various artists,
Latin Groove
(Putumayo, 2002)

I keep waiting to run across a Putumayo compilation CD that I don't like. That has not happened with Latin Groove where "Salsa and Cuban son join funk, hip-hop and electronica for a cutting edge Latin dance party," as the back of the CD succinctly puts it. (Son is a Cuban musical style, like guajira.)

If you love Latin music and enjoy electronica at all, you'll be taken by the combination of the two. If the sexy sounding Spanish vocals don't grab you, the infectious Latin beat surely will. The eleven tracks of this second CD in Putumayo's "Groove Series" are all excellent in their own rights. And if the first CD in the series, Arabic Groove, is half as good as this CD, I'll recommend it without having heard it!

While it is difficult to select favorite tracks off this CD, I will mention a couple. "El Estuche (the Shell)" by Columbian duo Los Aterciopelados (the Velvety Ones) has a wonderful rhythm and inspiring lyrics. The translation in the liner notes states that lead singer Andrea Echeverri keeps repeating "look at the essence, not appearances" in the chorus. One of the stanzas translates to "The body is only a shell / And the eyes are a window to our imprisoned soul / That appearances are everything / is what superficial people say / It's what is inside that counts."

"Bizcocho Amargo" by Si*Se starts out with great Flamenco style guitar before the hip-hop vibe joins in. Lead singer Carol C., originally from the Dominican Republic, has a beautiful voice that complements both musical styles and brings them together in their own unique unified sound. Si*Se is actually a fairly new band formed in New York just a few years ago. This song is about changing one's direction in life to escape a current situation.

Not to leave the male singers out of the mix, I'll mention Barrio Cubano de Ronald Rubinel. Ronald Rubinel is considered a "Caribbean Quincy Jones," according to the liner notes, and is originally from the French Caribbean island of Martinique. With "El Carretero (The Cart Driver)", Barrio Cubano demonstrates a fusion of Caribbean pop, Afro-Cuban son and Spanish rap. This song is a good opener for Latin Groove, setting the mood for the ten songs to follow.

"Cumbia de los Muertos (Cumbia of the Dead)" by Ozomatli closes out the CD on a more reggae/rap note that leaves the soul of the Mexican-style cumbia intact. The band has been around since 1995 and sings this inspiring song in hope that the world's cycle of violence can be brought to an end. The song imparts a story of the dead dancing with happiness among the living.

The other seven artists and groups on the CD include Sin Palabras, Sidestepper, Los Mocosos, El Conjunto Massalia, Funkanzazenji, Supatone and Carlos de Nicaragua & Familia.

Latin Groove is a great collection of Latin dance tunes. Whether you know Spanish or not, the music definitely will lift your spirits. I have found that the CD works whether I play it in the car, while working at the office or even as background at an afternoon barbecue. Granted, I only pick up the occasional word as my Spanish is limited, but the music crosses any divide I miss with the lyrics. I think this is an awesome CD and highly recommend it.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 30 May 2002

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