Latinos, and Asians, and Blacks…Oh My!

Vivan Los Mejicas: A truly versatile and multiculturally diverse dance ensemble like no other!

Los Mejicas @ 40th Anniversary Spring Show

Where to begin? or better yet, how to begin this piece? For the second year in a row, and thanks to the gracious invitation of my dear niece Erica Mendoza Cortés, a junior at the gorgeous campus of UC Santa Cruz, I’ve made the road pilgrimage up north from Los Angeles with my sister and other family members to see her perform in the university’s one and only Ballet Folklorico Los Mejicas!

Formed in 1972, this year marked the organization’s 40th anniversary, a feat all on its own, and quite a special reunion for some of the alumni of the group, who came back to either cheer the current members and enjoy the 3-hour long show, or even join in a very emotional and special Jalisco performance (alumni from years past, which dated to an impressive class of ’73, Guadalupe Friaz and Deborah Palacios Perez to some more recent alumni from 2011).

Ay Jalisco no te rajes!

While several universities across the country, I’m sure, have Mexican or Latin American folk groups, I must admit, seeing Los Mejicas perform makes knots in my throat and makes me very proud to see a newer generation of Latinos and non Latinos keeping traditional Mexican folklore “a flor de piel,” in other words, alive and kicking!

To say that Los Mejicas are great is truly an understatement, and while they are no Ballet Folklorico de Amalia Hernández, Mexico’s world-renowned, elite national folklorico dance company, Los Mejicas certainly put passion, soul and countless hours of rehearsals in the midst of their academic demands and scholastic responsibilities.  To see Los Mejicas is just as rewarding as seeing Amalia’s company… why? Because, not only are these students volunteering to perform, some with no previous dance experience, but you can tell in their performance and their faces, their pride in being part of something truly special. And to be honest, call me sheltered, I had never seen a ballet folklorico mexicano with an African-American or an Asian face, which to my pleasant surprise was part of Los Mejicas fabric and composition; basically it’s in their DNA, and that my friends, is what makes this group brilliant and unique!

The annual spring show is a journey through some key states of the United States of Mexico (Mexico’s official name); a journey into the customs, and rich cultural and musical diversity found in a country predominantly defined by its iconic Mayan and Aztec heritage and tumultuous history.  One thing Los Mejicas do superbly well is not only entertain, but also educate those who are lucky to go see them perform. The program details in a concise manner each region that they perform, giving the spectator a much better understanding of what it is they’re about to see.

This year the show highlighted some typical and expected Mexican staples, such as Jalisco, Veracruz and Chiapas, but also served on a silver platter lesser known dances from states like Yucatán, Guerrero, Aguascalientes, Sonora and Baja California.

Photo by Rebecca Mendoza

One thing I’d like to suggest, and the only constructive criticism to Los Mejicas is that whoever is producing the show needs to edit and filter out some of the excesses that make the show drag a bit too long.  Los Mejicas are good enough on their own to carry out the show without guest performances by singer interludes (which by the way, unless they’re coming out with a full Mariachi ensemble, should probably not be singing rancheras to a Karaoke mariachi track- I’m just sayin’) or have lower caliber and lackluster dance groups, such as Grupo de Danza y Baile Centeotl de Santa Cruz (major YAWN), who by the way, in my opinion, over extended their stay by performing 3, 4 or 5 numbers that were practically killing an audience who was desperate to continue watching the high-energy and passionate performances of Los Mejicas, the stars of the night.  Remember, less is more and what are you told to do before you leave your house? Look at yourself in the mirror and take one or two things that first catch your eye in the mirror… in Los Mejicas case, the two aforementioned numbers and the introductory narration done for each region before each number… hey, we have the program, so no need to eat time from your amazing performance. All in all, Los Mejicas folklorico company, because that’s what they are, are a fun bunch to watch, applaud and commend for their hard work, selfless dedication and effort to include all races to experience the wonders, and magic of Mexican folklore.  Keep up the good work ladies and gents… your hard work did not go unnoticed, and probably never will!

A Very Mexican Musical: Si Nos Dejan

I know it may sound unconventional or even as a paradox to put the words Mexican and musical together, but it actually does happen, and more than you know or can imagine.  Mexico City (DF) offers some of the most enriching cultural experiences in the planet.  As a matter of fact, I can actually venture to firmly say that “el DF” is the NYC of Latin America.  It has the feel and look of a cosmopolitan metropolis like the Big Apple and offers just as much culture and art in the compact confines of its concrete jungle.

While Mexican theater and musicals are no novelty in Mexico, the latest tribute to Mexican folklore and the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema is by far “sui generis.”  Mexico has produced and offered thousands of Broadway musicals in Spanish, from Cats to Evita and if you ever want a brilliant sampler of a Spanish rendition of some of Broadway’s’ biggest hits, look for Rocio Banquells’ Un sueño alguna vez soñé album, it’s worth every track.  Other Mexican theater productions worth mentioning  are Aventurera  produced by Mexican theater and cinema icon Carmen Salinas, and Perfume de Gardenia produced by Omar Suárez.

Si nos dejan, one of Mexico’s signature staple mariachi songs, penned by perhaps the single most prolific writer in the ranchero genre Jose Alfredo Jimenez, is the inspiration and driving force behind the musical Si nos dejan, el gran musical mexicano, which opened in the summer of 2011 in Mexico City.  The musical, directed by Jose Manuel Lopez Velarde is a tribute not only to Mr. Jimenez but to the legendary iconography of the splendor of Mexican Cinema in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and the melodrama of the all too familiar Mexican telenovela.

Si nos dejan is set in an abandoned Cine Mexico, which is discovered by a mariachi band looking for a place to rehearse.  In the old and abandoned ruins of the once great Cine Mexico, the band members switch on the projector of the theater which gives life to the last film that was showcased in the movie house a few decades before.  And this is how the movie comes to life in a very clever and outstanding amalgamation of multimedia features juxtaposed with conventional theatrical sets.  Starring a talented cast of actors led by Leticia Lopez (Paloma) and Mariano Palacios (Jose Alfredo) with their respective sidekicks Ricardo Maza as Tristán and Michelle Rodriguez as Eufemia, Si nos dejan takes the viewer through an amazing journey of Mexican staples, mostly from Jose Alfredo Jimenez, but sprinkled with some Juan Gabriel and Agustin Lara tracks.

Unless you have grown up or been around the vernacular and traditional mariachi music and have read some of Mexico’s or Latin America’s greatest writers like Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Mario Vargas Llosa, then the Magic Realism in the production, which I will not spoil, will definitely go over your head, as I noticed it did a good friend of mine who is of Basque descent and who lives in DF and simply could not get past the idea of a part in the musical, which takes on the magical realm of the concept of death, resurrection, and La Llorona, a very Mexican and indigenous embedded tradition.

Aside from the gorgeous multimedia effects that recreate scenes of the ocean or cotton fields in California, the unbelievable mash-ups done with some of Mexico’s most iconic songs is simply to die for.  Imagine a masterful mix mashup of Por un amor and Volver volver, or Estos celos and La ley del monte, and my favorite No volvere and La media vuelta… the thought alone gives me goose bumps all over again.

To say that Si nos dejan is a masterpiece would be an understatement.  It is an invocation of all things Mexican, from the colorful costumes, to the “albures” and Mexican colloquialisms that are now common place anywhere in Latin America thanks to the very cinematography that Mexico exported to the world in its Golden Age, the era of glamour and distinction that El Indio Fernandez, Pedro Armendaris, Maria Felix, Dolores del Rio, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Antonio Aguilar, Cantinflas, Flor Silvestre, Silvia Pinal, and Tin Tán, to name very few, made so glorious and unforgettable to Latinos all over the world.

The powerful performances of the lead characters, supported by the ravishing vocals of Juan Navarro as El Rey and Maria Filippini as Doña Lola, truly make of this musical a production up to par with and able to rival any Broadway production or any London show.

Whether this production will ever make it north of the Mexico border is yet to be seen, but if it does, you can rest assured I will go see it again.  If it does come to the US, you should consider going yourself.  If you like mariachi music, stellar vocals and Mexican melodrama, then Si nos dejan is the perfect solution for that nostalgia of a good old fashion classic romantic story.

Si nos dejan is by far the most Mexican musical you’ll ever witness.  It will make you cry, it will make you laugh and it will remind you of how rich our Mexican and/or Latino culture/heritage really is.  The goose bumps and tears are merely optional!

 

Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?

Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com

If the answer to the question in the headline is yes, then you’re absolutely in tune and “en la onda” with one of Mexico’s hottest pop stars on the planet, yes, that would be Gloria Treviño, better known as Gloria Trevi.

I recently saw her at the Nokia Theater as a part of the LéaLA book expo in Downtown Los Angeles; I’m still missing the connection between these two, but I guess it was part of a cultural exchange with the Fundación Universidad de Guadalajara and the Feria del Libro, which included other cultural components, in this case, popular music.

Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012
Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com

Gloria Trevi, the scandalous and iconic former fugitive, later acquitted of all charges super pop diva phenomenon that made headlines the world over, proved once again, as she always has, that despite her sordid past, and let’s just leave it there, in the past, she is first and foremost an amazing and talented entertainer.  She not only delivers the goods, she serves them to her audience in a platinum platter with diamond encrusted silverware ready to be devoured by her adoring legion of fans, who by the way, never for an instant left her side during those stormy years. If scandal is King in entertainment media, then redemption must be God!

As I walked into the venue, the opening music was none other than “Gloria” by Laura Branigan, a perfectly fitting track for a woman who went to hell and back to restore her dignity, integrity and her image as a human being and later as an artist.

I had seen Gloria not too long after she made her comeback to the stage, following the exoneration and release of all charges and her time served in the Chihuahua State Penitentiary, and at that time, I remember she was pregnant.  I took my friend Steven, a 2nd generation Latino from Kansas, who had heard about “La Trevi” from the many news articles in mainstream media, but had never seen her perform, and neither had I for that matter.  So off we went to see this rare and exotic beast that was being exhibited around the world stages as some kind of freak show act in a wacky circus extravaganza.

I will never forget my friend Steven’s expression and state of astonishment, which probably was the same state I was in when we saw Gloria Trevi for the first time in LA after her release.  She was indeed a monster on that stage, tearing it up and pouring her soul and her heart to her adoring fans, with the rage of an unwavering tornado spreading tears of joy, gratitude and love for her fans and the trade that she so much loves, music!

Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com
Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com

Seeing her on stage at Nokia all these years later, still reminded me of that moment and Steven’s reaction, saying how much Gloria reminded him of a raw Janis Joplin, and a strange amalgamation between Cindy Lauper, Madonna and Deborah Harry all wrapped into one perfect essential pop diva.  I had to agree with him.

You see, what separates the Lionesses from your regular stray, and run of the mill pop pussy cats is the innate ability to capture, engage and connect with your audience, a gift that only great performers can master.  And Gloria does exactly that, much like Maná.  They both touch very sensitive cultural and nostalgic fabrics and fibers, not only of the Mexicans and Mexican Americans living in the US, but also that of the myriad Latin Americans who in that spirit of cultural connectivity, also find a collective sigh of understanding and identification that makes any Latino’s heart beat at the rhythm of any Latin sound, whether it’s Bachata, Mariachi, Salsa, Merengue, Mambo, Cumbia, Vallenato, Reggaetón, Samba, Bossa Nova, or even Flamenco.

Gloria Trevi is not only iconic because of her stage persona, but like Selena, Celia Cruz and many of the stars in the Pantheon of Latin music idols, she is an artist who touches the ground firmly and is acutely aware of her humanity and the significance of her audience.  Artists like these are unique idols, because they touch us beyond the sound of a music note, they move our being because we see them as one of us, no matter how far or how deep they appear to be in the stratosphere of fame and celebrity.

Gloria rocked at the Nokia and as God as my witness I want to see her over and over again, because unlike the Branigan lyrics, I don’t think she’s fallin’ and from what I could tell, everybody still wants her and everybody is still callin…calling GLORIA!!!

Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com
Gloria Trevi in concert at Nokia, May 11, 2012- Photo by LethalFatal.com

The New Mexicans: Latin Alternative Music Redefined

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She's A Tease

What once was considered alternative in the 80’s and 90’s is now pretty mainstream, and by that I mean a lot of the non-pop Latin acts of the decade, later labeled as Rock en Español acts, the likes of Caifanes, Maldita Vecindad, Ely Guerra, El Tri, Soda Stereo, Alaska y Dinarama and Café Tacuba.

Latin Alternative music as I understand it and hereby define, is all the new wave of music that does not conform to the constraints of whatever is in vogue, whether it is pop music, rock or even hip-hop.  I think that for a Latin artist or any music artist for that matter, to be considered an Alternative act, really needs to step out of the collective box of what we know and recognize as common place and take us to that “aha moment, that element of surprise and intrigue, pretty much like Café Tacuba did in their time, or Fangoria continues to do in the electronic pop scene.  But let’s not go too far, many Mexican contemporary acts have done just that, think Plastilina Mosh, Kinky, Nortec Collective and even MIS (Mexican Institute of Sound).

The point is that in order to stay alternative, you can’t conform or remain formulaic, because as in most any genre, it becomes cyclical and expected, and by its very nature, the norm; does Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Green Day, Amy Winehouse or even Adele, who was initially only played in public radio (KCRW in Los Angeles) here in the U.S. when commercial radio wasn’t even giving her the light of day, ring any bells?

So, Latin Alternative music is no different than its English counterpart, and recently has been experiencing a rise in new talent giving lots of “aha” moments or just some plain out genius acts, such as Max Capote, whom I wrote about recently.

The following are just a few of the hot new acts spreading like wild fire in the Latin Alternative music scene, and who should not go unnoticed. Oh, and they’re all Mexican, so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Ximena Sariñana

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Ximena Sariñana

You may know her as a Latin Alternative vixen, but this young Mexican started her career in acting in Mexico, starring in a string of telenovelas such as Luz Clarita, Maria Isabel and Gotita de Amor, and films with her director/producer father Fernando Sariñana, where she usually played the spoiled “fresa” brat in films such as “Amar Te Duele,” “Niñas Mal,” and “Dos Pasos,” to name a few.  But her big breakthrough in music came with the release of her debut studio album “Mediocre” in 2008, which had gems such as Normal, Vidas Paralelas, La Tina and No Vuelvo Mas.

Critically acclaimed for her first studio album, Ximena became the new face and darling of the Mexican Alternative sound, which rivaled her counterparts in the UK and the U.S.  But Ximena was destined for a greater audience and well deserving of the mainstream spotlight, and as such, her label commissioned her to release her sophmore effort in English, and in 2011 her self titled album was released in North America. The first single Different, is a fast tempo psychodelic and groovy tune that just reminds you of how fun it is to be “from a different world.”  Other hot tracks that should not be missed include Shine Down, Echo Park, Love Again, Wrong Miracle, and the only Spanish track Tu y Yo.  The world has yet to discover this latest Mexican export, and she is hotter than “un chile habanero,” so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, ‘cause this girl will burn you, but in a hot & spicy way!

 

 

 

 

She’s A Tease

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She's A Tease

Again, another hot band from Mexico.  Now, while I don’t know much about them, I heard them on an alternative radio station in Los Angeles, specifically KCRW 89.9 FM.  They record in both English and Spanish and have a very cool 80’s retro sound comprised of synthpop and electro rock jams. The 4 piece band is from Monterrey, Mexico and it seems like they are a quintisential representation of the new Latin Alternative sound, which is bilingual, and they swing from one language to the other with the same ease a skateborder will manifest his prowess in the ramps and steps of the Venice Boardwalk.

“They’re big fans of over-the-top elements like a sassy sax solo, a shimmery sound effect, a touch of Bee Gees-style funk. Then they like to throw in some growling guitar riffs, and voilá, you can’t get them out of your head. It’s hard to have an attitude around stuff like that, especially when they roll it out with such conviction. It’s hard to hold still. No wonder the boys are favorites in their home city and quickly making waves beyond. Their heart-string-tugging single “Datos Intimos” caused a stir in 2009 and their recent debut album Millionaria has been greeted with sheer glee. And, with enticing tracks in both English and Spanish, the joy is sure to spread far and wide,” wrote Toksala on MTV Iggy

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For a much better and detailed review on these guys check out MTV’s Iggy page to see their take on She’s a Tease.

Tracks you can’t possibly miss on the Millonaria album are my favorite track Datos íntmos, Why, Genio de los deseos and Fiebre de Jack.

Hello Seahorse

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Hello Seahorse

Another Mexican alternative pop band, very much a la Jimena Xariñana, and with a sound very  reminiscent of L.A.’s own Los Abandoned, Hello Seahorse offers an eclectic mix of some crazy, hot tracks in both English and Spanish dealing with surrealistic and funky themes, that at the end of the day are plain out fun and like they say “simple things make me feel so good.”

One of the things that makes this band stand out has to be lead vocalist Denise Gutierrez’s psyhcodelic vocals and her ability to make you feel giddy. The album, which introduced me to them was Hoy a las ocho, which was launched in the U.S. in 2009.  So, if you need a point of reference, at least their track Bestia reminded me of their fellow Mexican bretheren Zoé, who alone, require their own piece in the Mexican alternative scene.  Hot tracks on Hoy a las ocho include: OK!…Lobster, Won’t Say Anything and No encontré nada and Atardecer en Parapent .

Carla Morrison

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Carla Morrison

And last but definitely not least, is the Baja California native Carla Morrison, of whom I know the least, but was highly recommended to me by my good friend at Billboard, Justino Aguila, who actually interviewed her and I felt his piece would do Carla more justice than me basing a review on her masterpiece Déjenme Llorar, which is the first single from her album with same name.

So if you thought that Mexico was only able to serve Mariachi, telenovelas, tacos and tamales, well, you’re in for a big surprise when you discover that some of the hottest Latin Alternative sounds are coming straight out of our back yard in Mexico, and up to par with any English-speaking band from anywhere in the world.  Bilingual and bicultural is the new wave, and I think all these artists get the reality of our ever smaller and changing planet.  Vivan los alternativos, long live the out of the box thinkers.

Casa de mi Padre: Best Movie You’ll Ever Read!

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Will Ferrell in Spanish? Really? Now, my first reaction was total skepticism.  I thought, how is this “gringo” gonna pull this off? Second, for the record, I’m not a fan of his, so my uncertainty and negative perceptions about going to see this movie were already heightened and not very promising.

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Casa de mi Padre, a film brought to us by Pantaleon Films (a joint venture comprised of Televisa and Lionsgate) is a parody of sorts.  The film pokes fun at the low budget, silly B films of the 60’s and 70’s, as well as the melodrama of the Mexican telenovela genre (soap operas), which have been packaged and branded by the Mexican media giant Televisa since time immemorial. Add a sprinkle of Quentin Tarantino blood fest, and I think you have yourself a Hollywood hit.

So, having said this, I was quite intrigued by the concept and felt that given the slim pickings we as Latinos have as far as representation in Hollywood, it was only fair to give this film a chance and go see it for myself in order to enable and sustain my criticism of the merits and/or faults of the final product.

One of the main motivations to see Casa de mi Padre in all honesty for me, was to see Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal reprise their work together.  They’re like the modern Mexican version of Laurel & Hardy, and to this date, seeing them share credits on screen has not ever disappointed me (Y tu mamá también and Rudo y Cursi).  So, in my case, Will Ferrell was definitely not the main reason why I went to see this film, though the fact that he was portraying a Spanish speaking Mexican in the film, was without a doubt, an interesting gem that did pique my interest at the end of the day… it was either gonna be really stupid and ludicrous (in good Ferrell tradition), or it was going to be genius (a new adjective I was going to apply to Mr. Ferrell for the first time ever).  I’m happy to report, Will Ferrell’s performance blew me away, and to his credit, he hit a homerun with his rendition of Armandito Alvarez in the film.

As a trained linguist, I can tell you his diction and pronounciation were on target, with a few excetpions. The guy actually rolled his R’s and pronounced his T’s and D’s as a Spanish native speaker, and that my friends, is quite impressive coming from an anglo saxon English speaker.  I think for the first time, I was able to appreciate Ferrell’s comedic timing and the genius of his facial expressions.  Will Ferrell had me at “hello” from the opening scene to the end of the film.

The opening credits take us back to the B movies of the 60’s and 70’s with cool graphics dressed with Christina Aguilera’s powerful and soulful rendition of the movie’s main track La Casa.  The silliness of the fake backdrops, fake horses and other campy sets and tricks are simply to die for.  The hot Latin new comer vixen Genesis Rodriguez (Jose Luis Rodriguez “el Puma’s” dauther; who also has a singing cameo in film) was flawless in her performance as the typical telenovela damsel in distress, and Diego Luna and Gael Garcia, well, they’re just awesome in everything they do, and the chemistry between them and Ferrell is simply the stuff of movie magic.Image

So, do I recommend the film? ABSOLUTELY.  It will make you laugh and reminisce of your childhood, when la familia gathered around the living room to watch “Los ricos también lloran”, “Cuna de lobos” or “Santa”.  It will transport you to a time of innocense and a time when life was just a bit more simple.

The soundtrack is hot, but then again, so is the fact that Mr. Ferrell took a risk and believed in this oddball project, which from the audience’s reaction that day at the Arclight Hollywood, will pay off, and may yield great results for his career and that of Luna and Garcia Bernal’s…not to mention the backers of the project, Pantaleon Films.

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This one is a keeper and I can’t wait to own it on DVD.

Max Capote: Rock Latino A La Mowtown!

Listening to Max Capote is like being transported to the late 60’s or early 70’s and finding yourself with a glass of cognac at some smoky lounge bar with red velvet walls and red leather booths and chairs with a singer like this Uruguayan Grammy nominated newcomer (nominated for Best New Artist in recent edition of 2011 Latin Grammys in Las Vegas!).  His new album Chicle is as sticky as a juicy watermelon bubble gum!

Unfortunately, I was not there to meet Mr. Capote, but Justino Aguila of Billboard Magazine was and he got a chance to not only interview the man, but also hang out with him while in Vegas.  It is Justino Aguila who introduced me to Max Capote and who first told me about this singer -songwriter…all I have to say is: I was blown away by his sound. The description given to me by Aguila, which I later read on Billboard.Biz, was beyond accurate.

Let me put it to you this way, if the Blues Brothers and Amy Winehouse would have conceived a child, it would have been without a doubt Max Capote.  With a raspy voice reminiscent of El Tri’s Alex Lora, Max Capote serves camp, and throwback Latin rock that thanks to its guitar riffs and organ wailing (Maria Carolina track) unavoidably makes you think of yesteryear when you perhaps were a kid sitting in your mom’s living room on flowery couches covered in plastic, in those days when women had their hairdos higher than a beehive and the time when baby blue eye shadow and thick eyeliner was all the rage… that’s Max Capote from a stylistic point of view.

It’s hard not to think of Amy Winehouse, like Aguila points out, but when you hear about Capote’s musical influences, ranging from James Brown, Jerry Lewis and Little Richard to other Motown masters, it’s easy to understand his infatuation with that era’s sound.  It’s hard to pick a favorite track, because they’re all so unique and pleasant to the ear.  My only complain is that the tracks seem to be too short…either that or he’s simply just that good that you can’t get enough of his voice and the nostalgia in his sound.  The album includes a revised version of the classic Perfidia, which he masterfully transforms from a bolero into his own, giving it a rockabilly twist that well, only Max Capote can get away with.

Think of Max Capote as the 21st Century version of Enrique Guzman (Los Teen Tops) or Cesar Costa, a very well produced, stylized and superbly arranged modern rockero with as much of a hint of a relentless playboy as well as a man of eternal mystery.

He definitely fills a void in the scarce Latin male alternative rockers field that the likes of Gustavo Cerati and Miguel Mateos left empty some time ago.  If he plays his cards right, Max Capote may just be the replacement we’ve all been waiting for.  In my book, this guy will have the last laugh at the Poker table.

Forget Lady Gaga: New Dance Divas on Demand…

Dance Diva Inna

I can’t believe it’s been 2 years sine I’ve been listening to Sirius Satellite Radio and the best part of it all is my discovery of 3 great stations: BPM, Electric Area and Chill!

I’ve also gotten into the dangerous habit of typing in my Blackberry or iPhone in my music notes the tunes that I’d like to buy or listen to again while driving, I know, bad boy… but when you’re a musicologist like me, well, you do what you gotta do, and I can’t afford to forget the name of a hot dance track or a great chill out tune.

Since I’ve been a fan of these commercial free stations, I’ve been exposed to new dance/electronica artists that I would otherwise never have a chance to listen to on commercial radio.  One of these acts is Inna, a Romanian dance diva, who leaves Britney Spears and Katy Perry in the dust and can rival Lady Gaga when it comes to an innovative, fresh, upbeat and unique dance sound.  Surprisingly enough, Inna is one of those club music recording artists that you will hear at dance club but most likely will rarely hear in your ordinary, run of the mill commercial Top 40 pop stations. A star in her home country, Inna has slowly but solidly been climbing the UK dance charts and is now popping up in American radio air waves…she’s definitely on my auditory radar!

Having said that, I give you Inna and her latest full length album aptly titled I Am the Club Rocker, which was released this past September 2011.  The album is packed with dance club cuts that are simply hard to resist…and if you have two hips, or even one, you’ll know what I mean when you bump this album in your car, house party or on your next run, bike ride or hike.

The CD opens with one of my favorite tracks, Un Momento, and it sets the tone for what is to come in the remaining 13 tracks that comprise the album.  In this track, Inna breaks out into a hot Spanish hook and features the Spanish rapping of Spanish sensation Juan Magan…frankly, when listening to this tune you really feel like you’re transported to a hot bar or club in Ibiza, Málaga, Mykonos or Miami. Un Momento is followed by the Ke$ha/Britney sounding Club Rocker, and while not one of my favorites, it definitely defines her sound but it also places Inna on the radar and map of dance club divas, whether Lady Gaga, Britney Spears or Katy Perry like it or not.

Other tracks you can’t miss and that stand on their own merit due to their uptempo, syncopated rhythms include House is Going On, the end-of-summer  and sizzling Sun Is Up, Señorita, Put Your Hands Up and the hot “feel good” No Limit.

The second hot new dance queen to be dominating BPM and Area radio time has to be, without doubt, Danish pop/dance/R&B singer and songwriter Medina Danielle Oona Valbak, who goes by her first name Medina. Also a record label mate with Inna, Ultra Records, Medina’s album Welcome to Medina was released in the U.S. in September, 2011.  The single You and I is a hot dance track that pretty much identifies her sound and what you can expect from the rest of the tracks.  If you like Kaskade, REINA and Inna, then Medina will not disappoint.

The opening track Welcome to Medina, is basically her way of inviting you to her roller coaster of music that will elevate your senses to club music heaven… “I’m naked for you just like a stripper, I’ll take you any place you wanna see…no it’s right here in my hands I’m gonna feed ya, I wanna feed ya in your secret fantasies,” yep, that’s how she opens musical world, welcoming you to her world and her fantasy.

Medina

Nonetheless, my favorite track of the entire album has to be hands down “Addiction,” a song that’s melancholic without being tragic, and tender without being overly dramatic, and this pretty much summarizes Medina’s album.  It’s electronic dance music that shines for its impeccable story telling ability and Medina’s sultry, soft and angelic vocals on each track. Welcome to Medina is a dance-romantic album that celebrates the excitement of falling in love, as she does in tracks like In Your Arms or Happy, but also laments the sorrows that come with falling out of love, as she masterfully does in Lonely, Gutter, The One or Execute Me.

Medina

Again, if you’re into electronic/dance music, these two ladies should be in your iTunes library or whatever device you use to hear your music.  Dance is back thanks to stations like BPM and Area, or the myriad internet radio stations you can find on Slacker, Pandora or iTunes Radio.  If you already listen to them, then talking to you about Inna and Medina is really preaching to the choir.

La Pau Power Regresa Bravísima!

Finalmente salio a la venta la anticipada y nueva produccion de Paulina Rubio, Brava! y la verdad solo me resta decir: Genial!

Indudablemente, con Brava! Pau se consolida de una vez por todas como la reina indiscutible del pop en español.  La continuidad que ha demostrado en su envidiable trayectoria en los últimos cinco discos deja clarísimo que la Chica Dorada tiene un sonido muy propio y un sello distintivo muy Pau, que ha venido puliendo y perfeccionando con una innata habilidad artística que separa a las maestras de las estudiantes.

Su agilidad de permanencia y trabajo constante en una industria que lleva ya varios años en un estado de coma perpetuo,  se refleja en este último disco.  Brava! nos muestra a una Paulina Rubio divertida y versátil que se camuflajea sin complicaciones y con singular facilidad entre diva, femme fatal, dance queen y la chica frágil, enamorada y sensible de cualquier entorno social.

En esta nueva colección de temas inéditos, Pau vuelve a deleitarnos en inglés con dos temas muy prendidos, All Around the World y Heat of the Night, las cuales sorpresivamente funcionan muy bien y están muy de acorde con el sonido Euro Dance que tanto ha surgido entre artistas como Pitbull, Medina, e Inna.  Mi única critica así medio sangrona es que al disco realmente le hicieron falta algunos bonus tracks en dance remixes por algún DJ de la talla de Jason Bentley, David Guetta, o Miguel Migs, Victor Calderone o Junior Vasquez. Fuera de eso, si escuchas Heat of the Night, definitivamente estarás de acuerdo en que es una rola que igual puede sonar en un antro del DF, como Londres, Rio, Ibiza, Nueva York o París. 

El primer sencillo, Me gustas tanto, es una rola prendida y divertida, y al ver el video, la Pau me recordó mucho a una joven Marta Sánchez.  La rola es suave, pero con un beat bastante pegajoso con matices electrónicos que la hacen una de las mejores del disco.  Entre las románticas que cabe destacar figuran la tierna y sensual Sabes que te amo y Que estuvieras aqui.  Y claro, no podía faltar la ranchera pop que Paulina convirtiera en un sello muy propio en el 2000  con El último adiós: Volvamos a empezar, la cual reemplaza las trompetas y guitarras innatas de la ranchera y las substituye con la guitarra eléctrica y la batería a flor de piel!

Y bueno, una de las joyas del disco tiene que ser la colaboración que hizo con Taboo en Hoy me toca a mí; definitivamente pop al por mayor.

Si el disco anterior de Gran City Pop fue pop en español en su máxima expresión, Brava! es la culminación y coronación de Paulina Rubio como la máxima exponente del género y de la evolución del mismo gracias a la fusión de ritmos que van desde el Hip Hop, la Ranchera, y el Dance creando asi un pop fusionado  del Siglo XXI que sólo Paulina ha podido dominar y entregar de una manera autentica, honesta e indiscutiblemente valiente y brava!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crooked Stilo: Yep, the New Kings of West Coast Latin Hip Hop!

Crooked Stilo

I first met Victor and Johnny Lopez, the brothers who make up Crooked Stilo back in my days at the Univision Records label; though they were repped in PR by my buddy Mariluz Gonzalez on the Fonovisa Records side of the Univision Music Group House.  It was in the exciting year of 2004 when we were exploring uncharted territory in a new West Coast movement baptized as the Urban Regional Movement.  It was a style of music that fused Regional Mexican music with the crazy, bumpin’ beats of general market Hip Hop, but en español!  The leaders of the pack at the time was AKWID (brothers Sergio and Francisco Gomez), closely followed by Jae-P and Crooked Stilo.

However, what made Crooked Stilo stand out and really shine was the cultural mix they brought to the table: they weren’t Mexican!  Crooked Stilo brought a Central American sensibility, a middle ground if you will, that neither Akwid nor the East Coast Hip Hop artists of the Reggaeton movement were addressing, and that was the tropical rhythms of merengue and cumbia fused with Hip Hop, puro guanaco!

While Akwid went on to great commercial success, their sound stopped evolving and the Gomez brothers truly missed the boat that Reggaeton had anchored as their underlying sound: dance music.  So, East Coast “tsunamied” the West Coast artists and basically made their sound the norm of a thriving bilingual generation waiting for a movement to call their own.

So, fast forward to 2011, and the underdogs of a movement now defunct, in their constant refinement and polishing of their sound and style present their latest bilingual production Los Titulares!  Undoubtedly, Victor and Johnny are like fine wine, in this case, some fine ass Salvadoran wine.  In this new album, Crooked Stilo serves in a silver platter a hot collection of collaborations and fused rhythms that range from cumbia sonidera in perhaps one of the hottest tracks of the album, Cumbia Chueca featuring legendary Celso Piña, to the crazy merengue beats in El Pupusiao featuring Tony Haze.  Nonetheless, the Lopez brothers flip it and reverse it in hot straight bilingual Hip Hop tracks such as Rolling featuring Young Tune, We Run This Game featuring Akwid, and Hush.

Gems you can’t miss are the singles Egoista and the opening track Caramba, a fast paced, fun and up tempo dance beat a la Pitbull with a splash of LMFAO, definitely not to be missed. It will be at the House of Blues’ Foundation Room where the guys will be launching this new album and premiering the video for Caramba on Friday, November 18, 2011.

So, whoever said West Coast Latin Hip Hop was dead, has had their head buried in the ground, because Crooked Stilo has been working non stop ever since I left the label in 2005, and has been redefining and polishing their sound in every album they’ve launched since those early years.  Los Titulares is a fitting name for this album, because in 2011, they are hands down the lead and starring figures of Latin Hip Hop outside of the tired Reggaeton cookie cutter artists from the East Coast.

Crooked Stilo rules and in my opinion are the new kings of West Coast Latin Hip Hop!  If you like a good rumba and fiesta, then Los Titulares should be in your party repertoire; end of story.