Thursday, April 12, 2012

LATIN CONCRETE-Mixed and compiled by Chris Read (BBE, 2012)

Just a few months ago I reviewed a 7'' single by Chris Read, a British hip-hop DJ who, like many others in the Anglo-Saxon music world, got fairly recently introduced to cumbia and decided to make his own experiments with it, sampling it and mixing it with some b-boy-friendly hard-hitting funky break beats.
On this occasion he takes his newly found love for Latin music a step further, compiling a selection of Latin flavored funky tracks and mixing them into a solid hour-long DJ set.
Latin Concrete is a double CD with the mixed set on one disc and the separate full tracks on another one. Now this is not a digger's comp in the sense that he didn't go deep into the surviving record stores of South America trying to find obscure gems from the past and exposing them for the first time to the rest of the world like his fellow countryman Quantic has been doing. Most of these tracks are actually very well known by DJs who've been spinning soulful Latin music for the last decade or so, since all of them had been released within that period by either US or Europe-based labels. I already had many of them in constant rotation on my vinyl DJ sets. Some of them could even be considered sort of common place by now, or at least modern classics (Quantic & Nickodemus' "Mi swing es tropical"). Which leads me to believe that this is not a compilation targeting hardcore diggers or genre-specific DJs (is not even going to be released on vinyl). Instead it's targeting the Northern Hemisphere cats who, like Chris Read himself, have an interest in expanding their sound palette by incorporating Latin beats, while this is not necessarily  their area of expertise.
What I find the most interesting about this comp, besides the fact that I love 90% of the tracks selected (and if you don't have them yet, this is a great chance to get them because they are all must-haves), is the foreigner point of view at selecting and mixing Latin music. Some purist would argue that this is "Latin music for gringos" not for the authentic Latin crowd and there's definitely some truth in there (I'd never play this at a mainstream Latin party full of reggaetoneros and salseros, they wouldn't get it).
Read, not being Latino himself and not having a cultural background that connects him to this music, perceives no sociological prejudice attached to the songs (as in "this song is for rich snobs, that song is for poor uneducated people" "this is cool, this is ghetto") nor does he embeds any nostalgic value in it (as in "this song reminds me of high-school, or that TV show, or my crazy lesbian aunt"). So his criteria is purely based on the dopeness of the beats--he most probably doesn't even understand the lyrics and it doesn't matter either. All that, if you ask me, plays to his advantage here.
Like I mentioned on the review I wrote for his single, I didn't grow up immersed in Latin music either, so I pretty much share a lot of his criteria. Even though I was born and raised in South America and Latin music (cumbia in particular) was always there every time I got on the bus or I went to a quinceañera party,  I was never a fan and that's because like many (most?) other kids my generation I grew up with a distinctive anglophile taste in music. I grew up convinced that Latin music was for hicks and that people with a sophisticated music palate had to always look up to what was cooking in the British isles. So maybe my early musical influences as a teenager are not at all dissimilar to Chris Read's. I spent most of my teenage years and my early twenties absorbed by hip-hop culture and the idea of using hip-hop as a foundation to explore old-school Latin music didn't fully come up to me until I moved to the US at age 25 and I started seeing Latin music from a outsider point of view (and finding joy in exposing its inner kitschness by recontextualizing it).
There's always gonna be some narrow-minded purists and politically motivated assholes who dismiss this sort of compilations saying that the DJ is not Latino and most of the performers aren't even Latinos (Quantic, Beatfanatic, The Juju Orchestra, The GRC) and accuse this of some sort of "cultural appropriation." But how is this different from us, kids in Argentina, back then trying to emulate the Manchester sound en español? It is not. Music is universal and the traffic of influences in the global era goes both ways and I'd even argue that some of the best cumbias in the last decade were recorded by British artists (Ska Cubano, Up, Bustle & Out) and if it wasn't for this new-found love in Latin music by these supposedly culturally imperialistic Anglo-Saxon overlords a lot of really cool Central and South American stuff would have remained almost absolutely inaccessible to the world. So I applaud this release and I hope for many similar more from BBE Music, a label that's a favorite among all  true beat connoisseurs. I just wish next time they dig deeper into more obscure stuff (surprise me!) and press it on vinyl.

To be released 4/30/12, order it HERE

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