6 Sizzling CDs from South of the Border

3 minute read
Carolina A. Miranda


This Spanish-language album is a mixed bag of sugary pop and hip-shaking Latin rock. Fijación Oral is vastly better than Shakira’s English efforts, which have never had the confidence of her singing in her native tongue. The intricately crafted lyrics in songs like Escondite Inglés allow her to work out that wonderfully warbled voice. And Shakira’s reputation for writhing is safe with La Tortura, her rocked-out-yet-folky duet with Spanish crooner Alejandro Sanz. You’ll have no choice but to get up and dance.


For months, music critics have been announcing the demise of reggaeton. Here come the paramedics: two middle-class half brothers from Puerto Rico. Calle 13 has eschewed the genre’s obsession with machine-gun beats and opted for new-wave keyboards, funk-inspired bass lines and even the occasional clarinet lick. The lyrics are clever–often hilarious–and go beyond babes, bullets and bling. Atrévete-te-te dares an intellectual girl to come out of the pop-rock closet and embrace reggaeton. No doubt Calle 13 will persuade others to do the same.


Cafè Tacvba (pronounced tacuba) has spent 17 years taking elements of contemporary music–from north-of-the-border punk to the indigenous sounds of Veracruz–and synthesizing them into a fluid, singular brand of rock en español. The song El Fin de la Infancia puts brassy Mexican banda music to a ska beat. Eres is a pop ballad served straight. And Chilanga Banda is a nod to funk. It makes for manic concerts. This two-disc set captures Tacvba’s epic 15th-anniversary blowout in Mexico City.


An innovative DJ collective from Tijuana, Nortec fuses the oompah sounds of Mexican regional music with electronica imported from the U.S. and Europe. For this album, the crew went beyond its mixing boards and invited local musicians to record with it. The result: a rich collection that embraces the clash of dissonant cultures. The thumping Revu Rockers deftly weaves blaring trumpets with a solid house beat into a hybrid that is greater than the sum of its parts. If only our politicians understood border crossing half as well.


On its eighth album, the Argentine rock band sticks to the basics. The songs are guitar-driven, glam-rock-inspired ditties that make their point in less than three minutes. Singer Adrian Dargelos leads the charge with an impish voice that recalls the Strokes, but without the ennui. On pop-inflected songs like Puesto, it’s impossible not to sing “woo-ooh” right along with the chorus. That doesn’t mean the band has no bite. Smart lyrics take enough stinging jabs at kleptomaniac pols and the Argentine upper class to keep the band sounding authentically rebellious.


This folk-pop amalgam never descends into coffeehouse cliché. For most of the songs, the Mexican chanteuse accompanies her velvety voice on acoustic guitar and now and then some rocking accordion. (Yes, accordions can rock.) She even experiments with reggaeton on Primer Día but makes it her own by adding Spanish guitar. The title track recalls a Yellow Submarine–era Beatles–as digested by Mexico. But it’s the effortless singing and light tropical beat on Sin Documentos that catch Venegas at her swayworthy best.

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