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Rewind 2003 | Latin Music

Mexican bands stage resurgence

December 21, 2003|Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

In political circles, they call it La Reconquista, a nativist theory that Mexicans are plotting to take back California and the Southwest.

In musical terms, that's not a bad way to sum up 2003. The past year brought an onslaught of new albums by top Mexican rock bands -- Molotov, Cafe Tacuba, El Gran Silencio, Control Machete, Kinky -- just when people thought these pioneers of the alt-Latino sound had surrendered or retreated.

El Gran Silencio's "Super Riddim Internacional" with its gritty street energy and cumbia-hip hop fusion, was the most compelling of the albums by these groups, though the others had their high points.

Molotov, the incendiary rap-metal group produced by Gustavo Santaolalla, deserves special mention for "Frijolero" (Beaner), its raw, provocative take on racial hostility at the U.S.-Mexico border. The song won video of the year at the fourth annual Latin Grammy Awards, held for the first time in Miami, where anti-Castro protesters picketed against phantom Cuban artists who never showed up because they didn't get visas.

Conspiracy theorists still see the Cuban absence as a deliberate shutout, secretly accomplished with the help of allies in Washington. But whether Machiavellian or just bureaucratic, it was an embarrassment for a country that preaches freedom of expression to the rest of the world.

The year also brought some auspicious debuts, including delightful and inventive singer-songwriters -- Mexico's Natalia Lafourcade and Argentina's Kevin Johansen. Both were picked up by Sony, a sign that the major labels might be paying more attention to offbeat talent that doesn't fit the old Latin pop mold.

But the year's most rewarding discoveries came from Spain. Flamenco, that powerful, primal art form, is fueling a resurgence of creativity, from the underground fusion of Barcelona's Ojos de Brujo to the well-crafted new album by pop star Alejandro Sanz.

Next year will bring the U.S. release of two other great albums from Spain -- "Lagrimas Negras," the flamenco-Cuban fusion by Bebo Valdes and Diego El Cigala, and "Oye Como Viene," the latest flamenco-jazz fusion by pianist Chano Dominguez.

Let the Spanish Reconquista begin.

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