Monday, September 12, 2011

LATIN BEAT (Putumayo, 2011)

We tend to dismiss Putumayo's compilations as music-for-white-people-who-don't-really-buy-music-regularly-but-want-to-be-down-with-some-"ethnic"-stuff-to-feel-more-connected-to-their-idea-of-something-that's-"real"-so-they-buy-these-impulsively-at-the-whole-foods-market-and-play-it-as-background-during-their-dinner-parties-to-pretend-they-are-also-world-travelers-like-their-guests.
And while all of the above is inevitably true, I happen to be defender of these compilations because I found them valuable, useful and also quite accomplished in their own sense.
I haven't done so in a few years, but I used to DJ a lot at restaurants/lounge bars, where people don't ever dance and the DJ booth is just an added value to make the venue look hip and an excuse to charge more for the drinks. I remember one of my very first days DJing at one of these places, I asked one of the other resident DJs what he recommended to play and he said "I play all Putumayo music." As in: attitude-free feel-good music with foreign elements but a familiar Westernized song structure that makes it easy to digest by the neofite gringo listener. I had a handful of Putumayo's comps and I instantly added them to my playlist and became staples of my lounge DJ sets. People love them, and by people here I mean restaurant managers and ceviche-eating white people (who are inherently more sophisticated than burrito-eating white people, right?).
The thing is, regardless of how much of a music snob I could ever pretend to be, I have to give credit to Putumayo compilations for continuously introducing me to new, interesting, artists that I didn't even know existed. It's kind of embarrassing to say you "discovered" this or that band from a CD that people pick up with their chai latte at the local coffee shop, but I have no problem admitting it openly. That's the accomplished part I was referring to earlier: these guys do a remarkable job scrutinizing infinite piles of music to find the perfect combo for a complete-while-concise compilation. I don't think I could do it better. I don't think I'd ever be able to select an introduction to a genre in just eleven tracks, I need twenty five, at least.
This new Latin Beat comp is presented, in the press release, as something innovative within the label's succulent catalog, but in all honestly, it's just one more Putumayo compilation of classic Putumayo music, and most of the tracks could be easily interchangeable with the ones on other similar comps like Latin Groove, Latin Dance Party, Latin Radio, Latin Banquet (I'm pulling up these names from the top of my head, so excuse me if I'm bullshitting, but you get the point).
There's an obvious predominance of Colombian music, following the current global fetish and there's a handful of Cuban songs. There're also some from unexpected corners of the planet (some guys in New Zealand doing something that sounds straight-outta that Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream remixes comp) and there's unfortunately, nothing from Brazil. Oh, and there's a ñu-cumbia by Texas' Charanga Cakewalk, the only artists in the whole disc that I was familiar with before. All the rest, I've never heard about, and that's, once again, where the value of this CD is to be found.
This was a double release with an African Beat comp that I also recommend but I won't be reviewing on this blog because it's not Latin But Cool. Both are available digitally too, in case you are embarrassed of purchasing CDs at a store where people wear sandals and base their diet on quinoa.

Buy it here.

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