I’m a lousy fan. I’ve always been completely baffled by the urge to take photos with famous people or ask them sign stuff. I’m a cheap skate so I’m unlikely to buy everything a musical artist has ever released, much less load up on merch. That said, there are some musicians that I truly love, whose songs I listen to over and over again. I’m starting to feel bad for being such a lackluster fan so I think it’s time I do what any good fan would do – start gushing.
My journeys in Latin America have not only exposed me to a ton of great food and super people – I also had the chance to listen to a ton of great music, much of which isn’t well-known among my people (AKA white American people). I think it’s time I start spreading the word.
I put together a playlist on Youtube for some passive listening – guaranteed to spice up your work day – and below are some notes about some of my favorite artists. I tried to pick one song for each, which was tough. If you like someone, go deep – all of these folks have tons of great music.
I’ve divided this into three sections. The first is music that, if it weren’t in Spanish, would be pretty similar to some of the great rock we have in English. This is an easy first step for gringos into a very deep pool. This is followed by musica tropical, which has a completely different flavor that is 100% Latin, but quite palatable to Americans. This is the stuff of salsa dance classes. This is followed by some extremely Mexican music that I now love, but that might take Americans a little while longer to learn to love…Enjoy!
Rock – Gateway Drugs
If you like rock in English, try rock en espanol! All these artists are so rocking, you either won’t care you don’t understand a word or you’ll be inspired to learn Spanish.
Sabanas Frias – Mana
I don’t care if they’re overplayed or too pop or they sold out or whatever else cool people complain about, I’ve loved Mana since the first time I heard any of their songs. I particularly love Sabanas Frias for the section where everything just breaks down into rhythm. I also never get tired of Oye mi Amor and Mariposa Traicionera…
A Dios Le Pido – Juanes
Juanes is a Colombian hit machine. I saw him in concert at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City – what a performer! Camisa Negra is probably his biggest hit, but I really like the words to this song, which is like a prayer: http://lyricstranslate.com/en/dios-le-pido-i-ask-god.html-0
Octavo Dia – Shakira
Pretend Waka Waka and She-Wolf never happened. I invite you to meet the Shakira I fell in love with in the early ‘90s. This video is conveniently subtitled so you can see the depth of the lyrics. Shakira in English will never equal the talent of her earlier music in Spanish.
Lamento Boliviano – Enanitos Verdes
The “green dwarves” are just simply a heck of a lot of fun and this song is a classic – “Here I am, drunk and crazy!”. If you like them, you’ll probably also dig los Hombres G.
Andar Conmigo – Julieta Venegas
Probably the best thing ever to come out of Tijuana. It was super tough picking a favorite song of hers – I also love Te Voy a Mostrar, El Presente, Limon y Sal and Eres Para Mi is super fun. If you like Julieta, you’ll also love…
Controlar – Ceci Bastida
Also from TJ, used to perform with Julieta and has a great, original style. Check out the full interview/performance with KCRW. http://www.kcrw.com/music/programs/mb/mb110111ceci_bastida
Eres – Cafe Tacuba
Another classic Mexican rock group, straight out of Mexico City. If you thought you’d gotten a grasp on this whole Spanish language thing, just watch Chilanga Banda and you’ll figure out pretty quick that Chilango is another language entirely.
Un, Dos, Tres, Go – Belanova
Yes, they’re muy pop, but they’re also super fun! And c’mon, Rosa Pastel has plenty of social commentary.
Frio – Ely Guerra
I’m probably not hip enough for Ely Guerra – she is just way too cool! Also, this song is ridiculously sexy, even beating Plastilina Mosh’s flirty Pervert Pop Song – “Punish me, I know I’ve been bad…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN0u3mzAwj8
Agua – Jarabe de Palo
This song makes me cry – in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, if I hear it before work, driving around town, whenever. It’s beautiful and has such heart-felt lyrics. Here’s a version that conveniently shows the translation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rAdAOm5YaJI
El Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
These are guys are super fun. I think Calaveras y Diablitos is the best song ever for cruising around town – it makes life seem like an absurd adventure.
Me Gustas Tu – Manu Chao
I have a minor in Latin American studies. Therefore I am, of course, a fan of Manu Chao, the ultimate darling of left-learning college kids with a thing for Latin America. He’s a hippie-ish nomad who sings in Spanish, English and French. This is the best song ever for people learning Spanish.
First of all, I am not doing justice to la musica tropical here…Cuba alone could have its own category considering they invented salsa. If you love that Caribbean flavor, also try out some bachata and merengue from the Dominican Republic, cumbia from Colombia and maybe even some reggaeton (think Daddy Yankee “Gasolina”). You can find lots of great stuff listening to Batanga online radio: www.batanga.com/ or by going to a Zumba class near you!
Los Infieles – Aventura
My love of Aventura started as a guilty pleasure, but now I’m ready to own it. These guys make me swoon with their bachata. And artist who is still in the guilty category? Pitbull (Please pronounce this PEET-BUHL), though he really hit it home with Bon Bon.
Quizas, Quizas, Quizas – Ibrahim Ferrer & Omara Portuondo
I could have picked basically any song by Buena Vista Social Club to stand in for beautiful classic Cuban music. This is a double whammy since it’s a fantastic song performed by two fantastic artists. These two are part of the BV Club, but please go deep and listen to everything else they’ve ever done, their talent and presence are phenomenal.
La Vida es un Carnaval – Celia Cruz
INDOMITABLE. “Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,/ It’s more beautiful to live singing./Oh, Ay, there’s no need to cry, For life is a carnival/ And your pains can be alleviated through song.” – They can, if you’re singing, Celia. Celia also does a cover of “I will survive” that is as good as, if not better than, the original: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoSCQWxyMTA
Bidi Bidi Bom – Selena
Que descanse en paz. If you’ve seen the movie starring Jennifer Lopez, then you know Tejano superstar Selena was murdered by a crazy fan at the tender age of 23, a huge tragedy. Selena was one of the first Mexican artists to “cross-over” with her huge hit “I Could Fall in Love,” which is still getting play on the light rock stations. American people, it’s time for you to cross over the other way and recognize the amazingness of Selena. I picked this song so you could see her perform live. I also love Amor Prohibido – if you find yourself selecting Como la Flor at the next karaoke night, your conversion to Selena fandom will be complete.
Some of Mexico’s most beloved artists…
El Rey – Vicente Fernandez
It’s appropriate that Vicente Fernandez’s most famous song has the lyrics “And I’m still the king.” You really are, Vicente. This man is a classic of Mexican ranchera music. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, I think you’ll find it hard not to sing along to “Volver Volver,” which is played without fail at every fiesta precisely at the moment that everyone has had one shot of tequila too many.
Los Dos Plebes – Los Tigres del Norte
This band is BEYOND HUGE in Mexico, but might not be terribly palatable to the American ear…You know when you hear Mexican guys blasting polka music out of their trucks?…yeah, it’s that music. Just give it a chance folks…And be sure to see Bajo la Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), a great movie featuring a cameo from these guys. Another fun song of their’s – La Puerta Negra.
Tu Carcel – Marco Antonio Solis
Tu Carcel was the song that made Marco Antonio famous – Si No Te Hubieras Ido might be the one to make him immortal. This Michoacano turns out hit after hit after hit – I love that he’s got a mix of slow and high-energy songs – un gran artista!
Paloma Negra – Lila Downs
Lila Downs is a contemporary artist that sings really old, really Mexican songs. Beautiful music and I love the Oaxacan influence – check out her stunning clothes in this clip. I also love that her dad is an English-Scottish guy from Minnesota. Viva la fusion!
Rata de Dos Patas – Paquita La Del Barrio
Your man cheated on you? Coming off a rough break-up? The prescription for that is Paquita La Del Barrio. About 90% of her songs are about how men are complete heels. To quote this one “Rat with two paws – yes, I’m talking to you…Are you hearing me, you useless man?! How much I hate and despise you!”
Just a quick shout-out to a couple of Latin-flavored acts out of LA – one veteran, the other up and coming.
Nadas Por Free – Ozomatli
Viva el Espanglish! These guys are just super energetic, wacky performers and muy LA. I find it entertaining that they were hired by the US government to be cultural ambassadors to locales in Asia and the Middle East – way to represent!
La Santa Cecilia
I think you have to see them live to really get how great these folks are. They do awesome Spanish covers…they also do the old-school Mexican stuff and maybe a little klezmer. What’s not to love? http://www.lasantacecilia.com/