Various Artists: Latin Groove

Nicole Pensiero

Various Artists

Latin Groove

Label: Putumayo
US Release Date: 2002-03-12
UK Release Date: 2002-04-22

World music purveyors Putumayo really nails it with this compilation, a spicy musical stew that proves sound of musical worlds colliding can, indeed, be beautiful. In fact, with Latin Groove, it's pretty apparent that the Latin genre, per se, has almost limitless potential to appeal to various audiences in various countries. That's because Latin music, with its intrinsic flexibility, can meld with many other styles while retaining its innate earthiness and elegance. Even more importantly, Latin music has the wonderful ability of not only bringing cultures together but uniting generations of music lovers -- Cuba's Buena Vista Social Club was a perfect example of something old becoming something wonderfully new.

Latin Groove is a terrific showcase for contemporary fusions of salsa, cumbia, son, flamenco, reggae, and even electronica. The artists featured here seem to have two factors in common: youth and a penchant for experimentation. But they've have created music as diverse as places from where they come -- locales that include Mexico, Columbia, France (via Nicaragua), and even San Francisco. That so many musicians, from so many different places and cultures, are creating ever-original (and many times challenging) hybrids of Latin music proves the genre's expanding appeal.

In keeping with the Putumayo tradition, Latin Groove contains detailed, wonderfully readable background information on each of the 11 artists featured. The album kicks off with the catchy "El Carretero" ("The Cart Driver"), by Paris-based Barrio Cubano de Ronald Rubinel. That track -- a classic Cuban guajira that's been updated with a funky drumbeat and the potent rap of hip-hop collective Chicos de Acero -- sets the tone for all that follows. Upbeat, danceable and unmistakably confident-sounding, the songs on Latin Groove may well appeal to those not normally turned on by the genre. The reason for that cross-over potential is simple: the songs found on this album sound decidedly modern -- outright hip, in fact -- despite the fact they never stray far from their musical roots of decades past. Classic Cuban styles like son and guajira, which have been around for more than a century, sound totally at ease amid the digital workings of today's avant-garde DJs like Londoner Richard Blair, the Columbian-influenced drum 'n bass artist known as Sidestepper, who contributes the intensely urgent "Linda Manigua" to this collection.

From the edgy, experimental sounds of French duo Funkanzazenji on "Latin Flavour" -- a tune that combines jazz, flamenco hand claps and harp -- to the sultry funk-pop of Columbia's superstar duo Aterciopelados ("El Estuche"), there's an urban, up-to-date feel woven throughout the music here. Those "right now" sounds holds true even on El Conjunto Massalia's updated take on Cuban star Compay Segundo's classic son, "Chan Chan." (In a charming tribute, group leader Doume Gaspari does a little Spanish language rap at the song's end that mentions Segundo by his birth name, Francisco Repilado).

San Francisco-based Los Mocosos offers up "Soy Callejero" ("I'm From the Streets"), a funky Latin groove featuring blazing horns, Santana-inspired guitar playing and drum programming set to slightly cocky lyrics that tell of the band's origins. New York's Si Se (which records for David Bryne's Luaka Bop label) combines electronica with hip-hop and Afro-Cuban riffs on the stellar "Bizcocho Amargo," which is elevated further by the potent vocals of Carol C.

Latin Groove focuses on the most danceable, humable, and appealing aspects of the Latin pop movement, while smartly avoiding Latin American bands whose ideas of originality comes down to mimicking Anglo-American pop. This is the genuine article, rising up from the barrios of South America, South Los Angeles, and Europe. Fun and funky, it's the perfect record to put on when that dinner party seems to be getting a tad too listless.

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