For the rest of the year, we’ll be spotlighting our KEXP DJs Top Albums of 2012, leading up to our 2012 Top Album Countdown, as voted on by our listeners! Voting ends on Friday, December 21st, so let us know your favorites now, and tune in on Friday, December 28th to hear if your picks made the list!
2012 was another outstanding year in the world of modern Latin sounds. I wanted to take a few moments to run through some of my favorites with the hope that you’ll discover some new favorites of your own and support some of these great artists. Make sure and click on the links for more information, free music, videos and more.
When I first heard of Soundway Records’ intent to release a project called Ondatrópica I was immediately excited. These guys drop some of my favorite albums – new artists, reissues, and some of the most fabulously-curated compilations in the game. Ondatrópica is the brainchild of Colombian musician Mario Galeano (Frente Cumbiero) and English producer Will ‘Quantic’ Holland that brings together a cast of Colombian music all-stars like Fruko, Anibal Velásquez and Pedro Ramayá Beltran with new South American greats like Ana Tijoux and El Chongo. The result is a wonderful taste of a range of Colombian sounds that doesn’t just share a fresh take on the traditional, but looks toward the future as well.
Speaking of Colombia, the news of a new record from KEXP (and personal) faves Bomba Estéreo was reason for excitement and their third LP Elegancia Tropical did not disappoint. It’s a mature, adventurous record with their signature mix of Colombian sounds like champeta and cumbia with rock, pop and electronics that’s equal parts chill and dance floor fuel. Also, it’s important to note that you should not miss this group live.
Another great marriage of traditional flavors and modern electronics comes from Argentine producer/musician Mati Zundel (aka Lagartijeando) whose Amazónico Gravitante was my favorite pairings of the two this year. His label ZZK is known for their twisted and beautiful bridgings of classic and future and he’s right at home there as he complements cumbia, huayño and more with progressive beats. His occasional vocals suit the album well as do guest appearances from Miss Bolivia, Marina Gasolina and one of my favorite en español rappers Boogat.
Seattle-born, Rio De Janeiro-based producer and DJ Mago Bo had similar luck with 2012’s aptly-titled Quilombo Do Futuro. The word quilombo refers to runaway slave settlements in colonial Brazil. Bo’s music on this album is a haven for capoeira, samba, coco and other Afro-Brazilian roots to join with an array of modern beats. The record is a mixture of original recordings from collaborations with a range of Brazilian musicians old and new, his own productions, and guest vocalists from around South and North America. The result is something most certainly futuristic, seamlessly organic, and deserving of plenty of rewinds.
MC and poet Bocafloja has been a fixture in the Spanish language rap scene since the ‘90s and also draws from the word quilombo. His QuilomboArte collective and label references Latin America’s African roots and institutionalized oppression and looks to use hip-hop as an educational tool to raise awareness, progress justice and awaken minds. His latest full-length Patologías del Invisible Incómodo speaks on an assortment of human conditions and issues over real soulful beds of hip-hop beats from a variety of great producers. It also features stellar guest appearances from Spain’s Indee Styla, Mexico’s Moyenei, Seattle’s Hollis and Gabriel Teodros and others. (check his El Sonido live set here)
One more hip-hop album to make my favorites list is La Bala from Chilean star Ana Tijoux. Her third solo effort stays in line with her resolute true school aesthetic, but with a noticeable progression in sophistication. She took a unique approach to the beats this time around, using a small orchestra to create live sample fodder to layer with beats and vocals. Lyrically it often opens fire on political and social issues while saving room for some softer introspection as well. Ana’s still unfuckwithable as an MC and a beautiful singer to boot, and I sure can’t wait to see what direction she takes us in next. (check her El Sonido live set here)
Another Chilean artist to make waves in 2012 was Alex Anwandter. Though Rebeldes came out last winter in Chile it saw a U.S. release this summer and is simply a dynamite pop record. From disco movers to ballads Alex’s synth-driven sound is simple, yet masterfully crafted, and his smooth, understated croon works wonderfully overtop. The catchy, sweet music fights with heart-on-sleeve and cutting lyrics in an ultimately rewarding battle where even though there’s an often underlying melancholy you still come away feeling so good.
Mexican Institute of Sound is Mexico City DJ/producer Camilo Lara’s musical moniker in which he crafts a fun and eclectic amalgam with traditional Mexican genres fused with modern electronics, rock and more. His fourth LP Político is quirky, dance-inspiring, and features his trademark rap-singing and more live instrumentation than we’ve seen in previous efforts. As the title suggests lyrically things generally lean to the political and social issues facing modern Mexico (and around the world for that matter) like violence, corruption, blinding nationalism and censorship. Food for thought and booty shaking, and something I enjoyed consuming quite a bit of in 2012.
On the indie rock tip a definite favorite for me was Madrid, Spain quintet Los Punsetes. The Pablo Díaz-Reixa (a.k.a. El Guincho) produced Una Montaña Es Una Montaña is driving and warm with great layers of interwinding guitars, sparingly-placed effects and some rebellious apathy. There’s something in the band’s sound, especially Ariadna’s vocals, that reminds me of naive reminiscing and hell with the world feelings I had back in high school. A time when, in actuality, there was nothing holding me back or anything to be sentimental about.
While Chilean singer-songwriter Gepe has been garnering praise in the alternative Latin scene for a while I’ll admit that I didn’t really catch on until GP came out towards the end of this year. It’s a thoroughly solid pop album that evenly squares uptempo marches with delicate numbers. It’s an updated take on classic Chilean folk sensibilities and sounds mixed with pop that’s sincere and moving, and features some exiting instrumentation. Whether he’s simply singing over an acoustic guitar or experimenting with dancehall rhythms the songs really connect and make this release hands down one of my favorite start-to-finish listens in a while.
Of course I had way more than ten favorites so let’s run through a few more while I’m here. On the more traditional side of things a definite highlight was L.A.’s Las Cafeteras whose updated take on son jarocho shone with a feisty live set and lyrics that touch on modern topics. Their debut full-length It’s Time is worth copping. Another talent doing the traditional sounds of his country is Joan Soriano. On La Familia Soriano the young Dominican guitarist and singer teamed up with his siblings for another great take on classic bachata and merengue. New York band Chicha Libre once again connected with their sophomore LP Canibalismo and their unrestricted take on Peruvian chicha. And right here in Seattle, Washington the band Si Limon issued their great self-titled EP that features original tunes with Latin sounds and African rhythms.
I’m a huge cumbia lover and while I adore cumbia-based electronica and classics remixed for the dancefloor it’s also great to see artists advancing the genre in other ways. Bay Area group Cumbia Tokeson’s Chuchos Vol. 1 was a fabulous mix of chicha, Colombian cumbia and rock. The Argentine/Mexican punk rock cumbia queens Kumbia Queers dropped their super fun and well done Pecados Tropicales and Swedish octet Cumbiasound really surprised me with their way funky and imaginative Calzones Largos. On the more electro side of things I’ll point to three Mexican groups: Sonido Desconocido II, Los Master Plus, and Sonido San Francisco.
It’s no secret I’m a fan of Bay Area Panamanians Los Rakas’ mix of hip-hop and dancehall. Their Valentine’s Day EP Raka Love was a romantic ace and will sound great any time of the year that you’re in the mood. I’m looking forward to their new full-length as well as solo joints from Dun and Rich. Mexico’s Josué Josué was a favorite hip-hop discovery. He’s a young, genuine and talented MC whose songs feature some creative sampling and quite progressive beats like his team up with producer Siete Catorce on “Linus.” Speaking of hip-hop with progressive beats make sure and check out Chile’s K.T.R. Another one on the rap/reggaeton tip that I recommend is Tego Calderón’s The Original Gallo del País mixtape.
I’ve mentioned Chilean pop a few times here already, but I’d be remiss not to suggest a couple more. Astro’s self-titled debut full-length of often nature-themed, polyrhythmic electro-pop was outstanding. So was Ases Falsos’ grand Juventud Americana with it’s captivating blend of catchy synth/guitar electo-pop and relevant lyrics. Protistas’ Las Cruces is an indie-rock must check as well. Yes, they’re also from Chile. More worthy rock picks that I enjoyed this year: Spain’s Betunizer and Espanto, and Argentina’s yiLet, Banda de Turistas, Las Ligas Menores, and Mujercitas Terror. For funk rock dig Kinky’s Sueño De La Maquina and definitely Argentine duo Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas who reunited after a decade with Chances.
From Brazil multi-instrumentalist and producer Curumin brought a soulful, atmospheric mix of Brazilian flavors, funk, electronics and more with Arrocha and Luaka Bop’s collection of eccentric funk and soul man Tim Maia’s 1970s output World Psychedelic Classics 4 is a total blast. (check Curumin’s El Sonido live set here) Peru’s Novalima had another exceptional album with Karimba, and Déjenme Llorar by Mexico’s Carla Morrison brought her much deserved time in the spotlight. Monsieur Periné is most certainly worth checking out too. The trilingual, swinging gypsy jazz septet from Colombia surprised and delighted with Hecho a Mano: Suin a la Colombiana.
Last but not least I’d love to recommend three compilations. ZZK’s Future Sounds of Buenos Aires showcases their impressive roster of progressive electro-roots artists. Latino Resiste Presents Root A Pacifica is a magnificent collection of a variety of Afro-Pacific music. And on constant repeat right now for me is Diablos Del Ritmo - The Colombian Melting Pot 1960-1985 put out by Analog Africa. This 2-CD set is top-notch and features porra, cumbia, funk, afro-beat and much, much more.
I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch so be sure to tune in every Monday night for more in the best in modern Latin sounds and if you have any suggestions I’d love to check them out. Thanks for listening and supporting KEXP!