Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

U.S.-based Latin musicians enjoy breakthroughs

By Agustin Gurza
Los Angeles Times

With the record business down sharply in 2002, some observers suddenly seem depressed about the prospects of Latin music. Shakira is the only one riding high, but she dyed her hair blond and changed to English to get there.

In good years and bad, however, finding the best Latin albums is always a bit of a treasure hunt. Some great works, such as an exquisite collection of trova tunes by Cuba's premier singer Issac Delgado, aren't even released in the United States.

Others, such as the edgy ska-cum-candombe by Uruguay's feisty La Vela Puerca, get released but not promoted.

The big news of 2002 was right under our noses. More than half of my top 10 Latin albums were made in the United States. These six entries by exiles and immigrants, by West Coast Chicanos and East Coast Cubans, mark a milestone, because U.S.-based artists are historically overshadowed by their Latin American counterparts.

Chicanos had an especially strong year, led by the melodic, thoughtful and committed Afro-jarocho fusion of Quetzal, a mature, multicultural group from East L.A. And from Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo recorded his gorgeous, evocative music from the immigrant-themed play "By the Hand of the Father."

Two Miami-based artists also made memorable albums in 2002: Veteran singer-songwriter Albita, with her most rootsy and intimate work to date, and Bacilos, a new trio with a smart and lyrical brand of folk/pop.

The year also gave us stirring new albums by three of the greatest pop poets in the Spanish-speaking world — Panama's Ruben Blades, Spain's Joan Manuel Serrat and Cuba's Silvio Rodriguez. This lofty troika alone offered a year's worth of soul-nourishing sounds.

In his masterful, multicultural "Mundo," Blades delivers the best album of his stellar career, a sweeping, spellbinding exploration of global music. Percussionist Alex Acuna, offered an uplifting, contemporary take on Afro-folk music from his native land, featuring Lima's captivating criolla vocalist, Eva Ayllon.

Salsa did not have its best year in 2002. Even the Cubans were uncharacteristically quiet, with rare exceptions such as flutist Maraca's "Tremenda Rumba." By far the most arresting album arising from the Cuban diaspora was the rap/rock/rumba fusion of Orishas, a trio of Paris expatriates. Titled "Emigrante," it's bursting with originality, passion and beauty.