Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Urban Latino

A good mixture of anger, pop, and energy, with one surprise.

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Urban Latino

Label: World Music Network
US Release Date: 2006-02-21
UK Release Date: 2006-02-20
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There are three types of Rough Guide.

First you have the Rough Guides that concentrate on geographical areas. This is where you'll find the Rough Guide to the Music of Kenya, or of Indonesia, Canada, or Central Asia. Next you have the Rough Guides that concentrate on musicians. This is where you'll find compilations dedicated to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, or the Soul Brothers, or the excellent Rough Guide to Franco. Finally, you have the Rough Guides that concentrate on a single broad category of sound such as tango or cumbia or African rap, and this is where you'll find The Rough Guide to Urban Latino.

They've covered some of this territory before, on a national level, with The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica and The Rough Guide to Brazilian Hip-Hop, but Urban Latino casts a wider net. In theory it takes in all of the Latin American world; in practice almost half of the tracks come from Colombia and Argentina, with the rest parcelled out between Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Puerto Rico, the U.S., and Germany. Germany is not a country widely known for its Latino stylings, but Holger Hiller's remix of a Prez Prado tune is a nifty five-minute piece of skippety mambo.

The angriest music comes from Colombia. Zona Marginal's "No Mas" is a low-slung, slow-punching piece of rap, and you don't need to understand Spanish to realise that the group is talking about things they don't like. They sound disgusted. Their voices heave up at the beginnings of words and then shoot down at the ends as if they're lifting a dirty weight and then throwing it away. Asilo 38's "Vincer O Morir" is even heavier and more threatening.

This is good though. The compiler, Chris Moss, uses the heavy tracks as a foil for brighter music: the rock-ska of Doctor Krapula, and the spangly reggaeton of Chaka, whose "Contigo" moves in dancey, artificial bursts. "Contigo" is a callow song, not really a match for "Vincer O Morir", but if you believe that an Urban Latino smorgasboard needs to contain at least one piece of sweetened pop-rap in order to be truly well-rounded, well then, my friends, here it is.

The compilation is almost an all-cojones affair with the exception of Actitud María Marta, a female hip-hop group from Buenos Aires who snap out each word as if they mean it to hurt. They're great, you'll like them. The sweetest track on the album is El Otro Yo's "Una Salida", which, in the middle of rap and pop and vigorous dance mixes of Brazilian drumming (the Gringo Jo remix of "Riva", from Arakatuba, which, if the universe is fair and just, should appear on a thousand dancefloors) steps into the line-up with a noise both unexpected and familiar -- it's a gentle male voice singing, "Da da da da da da. Da da da da da" over a summertime guitar. Good grief. It's twee.

How can I find it in my heart to deny a compilation that gives me the Colombian N.W.A. and the Argentinean Belle and Sebastian?* World Music Network released three new Rough Guides in February and this one is possibly the most enjoyable. (Israel is lovely but asks for a little more attention; Bhangra Dance has less material to pick from and therefore less variety in its playlist.) Not every song is a winner, but there's enough good material here to make it worth your time.

* Not really. After checking their website I'm concluding that El Otro Yo have given up their twee and decided to move toward grunge rock instead.

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