There’s probably an awful lot to say … Let me say first of all that this will reflect only my personal taste and the coincidences (of the musicians i got to know and others not). If you want to have something more serious, objective and (much more) complete, the “Rough Guide for World Music” is a good choice. There are tens of pages about styles, musicians, evolutions …

Let’s start with the voices. Some of the remarkable voices in Latin music are Hector Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Ruben Blades. Then there’s also Herman Olivera, Celia Cruz, La India.
Hector Lavoe had a voice that you -once you know it of course- will recognize easily. Lots of soul, of personal engagement in the singing. He had several nicknames, like ‘El Cantante’ or ‘The man that breathes under water’ or ‘El Rey de la Puntualidad’ (he used to come very late to his concerts). Anyway, great great music, often together with Willie Colon. His music has disappeared a bit but it might just come back with the release of the movie ‘El Cantante’ (with Marc Anthony and la Lopez; should be out shortly). It’s not always easy to find his music in the stores, just download it from the net (lots of videos on YouTube too). Hector Lavoe, ‘El Cantante’, fantastic song. Hector Lavoe, ‘Mi gente’. Hector Lavoe, ‘Periodico de ayer’.

Ruben Blades is another of my favorites. Latin music with a lot of personality. Great voice, intelligent man (I guess), using all kinds of styles in his music. Listen for instance to a recent album called ‘Mundo’. Ruben Blades, ‘Primogenio’ (from Mundo). Ruben Blades, ‘Todos vuelven’. Ruben Blades, ‘Sicarios’.

Cheo Feliciano: great, very recognizable voice. Still have to discover his music better really … Cheo Feliciano (and many others), ‘El Raton’: classic song.

The magical trio from the seventies
That’s a term one could use for Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon and Ruben Blades. They’ve started somewhere in the seventies, making great music (often together) that has great personality, great tunes, all kinds of complex rhythms, strange sounds and arrangments typical for the seventies … Very little to do with the commercial salsa romantica that came up in the eighties … Willie Colon and Ruben Blades are still alive and kicking, still producing music. Willie Colon, ‘La murga’–U Willie Colon, ‘El gran varon’

Other music from the seventies
There are was a lot of great salsa being produced in the seventies, so if you happen to find compilations of that period (New York salsa for instance), that might be a great idea.

Big jump to this century
As I said this is not an objective, complete article on Latin music, it’s just about what I happen to like and to know. So I jump to …
Jimmy Bosch … Jimmy Bosch! Trombonist (just like Willie Colon, both are also Puertoricans living in New York) that has become bandleader and songwriter. He’s produced three albums till now, the three of them are great and contain many ‘favorites’ of the last ten years. ‘Otra oportunidad’ is maybe the most famous example. Great music, great musician. This is contemporary ’salsa dura’, produced in New York. This means very sharp arrangments, very modern sound … ‘Sharp’ is really the word, quite different from Colon, Lavoe, Blades. More an occidental feel, even though it’s still salsa, no doubt! Jimmy Bosch, ‘La cacharra’

Sharp is also the word to indicate Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Marketed as the ‘New York answer to Buena Vista Social Club’, they’re a band formed around Oscar Hernandez, with lots of great musicians, three lead singers … Lots of uptempo music, this is not the good music to use as a background when you’re having a dinner or something …

Other music that I like
Issac Delgado: subtle music, great voice (could have mentioned him under ‘voices’ …), this Cuban makes some really great music …
Ruben Gonzalez: from the Buena Vista Social Club crew. This is already much closer to the ideal music for your dinner background … Great piano based music, check it out!
Buena Vista Social Club: this is mostly the more ‘traditional’ sounding ’son’ (one of the ancestors of salsa), but this music is still great.
Que mas? Yuri Buenaventura is producing some strong music these days. There’s Manolito y su trabuco.
If you go to other Latin music, there’s of course Juan Luis Guerra. This is a musician I would certainly place amongst the greatest (which are Lavoe, Blades, Bosch, Spanish Harlem …) producing mostly merengue and bachata. Great texts (if you understand Spanish), great great songs. Too bad he’s ’seen the light’ recently producing a kind of a ‘Christian album’ … There’s a lot of other great merengue that is often completely neglected (at least on Belgian dance floors). Merengue is just used as a small break (just like bachata, zouk and chachacha) in between two salsa sets, so no one really pays attention to it. Elvis “Suavemente” Crespo makes very good and very commercial merengue.

And more ...
Bio Ritmo
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
Yerba Buena
El Timba
Wayne Gorbea
Frankie Ruiz
Tito Puente of course
La Excelencia

A very good commercial trick -and sometimes it gives also great artistic results- is to bring styles or sensibilities together. As salsa (and Latin music in general) is still something ‘exotic’ there are musicians bringing these rhythms closer to the ‘occidental’ styles and sounds. A band like Orishas for instance brings a great mix of Latin sounds and rhythms with hiphop. There is Sergent Garcia bringing a often fantastic mix of salsa, reggae and ragga! There’s Salsa Celtica bringing a mix of Scottish and Latin music. There are of course also Latin artists that integrate every once in a while ’strange’ elements into their music: Ruben Blades for instance presents on his wonderful album ‘Mundo’ elements from flamenco, from oriental music, from the Scottish-Irish tradition … In merengue lots of bands mingle the merengue tradition with other styles (sometimes for artistic sometimes for commercial reasons, sometimes for both). A Latin style that is almost synonymous with ‘fusion’ is reggaeton. Very popular these days in Latin countries and neighbourhoods it presents in general a very ‘modern’, occidental sound and image on a tipical reggaeton rhythm. You may know the hit ‘Gasolina’ already but check out also Don Omar, good reggaeton as far as I’m concerned.

There are so many other things, musicians and styles that I still have to discover myself. So I guess a good idea would be to download Latin music from the net (on Ares for instance) or finding compilations or finding stuff from the artists I just mentioned (hoping that you won’t be disappointed of course).


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