to feel more and more intrigued when songs like "Llama" and "Raimundo llevate al mundo" came out and they started to lean more toward the Afro-Colombian sounds of the cumbia family. I still play those two songs quite regularly on my sets.
Their new album satisfies with a surplus my need for ñu-cumbias with great tracks like "La Cumbia Invasiva," "Gitana Llorona" and "La Safor" which I'll be spinning in the near future at parties and mixtapes, no doubt about it. Their approach to cumbia is similar to that or other fellow Colombians like Pernet and (pre-Li Saumet) Bomba Estéreo. The focus is on the hypnotic beats more than in making songs, there's very few vocals and I appreciate that from a DJ perspective, because it leaves room for a lot of rework.
But then theres some odd shit in this album that totally threw me off. True story, I had it playing the other day as background music while doing some home cleaning, and my girlfriend has one of those multiple CD players and when this song "Bogotá Brooklyn" came out I honestly thought the CD had changed to one of hers. I was like, "Yo! Is that one of your CDs playing?" maybe, I thought, this is music she listens to while she does yoga or something. Man! What the fuck was that about? It sounds all new-agey and shit like if it was the soundtrack of some cry-inducing documentary about pre-pubescent girls forced into prostitution in some banana republic or something like that they would play on PBS. As if that wasn't enough, there's another song called "Las Rutas del Mar" that I can't even describe because I wasn't able to listen, I felt instinctively compelled to press skip right after that woman started singing. Ew.
Aside from those unpleasant surprises, the album is overall pretty good, the art is amazing and their dubby electro-cumbias are some of the bests in the genre released this year. Just keep making more of those, please.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BEST 11 LIVE SHOWS OF 2010

Obviously this selection is extremely restricted due to the fact that 1) I can only review shows that I attended, 2) since I haven't traveled much lately, most of the shows that I attended were around the Bay Area and 3) since I pretty much don't have any disposable income to be able to afford show tickets, I mostly just went to shows where I got free access because I was listed as opening act. Fortunately there were quite many of those.


1.- ANA TIJOUX @ La Peña, Berkeley, CA: Maybe it wasn't the best show of the year (she wasn't satisfied with the limited sound capabilities of the venue), but at least for me it was the most significant. I had been dreaming about this particular show for almost a decade. I remember chatting with Ana, back then, plotting her US invasion, and I remember telling her, "you should come and play at La Peña, they're gonna love you there." It just seemed appropriate. La Peña started over 30 years ago as a cultural center of sorts for the Chilean political exiles living in the Bay Area, and Ana was a Chilean born during her parents' exile in France. When I was first contacted by the tour manager asking me for venues where I would have her perform in the Bay, La Peña was obviously the first one that came to mind. Being able to open for her, an artists that I truly admire and a beautiful human being that I'm lucky to count among my close friends, was a dream come true, even if I played for less than 20 minutes and nobody was actually paying attention to my set. Plus, the impromptu jam with Funky C (from Los Tetas, the Chilean funk group with whom Anita debuted as a recording artist doing her first guest appearance) was really dope.

2.- BOOM BOOM KID @ Gilman, Berkeley, CA: Every year, right after Halloween, I suffer a regression to my hardcore punk age and go see Boom Boom Kid. The  ultimate Argentine punk rocker comes every year and usually forms a temporary band with local musicians and goes on tour for a month or so. This time however, there was no band and no tour. He only came to take care of some business (new release coming up soon, in vinyl!) and, since he was in town, he did a surprise acoustic show, with just his guitar and a notebook full of handwritten lyrics. Only about 15 people showed up, nothing compared to previous years and considering his loyal following, but it was perfect just like that. There  was no moshpit, no stage-diving, none of his usual crowd surfing acrobatics, just him and his songs, and it felt really intimate, especially after he invited all the guests to come up on stage with him. The best part, however, was not the show itself, but the nighttime bicycle trip to and back from the venue with my friend Pablo, riding by the Bay's shore on the last beautiful warm night of the year. Great memories.


3.- BOMBA  ESTEREO @ Sterngrove, San Francisco, CA: In 2009 Bomba Estéreo had their Bay Area debut at La Peña in Berkeley and I was pissed off that they were not able to find a promoter who'd have them play in San Francisco for a larger audience. It finally happened this past summer when the Colombian neo-cumbia outfit got to perform at a massive free concert at the park and the mainstream Latino crowd that never goes to small venues and underground shows got to experience them live.


4.- CHICO TRUJILLO @ La Peña, Berkeley, CA: Another Chilean playing at La Peña. Chico Trujillo gave the best cumbia show of the year, hands down. With the energy, attitude and urgency of a punk rock performance they lay the bridge between the mestizo rock of Mano Negra and the party band craziness and kitsch of Los Auténticos Decadentes. For a while, they almost make you forget that they're actually doing mostly covers of old cumbias and boleros from like four decades ago. I got to DJ as an opening act on this one too, but the most fun I had it when jumping in the moshpit while sweating my ass off to the rhythm of "La Escoba."

5.- CELSO PIÑA @ Mezzanine, San Francisco, CA: The unquestionable king of Mexican cumbia and the good father of the neo-cumbia movement. In 2001 he changed cumbia once and for all with that milestone collaboration with Toy Selectah and his Sonidero Nacional, introducing for the first time cumbia as a cool new thing for the alterlatino audience of the post-MTV era. In 2010 I was finally able to see him live and I also had the honor of opening for him, alongside fellow DJ friends Santero and EKG. We've got ripped off by the promoters and never got payed, but it was ok because we've got to meet "el jinete del acordeón" after the show and he was mad cool.  

6.- FRIKSTAILERS @ Red Devil Lounge, San Francisco, CA:  I've been wanting to open for a Zizek show since they first came and I finally got my chance in 2010 when Frikstailers and El-G came back to the Bay. Unfortunately only half of the Frikstailers duo made it but he still gave a mind-blowing performance with all that Bambaatesque paraphernalia and futuristic gimmicks. Unfortunately too, very few people turned up (it was a Monday night) so I pretty much played a whole set for the bartender and the sound guy. 


7.- CHICANO BATMAN @ The Layover, Oakland, CA: Memorable Bay Area debut for the LA oldies band signed to Unicornio Records. They came for the release of their great album and they amazed everybody in the house that night with some trippy psychedelic shit, some cumbias and those shirts that made it all seem like if we had collectively been transported to our parent's prom night.


8.- R.A.P. SQUAD & STRONGHOLD SOUND @ The Layover, Oakland, CA: So I invited Nes to perform our song, "Cumbia Nena" at the Stronghold Sound record release party and without letting me know in advance, he showed up at the venue with his whole crew, R.A.P. Squad. For a second I honestly thought the night was gonna go to hell because their thugged-out aesthetics were going to scare the shit outta the dominant white-hispter crowd of the bar. But then they got on the mic and it was amazing! With the help of Dub Snakkr on the turntables they became most talked-about performers of the night. People were asking me, "where did you find them? They're like the Mexican Wu-Tang Clan!"  

9.- ELY GUERRA @ The Independent, San Francisco, CA: Back in 2001 I saw this girl live in Los Angeles for the first time and I instantly fell in love with her and her music. Her album Lotofire has been in my Top-10 favorite Spanish-language albums ever since. In 2010 and I was invited to open for her and it was great. I'm not much into her music style nowadays, but she's still an incredible performer and she's definitely more talented than the other contemporary Mexi-rock-diva, Julieta Venegas, who unfairly gets all the media hoopla because she makes silly songs for teenagers. 

 10.- LOS AUTENTICOS DECADENTES @ Illusions, Palo Alto, CA: I love Los Decadentes. I've said it many times, they are the best party band in Latin America. I've seen them live innumerable times since 1991 and they never disappoint me. One of their main advantage, comparing them to other super-energetic party bands, is that they have 12 members and they rotate a lot. At least four of them become lead singer at a certain point and the other ones can rest for a while or take over some instrument, so the band never loses any momentum and they can keep up their crazy exuberant on-stage chaos for like three hours, non stop. The only reason why this is not higher in the top-11 is that the shady promoters who hired me as an opening act ruined the night for me with their mobster antics.  

11.- ENRIQUE BUNBURY @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA: I never gave a rat's ass about this Spanish clown and I find the fetishistic fascination that Mexican orthodox rockers have for him to be completely absurd. But man, was it fun to go that that concert! Even if it's just to make fun of the abundant Mexifan impersonators and all those black-leather-jacket alpha-machos who go to worship this homoerotic show by an ambiguous male diva who aims to be the Spanish Jim Morrison but ends up being more like Raphael. Cynicism aside, his whole performance was clockwork perfect.

Friday, December 17, 2010

BEST 11 VIDEOS OF 2010

Continuing with the end-of-the year's annoying lists, here's one for audio-visual delights:


Bombay from gmtv on Vimeo.

1.- El Guincho - Bombay: This one has everything you need to have if you want to be at the top of my top-11. Take note: gratuitous nudity, mexican wrestling masks, a boombox and a secret cult. It's like all the clichés of my favorite sexploitation movies thrown together in a video for a song that doesn't have anything to do with any of this. In fact I'm not too crazy about the song. It's just the video that I love.


Calma Pueblo - Calle 13 from calma pueblo on Vimeo.

2.- Calle 13 - Calma Pueblo: Before, artists would make videos aimed to be played on MTV, since MTV lost relevance and sites like Youtube took over, artists have the freedom of including in their videos things that would've never passed the MTV filter, like full frontal nudity. Plenty of boobies and hairy balls to please everybody on this great video. Plus the lyrics are pretty dope too.


3.- Nouvelle Vague - Mala Vida: A viral video produced with zero budget and it's a million times better than most of the videos out there produced with millions of dollars. I really don't know for sure if it's rehearsed and staged or it's actually an impromptu jam, but the lack of camera stability and good sound makes it pretty believable. Plus, the girls are a lot hotter than Manu Chao.


4.- Andrés Calamaro - Las Tres Marías: Rock en Español legend Andrés Calamaro was tired of people making cumbias out of his songs and getting all the credit, so he decided to make a cumbia himself. The video has so many guests that's like a who-is-who or the Argentine scene (including a controversial appearance by a renown politician) and it's done in web-cam style, ready for youtube. Genius.


5.- Capri - Michael Forever: The world-wide obsession with post-mortem Michael Jackson reached its peak during 2010. Capri dropped a mind-blowing funky-techno debut in 2005 with borrowed plenty from his idol Michael Jackson (some very recognizable samples...), back when nobody was paying him any attention. Now, five years later he payed formal tribute to the King with this song, which paradoxically doesn't have any explicit reference to the youngest of the Jackson Five in the music or lyrics.


6.- Kumbia Queers - Feriado Nacional: Talking about Michael Jackson tributes, here we have the Queer Queen Ali Gua Gua doing the moonwalk. Enough said.


7.- Subsuelo - Somniloquio: For all the fans of Madlib's brand of hip-hop, here's the Spanish response with a guest appearance by Stones Throw Records' star Declaime. From now on, whenever I run into someone who thinks that Pitbull is what hip-hop in Spanish sounds like, I'll smack their faces with this.


8.- El Hijo De La Cumbia - La Mara Tomaza: This song came out over two years ago, but the video didn't come out until early 2010. Still, it's a killer track that hasn't lost any power and it remains as a central piece in all my DJ sets.


9.- Rey Pila - No Longer Fun: I don't know why this guy sings in English if he's from Mexico and why he doesn't cut that horrible hair that distracts me from the beauty of the video. But I do know this song is funky and catchy as aids. The style of the video reminds me a lot of Babasónicos videos at their best.


10.- Dante feat. Resiente - Pa Trás: The video itself is pretty bad, especially since he added that embarrassing audio-tuned interlude in the middle. I just find it amusing that in Residente's absence he invited Andrés Calamaro (returning the favor from #4) and the two queens of youtube Latin bizarre: Wendy Sulca and La Tigresa Del Oriente.


11.- BONUS TRACK - Los Wikipedia - La Cumbia Gramatical: This one will be understood exclusively by native Spanish speakers. A fake group from a comedy TV show in Argentina makes "educational" cumbia villera. They have one about philosophy, one about geography, one about math and this one, my personal favorite since I'm a writer, about grammar. Funny thing is, what the lyrics say is quite accurate and they are catchy enough for the school kids to memorize them; so ironic as it can be, some might have actually improved their grades in 2010 thanks to these videos.  PS: Before you ask, no, I don't know the meaning of the verb "rescatar" in villero slang.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

PONCHO-Ponchototal (Nacional Records, 2010)

Argentine DJ Javier Zuker was one of the first ones, if not the first, to cross over between the historically dogmatic local rock scene and the sometimes equally dogmatic local dance scene. Finding strong resistance to such connections from both sides, his wasn't the easiest raise to fame, but he kept on doing his thing on his own and eventually it paid off. He earned the much deserved respect from some old school rockers avid of experimentation with new trends (Divididos, Gustavo Cerati) and started collaborating with them. Around the same time, the rave scene was living its apogee and he would dare to mix in Metallica in his Creamfields' set when progressive house was the dominant style of choice of a whole nation.
After over two decades behind the turntables Zucker, who used to be a musician before he became a DJ, finally decided to start his own band and record his own songs, thus came Poncho and this excellent debut album, Ponchototal. At a first glance it may seem like your average Euro-Dance/Techno/Electro-Pop, and you might wonder what's doing in Nacional's catalog, but a closer look will reveal the unavoidable rock influences of Zucker, fueled by a vast list of prestigious guests, including rock en español's godfather Luís Alberto Spinetta himself. Local rockers Banda De Turistas and Divididos show up too while some international guests (Shannon Funchess from !!! and British DJ Justin Robertson) aim to give the record some well deserved foreign exposure.
Now, the band's name, Poncho can be a bit misleading. If you are expecting some sort of techno approach to local folkloric sounds (ponchos were the favored fashion of many South American native tribes and later gauchos) you might be a bit disappointed. This is not Zizek. The only roots Zuker digs in for this project are the roots of the long tradition of rock music that forms the average Argentine musical DNA, plus some cool references to 80's early techno and synth-pop.
I'm not a techno nerd, and I grew up at a deliberately prudent distance from most the local rock scene that to me -and many from the hip-hop generation- represented the establishment, the musical status-quo. But I can't deny that this appeals to something buried deep in my subconscious that makes me connect automatically from the first note. I instantly fell in love with it from the moment I heard the intro and even though it's not exactly my style, I know I'll be somehow mixing some of it into my sets.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

LOS RIBEREÑOS-Silbando (Electric Cowbell, 2010)

I'm gonna have to move to New York City. Three of my favorite record labels are based there, they've recently joined forces for this magnificent release and I feel left out of the party being all the way on the west coast.
Barbés released a few months ago the second volume to their successful Roots Of Chicha series, remember? Now one of the tracks included in that comp got licensed for Electric Cowbell to release in 7'' vinyl; exactly what Barbés was missing! For the b-side, instead of selecting another song, they commissioned a remix of it to the Greenwood Rhythm Coallition (also known as GRC) the house band at Names You Can Trust (the label that released Frente Cumbiero's indispensable debut single). So there you have it, three of the best labels that are out there, all in one single release.
The original track is a classic chicha with a slow intro that later picks up and gets all cozy and dancy, but from a DJ point of view the intro is too long an obstacle, so for the remix, to make it more mix-friendly, the GRC version got rid of that and starts with a clean four-bar funky break that later they keep under the unaltered melody of the track, until the very end when it turns into a dubbed-out outro. Overall a very respectful remix that works out great and I can't wait to give it a test on the dance-floor in my next gig.
I really hope this collaboration leads into more releases alike. Barbés has a impressive catalog including many gems that would benefit, no doubt, of some vinyl treatment. Electric Cowbell is doing a great job quality-wise with their record pressing and I just love the fact that they only print 45s. And the GRC has been doing so many dope remixes of Latin stuff that they are quickly becoming a must in my DJ sets. Here goes my unconditional support for future collaborations.
Buy it here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

CUARTO PODER-In Tha House (Nacional Records, 2010)

This one came out a little too late. Nacional Records just released it in the US but all these track were recorded before 2005, and in hip-hop, years multiply exponentially, like dog years, so five can be way too much.
The thing is yeah, the production sounds dated but the worst aging damage is done by that horrible cover photo and graphic design and that title... you guys, I wanna be nice, I like your rap, I really do, but you just can't name your album "In Tha House" and not expect people to make fun of you. C'mon! What is this? 1992?
It's like a bad flashback to that dark era when being hip-hop in Latin America meant "copy every cliché of US rap, even if you don't quite understand it." Everybody outside the hip-hop scene used to look down on us for such naivety, like "look at these poor fools trying to impersonate American rappers because they think that makes them look cool." I'm the first one to admit, I was part of that. Back in 1992 I used to go by LT Cream, yeah, that was my MC name! You can make fun of me all you want. But you know what? We (and I refer collectively to the whole continental movement) outgrew that stage way over a decade ago. We're not toys (to quote another dated old school slang) anymore. Hip-hop in Latin America developed into its own unique thing, a lot more than just a mockery of whatever they played on MTV done by kids who wished they were born in the Bronx instead. And now, in the post-Calle 13 era, when rap in Spanish finally acquired its much deserved credibility as an art-form outside the tight circles of the scene, and you can have dope artists like Anita Tijoux running for a Grammy, releasing an album with a wack title like that, is like pushing back all the advancements of recent years to the pre-Control Machete era.
And what really pisses me off about this is that due to that combination of bad album cover and title a lot of people will skip a release that is not at all bad (I know for sure if I had run into this while browsing at a record store I would've averted my eyes and moved on to the next one right away, probably dismissing this as a cheap reggaetón mixtape or some Poyecto Uno wannabes and it would've never gotten a chance to land into my CD player). The truth is that these guys can really rap, they have perfect flow, they make a catchy fusion with reggae (I particularly loved that track with Morodo, and the "Arenita Playita" song has been on my DJ sets since 2007) and they can deliver dope battle rhymes for the hip-hop heads as well ("Mala Leche" is also one of my favorites).
I guess there's probably a story behind that unwise selection of cover design and titling and I bet you I'll be receiving an e-mail from Nacional Records regarding that the moment I push publish. But in the meantime I'm nominating this for the worst album art and worst album title for the 2010 Hard Data Awards.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

BIO RITMO-Dina's Mambo/La Muralla (Electric Cowbell, 2010)

The guys from Bio Ritmo complain that they can't really find their niche audience because, unlike most other salsa bands playing the bar circuit, these guys only play original compositions of their own and none of the typical covers that idiotic salsa dancers favor (come on guys, even you have to get bored of listening to "El Cuarto De Tula" for the zillionth time!). On the other hand, they charge, the Latin alternative audience won't give them the time of day because their sound is very roots, has no modern fusions. So, not being able to please ones or the others, they made the smartest choice possible: play some tight old-school flavored Latin funk (think 70's Bataan, Palmieri, Mandrill) and put it on wax, DJ's and diggers will sure show you some love.
Now you all know I'm not into salsa at all, but I can appreciate the old school Fania style of salsa dura infused with groovy funk and soul and there's no better way to enjoy that type of music than in vinyl records. So when I saw this 7'' recently released by Electric Cowbell, one of my favorite new record labels that exclusively releases music in this format, I had to buy it right away, even though  already had the tracks on MP3.
There's one instrumental funk track and one straight-up salsa dura on the other side and it comes with some long-ass liner notes and the art (which I'm not too crazy about, but it's definitely better than that one by label-mates Spanglish Fly) was done by the band's singer.
Buy it here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

MEXICAN INSTITUTE OF SOUND-Suave Patria (Nacional Records, 2010)

I'm the one who's been busting Nacional's balls since forever demanding that they print more vinyl, so I feel compelled to show them some extra love for releasing this beauty. A six-track vinyl EP by Mexico City's king of the bizarre sonic collages.
To be fair, I gotta mention that Nacional also recently released vinyl of Nortec's latest opus, so things are starting to look promising. Still no vinyl of Ana Tijoux (which I openly begged for and now it'd make more sense than ever since she's nominated for a Grammy and got picked as best Latin album of the year by Amazon) or other artists that would greatly benefit from this format like The Pinker Tones, Latin Bitman, Quiero Club and Bomba Estereo.
But I understand, I know how expensive is to release music in this format and there's very little profit to be made, especially in the Latin music department where unfortunately vinyl wasn't able to keep a highly revered fetish status that has in other genres (hip-hop, house, reggae, indy-punk). But I've been saying it for a while now, vinyl is coming back big and true Latin music lovers are turning more and more towards this format. And this could benefit labels too, since Latinos across the globe never really caught on the whole idea of paying for MP3s...
So yeah, there's a new Mexican Institute of Sound. After the successful Soy Sauce, Camilo Lara steps away from the mic and leaves aside his wacky rapping to focus in what he does the best: producing cut-n-paste dope beats. This is obviously, a lot more DJ-orinted and less pop-friendly and it's exactly what I was missing in Soy Sauce (that and his dub escapades from his early work that I'm still missing). It has some elements of cumbia (cumbia de sal!!!), mambo, danzon, mexican traditional, whatever old-timey Latin stuff he can get his hands on and I can't wait to spin this tonight.
PS: The EP is also available digitally through all the usual channels, but do yourself a favor and pick up this vinyl here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

TOP-11 DANCE SONGS OF 2010

Not Necessarily "The Best" Of 2010. The criteria used for this list was pretty simple: the songs released in 2010 (or that came to my knowledge in 2010) that I played the most on my DJ sets during 2010. 
Two main factors influenced this selection: my personal taste in music, of course, but also and more importantly the often-questionable taste of the dancers that attend the parties I play at (and as a mercenary DJ I play all sorts of events, from underground to mainstream, from big fancy clubs to house parties and weddings). 

1.- Yolanda Be Cool – “Afro Nuts”: This one came out in 2009 but I didn’t find out about it until New Years Eve. Early that day I was looking for a great new song to play that night, right after midnight, and I ran into this excellent joint. I played it right after people came back to the dance-floor, after the fireworks (the party was on a boat), and it was an instant hit. So, technically it was the first song I played in 2010, and in the future, whenever I look back to this year, this song will be the first one to pop up in my memory, for sure. It has a great beat, an even better funky break and then that sped-up reggaetón sample that makes it recognizable for the mainstream crowd, so it’s a total crowd pleaser that works with almost everybody, gringos, Latinos, house fans, top-40 radio listeners, etc. This song became like some sort of secret weapon in my play-list arsenal during 2010, especially because it never crossed over completely as a mainstream hit (unlike the totally over-played summer hit “We No Speak Americano” by the same artist), so I felt that I was the only DJ in town playing it. The remix by Zizek’s Douster was also included on my Chorisapiens megamix.   

2.- Juana Posse – “Cumbia Juana”: Nü-cumbia from Colombia gone Euro-dance-pop. I got turned into this hidden gem by a Colombian friend of mine early in 2010, and I spent a couple of days looking for the MP3 everywhere with no luck until I actually found the singer on Facebook, begged her for a bootleg and she was more than happy to share it with me. Not suited for the traditional cumbia dancers or the alternative nü-cumbia hipster crowd, but the mainstream cheesy crowd can instantly connect with this and they even get hooked and sing-along as if they knew it from the radio, even if they’ve never heard it before. It has some sort of magical effect like that—no matter how much you hate pop commercial music, this is so catchy that you can’t help it.

 
3.- Los Rakas – “Abrazame” (Uproot Andy Remix): I have to confess I was a little resistant to this one at first. I mean, the lyrics are a total corny cliché and the music is borrowed from a dancehall riddim. I didn’t give it a chance until I actually downloaded it, listened to it on my headphones once, and two days later I still had the song stuck in my head. It’s catchy as hell and radio-friendly enough to be played with guaranteed good reception at mainstream clubs, and the Uproot Andy twist makes it hipster-friendly too, so you can totally blend it into a nü-cumbia set at an underground party. Besides, they're from around the way, part of the video was shot a couple of blocks away from my old house and it has that random Carnaval intro with somebody singing Daniela Mercury's classic "Swing Da Cor" that's totally nonsense but it makes me laugh and reminisce of the early '90s when that was the hit (I bet you anything the rappers from Los Rakas didn't even know that song). 

 
4.- Frente Cumbiero – “Ananas Tornillo”: Hands down the best single of the year. Released on 7” vinyl by Names You Can Trust, I knew this was going to be an instant hit since the first time I played it, and I was right. It sounds like old-school organic roots cumbia of the Afrosound kind, but it’s all sample-based and DJ friendly, so it can please all cumbia listeners, from the hardcore Colombians, to the Mexican sonideros to the digital cumbia crowd. It doesn’t have lyrics or a catchy chorus so I wouldn’t dare playing it for the mainstream crowd and it doesn’t have any recognizable funky or hip-hop infusion to crossover to the gringo audience, but any true cumbia lover will instantly fall in love with this. My only criticism is that it doesn’t have any break-down where you can blend in another song half-way through, it goes way up there on the second bar and it doesn’t take a second to rest until the end, so you are kinda forced to play the whole thing and I’m known for doing fast mixes and almost never play a whole song in my sets—I guess this one deserves to be the one exception. I’ll forever cherish this record along my most precious pieces on my collection. 

 
5.- Don Omar Feat. Lucenzo – “Danza Kuduro”: Two years ago we were all going nuts for Angolan kuduro which we discovered thanks to M.I.A. and Buraka Som Sistema. Honestly, I never imagined that one day it was gonna cross-over to the top-40 radio market, but it did. Still, I very much doubt that Don Omar’s hit will spark the curiosity of more than 1% of his listeners to go out and try to find out what kuduro is. And anyway, besides the song’s name, it doesn’t even sound like real kuduro at all, so it’s not like all of a sudden cheesy mainstream DJs will start mixing kuduro in their sets. I used to hate Don Omar almost as much as I hate Daddy Yankee, but since this song came out, I have a little more respect for him. Maybe it’s because he lost weight and got rid of those ghetto-ass cornrows.

  La Curura by djsabo 
6.- Sabo & Cassady – “La Curura”:  SF-based Bersa Discos hit a homerun with their sixth release by New York’s DJ Sabo. Every track on that EP is a guaranteed dance-floor packer, but it’s “La Curura” the one I played the most throughout 2010. At just about 100 BPM it’s easy to mix with pretty much anything, hip-hop, reggaetón, dancehall, cumbia, etc. It’s great for live mash-ups and creative blends and it also works as a transition cut to move from the lower BPM cumbias towards the funkier upbeat stuff. It doesn’t have mainstream appeal like other tracks on this record (“La Negra Chula” and “Chillando Goma”) but it works great with the traditional cumbia crowd and the curious gringos.

7.- La Cumbia De Patricio Cobarde – “Cumbia Imperial”: Another of my secret weapons always in hand during my 2010 sets. It’s lo-fi recording by a Chilean punk-cumbia band, in the sense of Chico Trujillo (a style that’s a lot more popular in Chile than the digital DJ-oriented nü-cumbias from neighbor Argentina) covering with tongue-in-cheek sense of humor Star Wars “Imperial March,” priceless! It’s not necessarily a dance track, but it still makes it into this list because I never wasted a chance to throw it in, even if only as a joke, in between my cumbia sets. Everybody loves it, especially the curious gringos who recognize the tune right away and start going crazy on the dance-floor.

8.- DJ Negro – “Pa Pa Pa Panamericano”: Like everybody else, I was really pissed off when I found out Miami’s biggest douchebag had done a version of Yolanda Be Cool’s “We No Speak Americano” and ruined a great track, morphing it into the most annoyingly overplayed summer hit since “Calabria.” But as a consolation prize I got this cumbia remix of the original song by Argentina’s biggest nü-cumbia unsung hero, DJ Negro, who managed to successfully slow down the beat to 90 BPM making it into a sonidero guaracha of sorts that can appeal to all crowds, from the most mainstream Pitbull-listeners to the underground heads. Bersa Discos spent all year promising a new DJ Negro release. I’m still waiting.

 
9.- Shakira – “Waka Waka”: You can hate all you want, but I still give some props to Shakira. Yes, she’s a total sell-out who got co-opted by the American Mainstream and lost all Latino cred since she dyed blonde. But still, she’s hot (however, if she keeps on losing weight she’ll lose me as a supporting fan too), she’s cute, she’s sexy, and she can dance. Maybe she doesn’t write good songs with witty lyrics anymore, as she used to back in the 90’s, but she still has the capability of laughing at herself  and I respect her for that. She invited Calle 13’s Residente to rap on one of her latest album’s tracks and he totally disses her, telling her, to her face what we all Latinos have been saying since 2001: that she was better and hotter when she was a brunette and had more meat on her bones. Anyway, I don’t care at all about soccer and the world-cup so I wouldn’t normally include a song of this kind on my sets but I love African music and this one, even though it’s an absolute rip-off, provided me with a rare opportunity for playing something a lil’ more Afro at the mainstream Latino parties and weddings, so I thank Shakira for it.

10.- Sacassaia – “El Culebrón”: I play lots of Brazilian music on my DJ sets but they almost never make it into these end-of-the year lists because I tend to find out about them a bit too late. Brazilian dance-floor hits get to me with delay of a year or more, like “Rap Das Armas” that I played at almost every event in 2010, but it’s from (at least) early ‘09. “El Culebrón” is an odd gem because it’s not traditionally Brazilian, it’s a cumbia, and it’s sing in Spanish, or more accurately portuñol. Sacassaia was one of my propitious discoveries of the year and that song in particular made it to my Barbarie megamix, and since then I’ve been playing it in many of my sets, although never for the mainstream crowd, and not even on my monthly Brazilian nights (where I play more batucada, axé and baile funk). But the cumbia crowd was very receptive to this one. I love the lyrics' ironic sense of humor and the fact that a Brazilian song reminds me of Argentina’s Fauna just makes me happy.

(BONUS TRACK) 11.- Juan Magan – “Verano Azul”: When I first heard this on the radio I was like, “damn, just what we needed, another wannabe Pitbull doing Spanglish crap-rap summer hits.” But there was something I couldn’t quite point my finger at, that attracted me to this song and made it get stuck in my head for days. It wasn’t until I found out that Magan was from Spain and the song was called “Verano Azul” that it clicked: the beat was based on the theme song of a Spanish TV show every kid from my generation used to watch back in the early 80’s. Now the song is still hella wack, from a hip-hopper p.o.v. and I’ve only played it once in my set (so far), by request (that’s why it’s offered as a bonus track), but just the idea of sampling that obscure show (obscure for 90% of the listeners of this type of music, who were not born when the show aired) is pure genius.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

LOS EMPRESARIOS-Sabor Tropical (Fort Knox Recordings, 2011)

I don't think it's necessary for me to state that I love pretty much everything these guys at Fort Knox Recordings have been releasing since 2003. I think I have used and abused their tracks in plenty of my megamixes (most notably on my latest one, Barbarie where they've been featured more than once) and it's time to pay back by giving some blog love to them, because, although they are always present on my sets,  they've been unfairly neglected on The Hard Data.
Well, there it goes: I love Fort Knox Five in all its incarnations, the band, the DJs and the record label. I could even go as far as saying they're among my top 5 favorite record labels, and they could easily become number one if only they started releasing more 7'' singles of, for example, stuff like Los Empresarios "Cumbia." (BTW: I got that one funky 7'' you released earlier this year and it was dope, I demand more!)
Anyway, I was really surprised when I got the Fort Knox compilation The New Gold Standard Vol. 2 and found a cumbia track in it. I remember I was on my way to the studio, to work on some cumbia tracks of mine, listening to this release on my headphones and that song came out and it blew my mind, not only because it was tight, but also because what it meant that this record label I loved (did I said that enough?) was releasing something in this now-oh-so-hip genre which I've been pushing for so long. I thought, "Wow, if Fort Knox gets into cumbia and they start releasing shit, with their standards of great taste and quality and those dope-ass funky beats you can always count on them for, that's it man, I'm turning back and never finishing that track I've been working on since forever because there's no chance I can compete with that!"
Well, they did end up releasing a full Empresarios album (available on January 2011), but unfortunately (or fortunately for my cumbia world domination plans) there's only one cumbia track in it, the same one that I already had. Not that the rest is any bad, but I expected at least one more cumbia. There's some dub, some reggaetón and plenty of good ol' Latin funk with enough amazing breaks to make me wanna drop this writing right now and start sampling the shit out of it for my next megamix. But only one cumbia?