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Pop Hasn't Killed The Latin Beat Yet
By Ed Morales
November 9, 2003
Much is being made of Latin music's increasing pop-hip-hop-alternative-tropical crossover: Who would have thought we'd see Ricky Martin sharing the stage with Vicentico of the Fabulosos Cadillacs and Andrea of Aterciopelados on last month's MTV Latin Music Awards show? But it's not time to dispense with the rest of Latin music just yet. This fall there are plenty of releases that reflect the old order, as well as some newer, off-beat tendencies of the Latin sound.
Salsa-Afro-Cuban is still pounding its way onto my CD changer in all forms. While they are working within salsa romantica constraints, Charlie Cruz and Jerry Rivera are still knee-deep in tropical swing. Cruz's "Ven a Mi" (Warner Latina) comes close to putting him on Victor Manuelle or Domingo Quiñones' level, owing much to its superior backing orchestra. Rivera's homage to his role model, "Canto a Mi Idolo...Frankie Ruiz" (BMG) is less riveting but includes the prototypical nationalist anthem "Puerto Rico."
For a little more authenticity, try "Lost Classics of Salsa Vol. 1" (Libertad). Spanish Harlem Orchestra producer Aaron Luis Levinson has collected 10 tracks from obscure, out-of-print records that represent the grit and passion of the New York salsa scene. "Garage salsa" tunes such as "My Ghetto" by Kent Gomez & his Orchestra and "Palos de Fuego" by Cándido y su Movimiento sound as if they're coming from a stereo you threw out in the '70s, implanting memories of an all-night tenement party even if you've lived in the suburbs your whole life.
An alternative take on salsa romantica is carried off by a Cuban singer named Danae on her new album "Pido" (Tumi). With a voice that embraces bolero as well as Afro-Cuban timba, Danae tells the romantic story of salsa from a woman's perspective.
"No Me Besas Más," her haunting cover of troubadour Alberto Tosca's ballad, and "No Me Hace Daño" are so well-arranged and executed that you rediscover the jazz buried under today's factory salsa sound.
Spanish alternative star Manu Chao's influence can be felt strongly in Kevin Johansen & the Nada's "Sur O No Sur" (Laldiscos) and Gaby Kerpel's "Carnabailito" (Nonesuch). Both are Argentine and combine the folkloric sensibilities of that country's tradition with a playful pop style. Kerpel, who is the musical mind behind De La Guarda, is the more formidable of the two, particularly on the searing title track.
If you like those freaky horn parts and tuba blasts found in Mexican banda music, the Banda El Recodo record "Por Ti" (Univision) is state of the art. It's not just rancheras and cumbias here, either. "Nena" pretty much qualifies as mambo, and you can almost hear Machito lurking nearby. But when it comes to settling in for a quiet, tasteful evening, Mexican crooner Luis Miguel is still the king of Latin pop. Miguel, who appears Tuesday at Madison Square Garden (212-307-7171), covers Armando Manzanero, Kike Santander and Juan Luis Guerra on "33" (Warner Latina), which has shot to the top of the charts. No one has ever been so good at making the same album over and over again.