We're well into the Summer of Latin Music--a time when millions of Latinos have been sporting a knowing "I told you so" smile as Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias lead an assault on mainstream pop charts.
The accompanying media appetite for anything Latino is good news for longtime fans of Latin music because it means scores of young Latin artists will, it's hoped, have a greater chance for mainstream exposure.
But what about all those outstanding artists who have been releasing albums for years, often gaining superstardom throughout Latin America but remaining virtually unknown outside the Spanish-language market in this country?
Will this new enthusiasm for Latin pop also lead mainstream fans to sample some of the delights these artists have to offer?
In an ideal world, the following veteran artists--along with a few relative newcomers--would follow Martin to the top of the charts. The list could have been much more extensive, including such figures as Ruben Blades, Jose Jose and Rocio Durcal, but the recent albums by these artists haven't matched the excellence of their earlier works.
Silvio Rodriguez, Cuban troubadour: Rodriguez has over the last quarter-century combined exquisitely crafted poetry with an uncanny talent for alluring melodies. His body of work includes such seminal albums as "Dias y Flores" and "Mujeres." Although he is openly political, you don't need to subscribe to his views to enjoy his inspiring style and restless artistry, which lead him to experiment in various pop modes.
His only U.S. release, "Canciones Urgentes" on Luka Bop, has sold around 150,000 copies since its release in 1991, making it one of the label's most successful records. After completing a trilogy of acoustic albums dedicated to the memory of his parents, Rodriguez released this year a collection of rarities titled "Descartes."
Joan Manuel Serrat, Catalonian pop guru: With his down-to-earth songs about the magic and mystery of life, Serrat--the most revered name in the movement known as Nueva Trova--has for three decades influenced scores of singer-songwriters in Spain and Latin America, including Rodriguez. Although he has enjoyed little U.S. success, Serrat's music seems tailor-made for the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" radio audience. The best introduction to his music is the wistful "Mediterraneo," a 1971 album on BMG Latin Records that exemplifies Serrat's bohemian persona.
Juan Gabriel, singer-songwriter extraordinaire: One of Mexico's most prolific and talented composers, Gabriel has recorded more than 500 songs, dozens of which are hits throughout the Latin world. He is equally comfortable in traditional pop and mariachi territory, and has helped launched the careers of many singers, including Rocio Durcal and Isabel Pantoja. Always unpredictable, he recently released an album of banda music, a genre he had promised never to touch. Domestically, he has sold a whopping 4 million albums in the Latin market. He'll be at the Universal Amphitheatre for three nights, starting Oct. 1.
Oscar D'Leon, the Lion of Salsa: Salsa's most charismatic performer, D'Leon usually keeps singing until the club owners close the curtains on him. He has one of the tightest bands in all of Afro-Cuban music and his albums from the '70s and early '80s are classic examples of salsa.
Although he performs frequently in the U.S., D'Leon has yet to achieve the instant identification level of a Celia Cruz or a Tito Puente. D'Leon returns next month with a self-produced album that will reportedly bring him back to the rootsy sound that made him famous. He will appear at the Salsa and Latin Jazz Festival concert on Oct. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Mercedes Sosa, Latin folk's Mother Earth figure: The Argentine singer has spent the last 25 years making Latin American folklore hip with her ever-changing repertoire, which includes ballads, Brazilian songs and contemporary pop. Ferocious and sweet at the same time, her unique style has given an anthem-like quality to many of her favorite traditional songs. "Al Despertar," her new album, will be released domestically before the end of the year. Then she will record "La Misa Criolla," a classic of Argentine folklore.
Cafe Tacuba, revolutionary rock en espan~ol group: The Mexican quartet's sophomore effort, 1994's kaleidoscopic "Re," was one of the first Latin rock records to prove there was more to the movement than merely copying Anglo bands. Its follow-up, "Avalancha de Exitos," further established their reputation as the most visionary group in the field. A favorite among rock en espan~ol connoisseurs, Tacuba has still to emulate the massive popularity of fellow Mexican pop-rockers Mana.
The band will be touring the U.S. this summer as part of the massive rock en espan~ol festival "Watcha Tour," which includes a Greek Theatre stop on Aug. 15.
Aterciopelados, trip-hop en espan~ol pioneers: This relatively new Colombian band, led by eccentric singer Andrea Echeverri, combines British trip-hop influences with sounds immersed in Latin tradition. The results are as fresh and spunky as Echeverri's charismatic stage presence. A few mainstream labels have expressed interest in signing the band, which now records for BMG Latin. The group, which just finished three Lilith Fair dates, will be at the Greek Theatre on Oct. 23 with rock en espan~ol heavyweights Fabulosos Cadillacs and Maldita Vecindad.