Chico de Oro
We say: Cumbia music meant for shows where you sweat out all your beer
Being called the "superheroes of cumbia" is a pretty bold statement, especially for a band from buttoned-up Chile. Since most people can't name even one other cumbia band, however, we'll take their word for it. Also, the release is on Barbes Records, home to loads of other cumbia music bands, so I guess they oughtta know.
Chico Trujillo has been playing their own unique version of this music for a decade and in that time they've been big headliners in their native Chile and have been ripping it up at music festivals around the world. Cumbia originated around what is now Colombia and Panama, with a mish-mash of African styles and Spanish instruments coming together. Later an accordion got tossed in as well, with legend having it that this happened after some washed ashore when a German cargo ship sank.
This band isn't too concerned about authenticity. They just want you to party. In that vein, most of the album is made up of fun songs with a driving beat and a heavy ska influence—the horn parts are usually trumpet and trombone played with the lungs turned to 11. The songs are a blast even if you don't understand the lyrics, which are laced with jokes and innuendos. A little Spanish will go a long way in understanding their reinterpretations of cumbia classics like "La Cosecha de Mujeres" (women harvest) and "Pollera Amarilla" (yellow skirt). As with a good ska band, this is music meant for dancing, for drinking, and for having a good time. Just hit play and enjoy the exuberent mixture of surf guitars, in-your-face horns, and mad percussion.
Based on the videos I've seen, this would be a scorching band to check out live. They'll be playing a lot of European festivals this summer and are hitting 11 U.S. cities in 15 days. (They start in Austin on June 1 and end up in New York June 15.)
Very be Careful
We say: WTF?
How much do you like the sound of an accordion? The answer to that means a lot when it comes to music from Very Be Careful. When you put this on you're going to hear a lot of accordion, a little percussion, and a base line.
This band plays a pure form of vallenato, a kind of folk music popular around the coastal northeast of Colombia. The credits next to the four members are as follows: accordian, caja vallenata (a type of hand drum), guacharaca (a notched tube with a wire brush), and...cowbell. The press materials call them "L.A.'s hottest party band," which is about the most ridiculously audacious statement I've ever seen on a bio. (And I used to be a marketing manager for a music label!) A limited number of listeners would even consider something with such sparse instrumentation to be "party music" in the first place. For the uninitiated that party would probably need to involve a fire pit on the beach and prodigious amounts of nasty cane liquor.
But it's different at least, so it's easy to understand why those in search of novelty have sought out Very Be Careful. They attract a Latino diaspora crowd of course, but also a fair number of hipsters looking for the next novelty sound. The band respects tradition and shuns the urge to make the music more accessible by adding dubs or electronic beats. Their vallenato sounds pretty much like a vallenato album from the 1960s, but with a little more attitude and edge.
The music on Escape Room does kind of grown on you after a while, sounding less odd after repeated listens. Still, other people walking in while I played it either furrowed their brow and kept quiet to be polite or just blurted out, "That's some strange music you're playing."
That said, if you enjoy Latin folk music in its unadulterated form or just want to treat your ears to something you haven't heard before, get a groove on with Very Be Careful. Follow the links to the right and pick up the physical CD if you like it though: it comes with a 3D cover and glasses!
Putumayo Presents Latin Party
We say: A return to form with a Putumayo album that lives up to its billing
With series names like "groove," "cafe," and "lounge" added to regular compilations just featuring the name of the country or region, it's hard to tell what's what with many Putumayo releases. There's no question on this one, either in the title or what's in the tracks. This is Latin Party music for sure.
Putumayo hits a home run on this compilation, with infectious songs that practically dare you to stay seated. There's cumbia, but from Cuba. Salsa, but from Peru. Boogaloo, but from New York. And Brooklyn Funk Essentials? None of the origins matter when you hit play as this is just a great CD that ping-pongs off the edges of wide-ranging Latino music without ever losing sight of a good rhythm.
As usual with these collections some places get over-represented (in this case Colombia and Cuba) while others get ignored, but this is not meant to be some scholarly overview. Whether it's a wacky musical mash-up from Ska Cubana or Colombian reggae from The Coffee Makers, these are not just routine salsa songs you'll hear blasting out of a convertible in the cities. Bringing in well-known non-Latino acts like Brooklyn Funk Essentials and Quantic may look like a marketing ploy on paper, but there probably won't be any complaints about authenticity when the speakers start pumping. Baila!
Perceptive Travel editor Tim Leffel is author of several books, including The World's Cheapest Destinations. He once wrote bios and marketing copy for now-forgotten rock bands, but he currently spits out more heartfelt raves on the Cheapest Destinations Blog and the Practical Travel Gear Blog.