[12 March 2008]
For several years now, flamenco, the traditional music of Spain, has been sprouting fusion offshoots that integrate it further in Latin and other musical styles. The past few months have seen new developments, particularly among female vocalists. The landscape of Mexican pop-rock has also changed, ushering a new era of mainstream youth-oriented music.
Diana Navarro, who created quite a stir during her appearance last month at the New York Flamenco Festival, offers a haunting Middle Eastern tinge that augments her feathery yet charismatic voice. Her recent album “24 Rosas” (Warner Latina) features spare, conventional production, hinting at Celine Dion-style strings, without sounding syrupy. What is most striking about Navarro is the vibrato effect she achieves, heightening the eerie drama of the songs.
A strong contrast to Navarro’s style is Buika, who hails from Equatorial Guinea, where she grew up around local Gypsy culture. Having spent time as a jazz singer in London and a hotel lounge singer in Las Vegas, Buika has a husky voice that captures flamenco’s primal essence. Her recent album “Mi Nina Lola” (Warner Latina) features guest stars such as Nino Josele on guitar, Jerry Gonzalez on trumpet and Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez on drums.
Buika’s approach ranges from jazz-tinged on the title track and “Ojos Verdes,” to rootsy flamenco on “Buleria Alegre” and “Nostalgias.” But it’s clear throughout that she holds the key to the link between African and Iberian music, and her unique background makes her fusion natural. Her voice is often hoarse and sticks to a narrow range, but the emotion she conveys is palpable and arresting.
Finally, Ojos de Brujo’s new album, “Techari Live” (Six Degrees Records), is a perfect example of how some bands are much more explosive in a concert setting. Their rowdy rap-flamenco repertoire is electric, and as a bonus, there’s a bilingual, salsa-tinged remake of the Bob Marley classic “Get Up Stand Up.”
The new Mexican pop-rock is exemplified by the trio Camilla, ensconced in first place on the Billboard Latin Album chart with an album originally released in May 2006. “To do Cambio” (Sony) has only actually registered on the chart for 42 weeks, indicating how it’s been coming on slowly as a sleeper. The songs use a variety of styles, from boy band R&B to Coldplay-ish droning, and there’s even an English-language track, “U Got My Love.” Their “hip” haircuts and dress signal not so much the rebellion of the early `90s golden age of Mexican rock as NAFTA-style conformity.
Similarly, the light folk-rock of Jesse and Joy and the slightly harder “modern rock” of Motel (whose newest album, “17,” was released in early January on Warner Latina) symbolize a new commercial sophistication, if not an original aesthetic. Representing the “alternative” tendency in Mexican rock is Panda, whose live double-album “Sinfonia Soledad” (Warner Latina) will be released next week. The Monterrey-based quartet plays edgy indie rock with long-winded song titles (roughly translated, “We Find Attraction in the Most Repugnant Things,” “I’m Lonelier Than Yesterday, But Less Than I Will Be Tomorrow,” are a couple) are earnest and thoughtful, but don’t quite transcend their American counterparts.