As a general rule I like to avoid generalizations, especially about a group of people. Nonetheless, I’m going to go out on a limb here: (Us) Latinos love to dance. (Okay, I said. Please restrain the slings and arrows.) Whether we do it well or not, when a dance beat comes on it is a natural impulse for our feet and hips to move unconsciously to el ritmo (the rhythm). It’s more than second nature, it’s first nature, a physical a priori. So, it’s not surprising that a large swath of Latino and/or Spanish music is of the dance variety. Despite an extensive network of artists in the Americas, few Latino musicians are successful in the crossover from traditional Latino markets into the larger US and European markets. The few that are “successful” (by record sales standards) lose the unique elements of their sound/music when they switch languages and/or audience demographic (e.g., Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Marc Anthony, etc.)(I’m just going to ignore that Menudo ever happened. If you have nothing good to say…) Perhaps, they should just stop trying to write/sing in English? It works for Mana, Alejandro Saenz and Carlos Vives. Of course, few of these artists are known in the Anglophone world (but definitely worth checking out).
Things can (and often do) change, I offer as exhibit A, Astro. A group of Chilean boys writing song in their native language with (what I believe is that) the necessary crossover appeal to succeed in the U.S. and Europe. With their keen sense of electro-pop and dance music, Astro has found a sound in the perfect intersection between Latin and US/European popular music styles of the day. I first heard Astro courtesy of NPR’s Alt Latino (a great podcast worth checking out) and it seems NPR is trying everything it can to improve this group’s exposure in the U.S. Muchisima Gracias NPR!
For your consideration, Astro’s first single “Panda” is embedded below. The first thing I notice(d) is the unmistakable similarity to the work of (the French mastermind) M83, especially on his last record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. Both Astro and M83 employ a heavy set of programmed and synth sounds, evoking 80s pop music but with more refinement and less sentimentalism. What distinguishes this from M83 is the inclusion of a subtle percussive beat. It’s unabashed and straight to the floor dance music, the perfect near end of the week pick me up.
Other critics suggest a heavy indebtedness and similarity to Wesleyan’s MGMT. Personally I hear less of this over the course of the album; however, the resemblance definitely comes through in “Colombo” with the their use of high-falsetto and processed vocals against a really psychedelic pop sound. Again, Astro infuses a more traditional Latin rhythm section into the mix. (Somewhere in the background there is even a steel drum.) In case you are wondering, from what I can tell, it appears they are singing about dancing bunnies. Is this coded language and a social, cultural or political critique? I’m not familiar enough with Chilean slang/Spanish to decipher. Or perhaps they share MGMT’s fondness for Dada/Surreal-like lyrics? Curiouser and curiouser, indeed. Either way check it out.
Now, I ask forgiveness for my blatant generalization at the outset. I am dancing in my seat. I think you will be too.
p.s. To the Spanish speakers in the cyber house, apologies for the absent “accents”. I was always bad with them. My mother can attest.