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CDs That Sizzle
The Latin Market Is Hot, And Not Just In Tropical Climes. Here Are The Best Latin Music Albums Of The Year
By Alejandro Riera
December 24, 2001
In 2001, Latin artists signed a symbolic peace treaty of sorts. Norteno stalwarts Los Tigres del Norte were the subject of an all- star rock tribute; a group of Tijuana DJs found in a bunch of norteno and banda (heavy brass orchestra) tracks a treasure trove of sounds for their electronic grooves, giving birth to the Nortec sound; and Monterrey accordionist Celso Pina celebrated 20 years in the music business by inviting the members of Cafe Tacuba, Control Machete and El Gran Silencio to record the outstanding Barrio Bravo.
Puerto Rico has been one of the best-kept secrets in the rock en espanol scene, and in 2001 several acts tried to break into the mainland's growing Latino market. After being overshadowed in the past couple of years by the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon and the deluge of excellent Cuban musicians that grabbed the attention of music reporters and music lovers alike, Puerto Rico's salsa stars regained their rightful place in the tropical music market.
Here, then, are the best Latin music albums of the year divided in four categories: rock en espanol, tropical, pop and regional Mexican:
ROCK EN ESPANOL
El Gran Silencio, Chuntaros Radio Poder (EMI Latin): One of the best concept albums of 2001, this collection transports listeners to an imaginary Monterrey radio station that plays nothing but El Gran Silencio. Norteno, rap, hip-hop, polkas and heavy metal are cheerfully mixed and mashed, setting a new milestone for rock en espanol.
Aterciopelados, Gozo Poderoso (BMG/U.S. Latin): Offers a glimpse to the future of Colombian (and Latin American) music while respecting its past. Psychedelic and electronic grooves fuse seamlessly with such traditional rhythms as the accordion-driven vallenato and buyerengue, a call-and-response song performed by women in Colombia's coastal towns. Vocalist and group co-founder Andrea Echeverri has never sounded better.
Jaguares, Cuando la Sangre Galopa (BMG/U.S. Latin): Saul Hernandez and fellow band members Alfonso Andre and Cesar Lopez achieve -- with the help of percussionist Ruben Maldonado, harpist Mauricio Gonzalez and a string quartet -- a beautiful blend of dark guitar riffs, tropical percussion and Mexican song in this third outing by the band formerly known as Caifanes.
Marc Anthony, Libre (Sony Discos/Columbia): The Anthony-produced Libre delivers the goods, big time. The aggressive percussive and horn arrangements do not stop the New York-born singer of Puerto Rican descent from experimenting with new sounds (an Andean flute here, a Spanish guitar there). The album is also a great showcase for his powerful voice.
Ismael Miranda, Vengo con Todo (Universal Music Latino): Salsa legend Miranda teaches some of the island's Marc Anthony wannabes a thing or two with this highly danceable album. Vengo Con Todo features new arrangements to some oldies but goodies from Miranda's days with the Fania All-Stars ("Maria Luisa") and some potent new songs like "Trayectoria," a musical recap of his 35-year singing career.
Olga Tanon, Yo Por Ti (WEA Latina): Puerto Rico's "Queen of Merengue" offers a heady sampling of Caribbean rhythms, from the Cuban timba in "Pegaito" (composed by recently exiled Cuban salsa star Manolin "El Medico de la Salsa") to the boogaloo-ish "Me Gusta."
Caetano Veloso, Noites do Norte (Universal Music): Noites do Norte takes Veloso back to his tropicalista roots. A celebration of Brazilian black culture, rock 'n' roll and Michelangelo Antonioni, Noites Da Norte is full of thick percussive beats, lush string arrangements, some raucous electric guitar, plenty of saudade and highly literate lyrics. It is pop music that will make you think.
Moreno Veloso, Music Typewriter (Hannibal Records): Moreno follows the footsteps of his father, Caetano, in this inventive freshman effort that beautifully marries electronic music with bossa nova and samba. Sweet, lilting, exhilarating, tropicalia is alive and well in the hands of the young Veloso.
Amaury Gutierrez, Piedras y Flores (Universal Music Latino): Produced by Colombian songmeister Kike Santander, this sophomore effort by the Cuban expatriate living in Mexico is full of catchy tunes. Gutierrez and Santander strip the Cuban nueva trova of all its political baggage and turn it into serious party music.
Lila Downs, Border/La Linea (Narada World): On her third album, Downs takes on the thorny issues of immigration and border politics. Full of joy, anger, sarcasm and tenderness, Border/La Linea takes us to a world still unknown to many as she sings about "the black veils of smoke" of las maquiladoras in Tijuana.
Los Tigres del Norte, Uniendo fronteras (Fonovisa): The reigning kings of norteno music deliver their most powerful album in years. Los Tigres del Norte rail against those who treat their fellow immigrants as third-class citizens in songs such as "Somos Americanos" and "La Cronica de un Cambio." "Uniendo Fronteras" is also full of tender love songs that break the sexist attitudes which have afflicted this genre.
Celso Pina, Barrio Bravo (WEA Latina/WEA MEX): "Music is music," proclaims the Monterrey accordionist at the beginning of this rollicking album as he calls for the complete desegregation of Mexican music. Pina and his band join forces with a select group of rock and norteno musicians as they brew a heady pot of Mexican cumbias, Brazilian forro, Colombian vallenatos and even some country and western music.