[22 September 2005]
Like it or not, we have Ricky Martin to thank for this.
Mr. Martin burst onto the pop music scene in 1999 and was largely responsible for the “Latin boom” that followed, the proliferation of Latin music into the mainstream, to the point where it was unavoidable for more than a couple of years. When Santana’s Supernatural made history with its nine Grammy wins, it seemed that Latin music (or, at least, the pop permutation of it) had hit the mainstream for good, and was never going away.
And then, regrettably, it all but disappeared, relegated to “hot fad genre” status along with garage rock, ska, and swing.
The happy result of the ubiquity and subsequent sudden disappearance of such a genre in the widespread popular consciousness is the idea that so many people are exposed to a new style, and some of those people are going to be so enamored by that style that it will become a new love in their life. What such a flameout does not do, however, is expose those people to the lesser known, more artistically satisfying artists in said genre, and in this case, that means that the fad was over before people were exposed to, say, the bossa nova stylings of Bebel Gilberto or the energetic tejano of the Texas Tornados. And yes, I suppose Shakira is still selling records, but she’s about as pop as one can get, and quite frankly, she frightens me a bit. The point is, the boom of Latin music into the American pop mainstream has courted many potential lovers of its myriad styles—unfortunately, it’s difficult for the potential enthusiast to figure out just where to look for it outside the pop spectrum without a little bit of help.
The primary selling point of Six Degrees’ ...Travels series is the bridging of such culture gaps, as music from around the world (other popular entries in the series include Asian, Arabian, and African Travels) is sifted through the filter of listener-friendly electronic music. While some of the other entries in the ...Travels series have focused on the ambient aspects of the targeted cultures, the Latin Travels series focuses on the dance.
As far as providing music that is fun and easy to dance to, Latin Travels 2 does wonderfully. Deela’s “Azua Azua” sounds as though it’s going to be all big horns and syncopated rhythms, but Deela puts a thick dance beat on it about halfway through the song, a beat that shifts the song from “fairly enjoyable” to “funky as hell”. The “Reggaeton Remix” of Los Mocosos’ “Bandolera Era” adds a refreshing hip-hop twist to the mix, a slant then continued by the Rondo Brothers’ Remix of Beny Moré‘s Manzanillo, which comes out sounding a bit like Dan the Automator in a party mood. By the time the nighttime vibe of Flora y Fauna’s “What’s Up Samba” fills the air, it’s entirely possible that you’ll be exhausted from dancing. So if you want to dance to something, uh, “Latin-sounding”, Latin Travels 2 is a great pick.
Where Latin Travels 2 doesn’t hold up so well is under close listening. Many of these tracks are remixed or selected in the hopes that they will be more listener-friendly, and likely more commercially viable. As such, someone who is actually looking for something more meaty, something to introduce them to the best the Latin scene has to offer, would be advised to look someplace else. Too many of these songs (Bombay Dub Orchestra’s “Montuno Skank”, Mark Pistil’s remix of Latin Soul Syndicate’s “Mi Dia Bonito”) will sound to many listeners like the tunes on Santana’s Supernatural album that 95% of them skipped over. They’re just kind of there to fill space, to make it sound like a party without actually making any sort of statement. The songs aren’t bad ones, per se, they just kind of exist for their four or five minutes, content to then disappear into the ether.
Of course there are exceptions—Tim “Love” Lee’s drum ‘n’ bass remix of Banda União Black’s “Faz Tanto” is memorably awful in its genre-busting ambition, while closing track “Post Modern Cumbia”, from an entity called DIG, is a seriously solid piece, challenging its listeners with layer upon layer of increasingly dissonant horn work while maintaining a steady dance beat. If only more of the album could have followed DIG’s lead, allowing for something a bit more inventive amidst all of the body shakin’, it could have been a truly special compilation. As it is, Latin Travels 2 party fluff and little more.