Friday, October 30, 2009

Respéte el POP!

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with pop music. The looping beats and catchy refrains are infectious enough to lodge their way into our brains for days. We publicly badmouth that hot, new single until we're safe at home to blast it through our speakers.

If you think American pop music is trouble, check out these Spanish artists that will make your orejas perk up and your friends judge you. Chances are, you've already had a love affair with one of them, so don't think you're above Spanish pop.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Quieres hip hop? Mira aqui!

As reggaeton continues to monopolize the Spanish-language music scene, there are artists out there reclassifying the genre. In fact, these musicians are making a style all of their own. Hip hop has an immense following in the United States, but it is usually overshadowed in Spanish speaking countries because of reggaeton. These artists are making a statement by not following the worn, reggaeton path and people are noticing.

This duo of half-brothers from San Juan, Puerto Rico defy classification ...literally. They vehemently refuse to be labeled as reggaeton. They do, however, accept the categorization of hip hop.

Calle 13 is the Spanish equivalent of Slim Shady (no, not the minority-bashing Eminem, there's a difference). Their cheeky songs are full of parodies and jokes that parents disapprove of and teenagers idolize. The Intro track to their Residente o Visitante album warns listeners with a choir singing the type of Spanish slang that will be used in the disc, like jackass, little boy b!#^$ and a phrase involving male genitalia.

Whether that offends anybody doesn't seem to matter to award committees, because the duo leads the Latin Grammys with five nominations for this year's event. Their nominations include Album of the Year and Best Urban Music Album.

But these rabble rousers are not all jokes and shenanigans. They've made political statements that resulted in cancelled shows. A clever T-shirt commenting on a Colombian mayor's involvement in controversial military bases kept Calle 13 out of the country. These guys can't even find asylum in their own country. Comments about laid off government workers halted a performance in their hometown of San Juan. Ay caray!

These thick-skinned entertainers do have a soft side. Their song "Un Beso de Desayuno"make the sexually charged lyrics of Marvin Gaye fame seem like a nursery rhyme. If the Spanish is too much, look up a translation and try to disagree.

Calle 13 is clearly a talented pair, and their musical diversity supports their refusal to be classified. Their song "La Era de la Copiera" is a taunt to those artists trying to be like them, but they can relax because no one is coming close.

Though she may not be Calle 13, Mala Rodriguez is doing her own thing and doing a damn fine job of it. Straight out of Spain, Mala adds more to Spanish hip hop than her smoking good looks.

Mala is the strong, sexy woman that every music genre needs (imagine Lil' Kim without the jail time). Her song "Nanai" includes the lyrics "look me in the eyes / you want to kill me / I'm not going down." Rhymes like those make her a hip hop artist, but Mala can sing like any other cantante out there.

"Volvere," the first song off her album Malamarismo showcases this feisty songbird's multiple skills. Her gentle coos lull listeners until she starts to rhyme. Before the song ends, she belts out "Yo soy / un mundo enterno." Goosebumps.

She's likely given the same feeling to stupefied listeners around the world. Songs like "Toca Toca" let listeners know that Mala is a strong woman in charge of her life even though she's surrounded by clowns like Calle 13. She knows the capability of her prowess when she rhymes "Besarme / Caida libre." Chances are, most do.

Calle 13 survived their interaction with the songstress and their product was magical. "Mala Suerta con el 13" is a sensual combination of Calle 13's macho tom foolery and Mala's gorgeous voice narrating the track. Their other collaboration, "Pal Norte," is a more upbeat and dance-inducing, but no less impressive.

Al Resto
Alright, that should be enough insight into the world of Spanish hip hop. These musicians are not the only artists on the scene, but a great place to start. Even though there are plenty of songs listed above, I had to leave you with my five extras.

2. Calle 13 - La Fokin Moda
3. Calle 13 - Uiyi Guaye
4. La Mala Rodriguez - Por la Noche
5. La Mala Rodriguez - La Loca


DJ Gringuito

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let's Rock! / Vamos a Roquear!

Rock and roll is as American as apple pie. Too bad someone forgot to tell the world-renowned rockers of the Spanish-language world. These artists can do everything that their U.S. counterparts can, and even add a little Hispanic flare to it. While our rock stars make headlines for their raucous partying, these musicians are receiving international awards and causing international incidents.**


The kings of Spanish rock music are los miembros of Maná. These hombres have rocked Spanish mundo for 30 years. 30 years! They're the Mexican equivalent of U2, and they have the fan base to prove it. If millions of fans worldwide are not reason enough to give these guys a listen, consider their 50+ awards from Billboard, the Grammys and MTV.

The band even traveled to Miami, Florida in 1999 to perform an acoustic set for MTV Unplugged. Although the performance's CD only reached 83 on the Billboard Top 100, it dominated the Latin Billboard charts at number 1 for weeks.

Enough flattery, let's get back to the music. Maná does an excellent job of mixing essential base lines, guitar riffs and drum solos with indigenous Spanish music from both Latin and South America. And the lyrics are just as eclectic. The band sings of everything from faith and revolution to love and heartbreak.

One listen to the band's hit "Justicia, Tierra y Libertad" (Justice, Land and Liberty) could incite a revolution in anyone. An electric guitar drives the song while chorus chants that demand basic human necessities speak for all the unheard indios of the world. The same fervor can be heard in songs like "Nada Que Perder" (Nothing to Lose) and "Fe" (Faith).


Now these musician / revolutionaries are not alone. Colombian-born Juanes is changing the world, raking in the records and swooning the mujeres all in a day's work. The man is a handsome diablo who could be considered the primary masculine sex symbol in the Spanish music world. If his looks and humanitarian work aren't enough, ladies, he was also honored by the government of France as a Knight of Arts and Letters.

Musically, he's just as diversely attractive and his lyrics are laden with tempting innuendos. The Dominican Republic banned his hit "La Camisa Negra" (The Black Shirt) because of its sexually suggestive themes. As offensive as that might seem, Juanes and his black shirt caused even more trouble in Italy. In 2005, los italianos suspected Juanes of fascist ties with his Nazi-rallying song supporting Mussolini followers who wore black shirts. Yikes!

Understandably, this grave misunderstanding did not affect Juanes' image at all. This human rights advocate has earned numerous awards for his coordinating international music festivals. His most recent festival, "Peace Without Borders," received major media attention and plenty of criticism when it was held in (still communist) Cuba. He explained that the controversial nation is a symbol of change and that people of the world need to change as well.


Out of all the of Spanish-language music out right now, Maná and Juanes are two of the easiest bands to enjoy. From light, poppy dance tunes to loud, fast jams, these musicians have something for everyone. If you're learning Spanish, this is the music you should be listening to for help. The best was to learn any language is full immersion into the culture, and the slow, enunciated lyrics of Maná and Juanes practically invite aspiring Hispano hablantes. Adding to the songs mentioned earlier, here are some great places to start your lesson.

1. Maná - Angel de Amor

2. Maná - No Voy a Ser Tu Esclavo

3. Maná - Labios Compartidos

4. Juanes - Es Por Ti

5. Juanes - Para Ser Eterno


DJ Gringuito

**Disclaimer - There will be no embarrassing anecdotes this week.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Salso: no, not the condiment, idiota.

Salsa is the term used for a wide variety of Spanish music. As a rhythm-less white guy from Southwestern Pennsylvania, I can say that this is the most exciting music that the Spanish mundo has to offer. But before I disclose all the embarrassing anecdotes of my attempts to enjoy salsa socially, a brief history lesson.

Salsa was not always known as salsa. In the revolutionary land of Cuba, salsa's precursor, son, was fused from African and Caribbean roots. I can easily say that two better music styles could not have been picked. No, not even Limp Bizkit's infamous Rap / Rock nonsense can top the upbeat tempos and audience participation that make salsa so fun. Sorry, Fred, your TRL fame cannot compete with decades of tradition.

Salsa bands are the equivalent of the big band orchestras that rocked the 30s and 40s of the Swing Era. Granted, cornerstones of the salsa band like claves and timbales had no place in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, but the two styles are quite similar in live performances. Both fill the stage with instruments to enliven the crowd onto the dance floor, and both rely on a lead vocalist to interact with the crowd.

Dayron y el Boom at Mambo Café in Mérida, Mexico showcase what to expect from the salsa experience: a full horn section, choreographed dance moves and, of course, a waterfall cascading in the background. Okay, maybe that last part is unique to Mambo Café, but you get the idea.

The major difference between these two genres is that Swing music faded into U.S. history, while Salsa continues to thrive in all areas of the Hispano hablante world. The music and dancing are embedded into Latin American culture. Everybody dances! The old couple in matching yellow outfits still move like they did when they were courting. The tough guys at the bar move their body in a dark club more than at the local gym. Back in the good ol' U.S. of A, most clubs are full of inebriated individuals trying their darnedest to practically fornicate on the dance floor. Where's the style, passion and culture in that?

Studying in México, I witnessed the craze that is salsa. From the gorgeous señorita to the lanky, ñoño,everyone knows how to dance. The innate ability to move their bodies so effortlessly is admirable. But rather than idly admire, I decided to join in the reverie.

Strike one.

My shoulder bobbing and foot stomping immediately attracted stares (as if being a half foot taller than everyone else on the dance floor wasn't enough).

In an effort to turn my luck around, I decided to approach girls asking "puedes enseñarme?" (can you teach me?).

Strike two.

If you're going to impress a member of the opposite sex on the dance floor, asking for a lesson is not the way. Embarrassment aside, failing at salsa was muchisimo more enjoyable than the classless bump and grind typical of dance clubs in the United States. Skill is required!

So I left México without any stories of sweeping a beautiful chica off her feet.

Strike three.

But in an effort to absorb some of the salsa culture, I have taken a few dance classes. Some were large groups of West Coast style salsa, and others taught New York style to small classes. Salsa truly is everywhere, and each place has its own variation of the music, dance and culture.

Now, I don't claim to be much better than I was in México, but as soon as restrictions are lifted from Cuba, you can be sure that this gringo will be on the first plane there to enjoy some cigars, mojitos, and an awkward dance or two. Who knows, maybe the mojitos will bring out the Marc Anthony in me.

Listen to any of these artists, and you'll be signing up for dance lessons as soon as you can find a place in Southeast Ohio that offers them. Qué chistoso! Good luck!

1. Celia Cruz

2. Johnny Pacheco

3. Wayne Gorbea

4. Ismael Rivera

5. Marc Anthony

Stay spicy,

DJ Gringuito