10 Rock en Español Albums to Listen to Before You Die
|Cafe Tacuba: los reyes|
Every Mexican I know has been laughing these past couple of weeks over Rolling Stone's lame attempt to get wabs to pick up their magazine--oh wait, you didn't hear about it? Where they did a double-cover featuring one in English and another en español--in the back, of course? Hey, Jann Wenner: Plessy v. Ferguson was found unconstitutional a while back, you know?
About the only thing that didn't outright suck was their list of the 10 greatest "Latin rock" albums of all time, and that's only because it was written by my good pal, Ernesto Lechner, who, next to Josh Kun and Enrique Lopetegui, was the best critic of the genre back in our salad days (and I wonder what their list would be?). But even Ernesto's list had to be partly watered down for gabacho tastes (seriously, che: Abraxas?), not just in the album choices, but in that title of "Latin rock," a title for a genre no one has used for a decade (the preferred choice for critics is "Latin alternative," although for the diehards, it'll always be rock en español)
Any 10-whatever-your-modifier list is always wrought with danger, but let me make a case for mine. It'll have some of the greatest albums in the genre, sure, but consider this a simultaneous list for gabachos who want to know what all the fuss is about the genre and for rockeros who need some self-reflection about a genre that once seemed poised to rule the world but is now stuck in a rut of reunions and Zoe ripoffs. This list won't include the pioneers ala Charly Garcia, El Tri, Botellita de Jerez and others because that's the advanced level, chavos: this is for the rookies. And definitely no Brazilians--that's another list. And so, let the second-guessing begin!
10. ¿Dondé Están los Ladrones?, Shakira
Nowadays, the world knows the Colombian as a blonde Athena, a conquering goddess of goodwill--and it's something that drives the hardcore fans among us crazy, with accusations of vendida and past-her-prime whispered all the time even as she sells out arena after stadium. And the English-language media has always been perplexed by Shakira's English-language efforts and its bevy of mixed and dead metaphors. But to dismiss Shakira as light pop is to dismiss her profound effect on femininity in Latin America. Unlike rockera princesses like pre-Sí Julieta Venegas, Ely Guerra, or Andrea Echeverri, Shakira struck a perfect tone between accessibility and rebellion, allowing teenage Latinas in the United States to dream of not having to be an Univisión beauty to be successful as a woman in Latin America.
1998's ¿Dónde Están los Ladrones? is the album that all conscious Chicanas owned and played non-stop from junior high through college, and it's a portend of the Shakira to come, if rougher (and better) around the edges than the present rendition, as best captured by "Ciego, Sordomuda" ("Blind, Deaf, and Dumb"). 14 years later, this song still roars out of the speakers heralding the dawn of a new era--if only Shakira's present stuff was as rip-roaring as this. And bring back those natty dreads!
9. The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera, Los Amigos Invisibles
The trend in Latin alternative for the past seven years has been enjoyable, hedonistic music devoid of politics, not even in a metaphorical, disguised manner (ala Babasónicos), a response to the trials and tribulations and fatigue that Latin America goes through since forever. Take that into consideration, and the best group in that vein becomes Venezuelan sextet, who left the country after the craziness involving Hugo Chávez and thus have devoted their career to some of the funkiest, sex-crazed tracks this side of Blowfly. Their love of funk and disco bunnies mixed with Latin American percussion rhythms predated the tribal movement currently the rage in Mexico and even the much-celebrated Nortec Collective, and this 1998 effort set the template, with paeans to anal sex ("El Disco Anal") and "Ponerte En Cuatro" ("Put You on All Fours") a devilish stream of double-entendres anchored by thunderous timbales that step aside for drum machines and synths. Really, it could've been any Los Amigos Invisible album, as they're one long stew of sex-funk fun--and isn't that what Latinos ultimately want?
8. El Nervio del Volcán, Caifanes
Probably one of the most legitimate criticisms people can make about rock en español is the propensity toward arena rock--and not just any arena rock, but the kind that makes Led Zeppelin look like a folks quartet haunting a coffee shop in the Village during the early 1960s. This explains the enduring popularity of overwrought groups like the Mexican Maná, the Spanish Héroes del Silencio, the Argentine Enanitos Verdes, and many more. But the gods of that genre remain Caifanes (and their later incarnation, Jaguares) whom you might remember as the group that supposedly caused the quick sellout of Coachella back in 2011, much to the racist consternation of dumb hipsters everywhere. Yes, they're KLOS-FM over-the-top, yes they're bombastic, yes lead singer Saúl Hernández thinks of himself too much of as a shaman, but this group launched a thousand indigenistas, who started delving into pre-Hispanic mysticism from Mexico and the Caribbean. Their brand is best shown on their last album, recorded in 1994 and featuring one giant mosh pit of anthems like this one, "Afuera."