Antonio Carmona keeps Latin alterna-pop strong

Ed Morales
Newsday (MCT)

While mainstream Latin pop has enjoyed a resurgence of late, particularly through a flurry of Mexican acts such as RBD and Camila, and urban Latino remains strong (Wisin and Yandel, Angel and Khris are still high on the charts), the middle ground of Latin alterna-pop is still flourishing. Making music that appeals to a young adult audience, artists that began their careers as experimenters are creating lush new hybrids that modernize traditional music while updating pop conventions.

Antonio Carmona is best known as the lead singer of one of Spain's original fusion flamenco groups, Ketama. That group was enormously successful in making salsa and flamenco compatible, with Carmona's soulful vocals easily flowing with Afro-Caribbean rhythms. His new album, "Vengo Venenoso" (Surco-Universal) is neither a flamenco nor a flamenco-fusion album, but it retains the intoxicating qualities of Carmona's voice.

"Vengo Venonoso (I Come Venomously)" is first and foremost a Gustavo Santaolalla-Anibal Kerpel project. Although there are times that it sounds like a Juanes album, once again the duo distills the essence of its vocal subject while laying on a luxurious sheen that is sophisticated and authentic. Each track has a tight, minimalist feel, while filling the room with bursts of bass and subtle keyboard layers.

Like a sweeter version of Diego el Cigala's bitter laments about love, Carmona looks back at life filtered through his encounters with women, remembering each one wistfully. His penchant for composing songs with minor chords comes through on "Se Amarra el Pelo" (She Ties Her Hair)," a spare, proto-flamenco memoir. The title track is a burst of Carmona's tenor coaxing Afro-Cuban soul out of Santaolalla and Kerpel's bass-keyboard electro-son.

Carmona also gets help from fellow alterna-popsters Alejandro Sanz and Juanes on "Para Que Tu No Llores (So You Won't Cry)" and "A Tu Lado (By Your Side)," respectively. Even the thoughtfully seductive rapper Mala Rodriguez, who's become an honorary alterna-pop star through her 2006 duet with Julieta Venegas, turns in another mesmerizing performance on "Ay De Ti (Oh, You)."

While not exactly transcending his achievements with Ketama, Carmona makes a successful transition to a promising solo career, and his continued relationship with his award-winning producers can only bode well for him.

From north of the border comes a new alterna-pop band called Pacifika, whose new album, "Asuncion," is just out on Six Degrees Records. Led by Silvana Kane, who was born in Lima, Peru, but was raised in Milwaukee and Vancouver, Pacifika is a minimalist trio that traffics in an ethereal pan-Latin sound. Kane's accomplices are Adam Popowitz on guitar, whose background is in indy and progressive rock, and bassist Toby Peter, whose time living in Barbados allowed him to soak up Caribbean rhythms.

Songs like "Me Cai (I Fell)" have a `70s folk-rock feel dressed up in loose samba and flamenco rhythms, recalling the recent work of a label mate, London-based Brazilian Cibelle. The flamenco flavor is more pronounced on "Paloma (Dove)," while "Sol (Sun)," with its insistence on finding light at the end of the tunnel, sounds like daybreak in the Pacific Northwest.

Though Kane's glamour is a point of focus, Pacifika possesses the moody earnestness that should appeal to the college crowd and beyond.





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