By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
For another authentic Cuban experience, try El Floridita, a Hollywood restaurant offering food and music from the island, with traditional salsa bands like Charanga Cubana. It’s become the place of choice for experienced dancers.
An annual event of particular importance to Angeleno salseros is the Salsa and Latin Jazz Festivalat the Hollywood Bowl, which serves more of a symbolic purpose than anything else — because of the cultish nature of salsa, you can still see its biggest names in small venues, so the vastness of the Bowl feels underwhelming compared to the intimacy of a club. For the more earthy side of tropical music, and some of its most popular names, check out the occasional concerts put together by the Orjuela brothers at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. These shows usually draw thousands of people, presenting catchy material like the bouncy cumbias of Sonora Dinamita, and the grand boleros and guarachas of the veteran Sonora Santanera.
You can also find live salsa Tuesdays at St. Mark’s in Venice (with Johnny Polanco and his seasoned Conjunto Amistad), Saturdays at the Grand Avenue downtown (with Los Costeños), and, on weekends, at Hollywood’s La Isla del Mambo, where the food, a mixture of Cuban and Mayan influences, is complemented by a retro show that will transport you to the Havana of the ’50s.What To Get:
Start with a solid Willie Colónor Héctor Lavoé album such as Comedia or La Voz, and grab Ruben Blades’ essential Siembra as a companion piece. If you’re looking for traditional son, the Buena Vista Social Club album is actually worth all the hype surrounding it. Grupo Niche’s Etnia is a great introduction to the simple joys of commercial salsa, and its opening track is a superb cumbia. This is Colombian salsa at its best, vilified by snotty critics and politically correct Cuba-lovers. Ignore them and dance away.LATIN POP
Mainstream Latin pop begins with a perfectly chiseled face. Its most popular practitioners could easily pass for models, and to most of their fans, their looks are as important as the music. Stylistically, these titans of the Latin charts draw inspiration from the school of "international singers" such as Charles Aznavour, Nana Mouskouri or Julio Iglesias. The latter is not Latin American, but his son Enrique Iglesiasis responsible for stealing the throne of Latin pop from Luis Miguel. Although Miguel has known tremendous success with three albums resurrecting classic boleros, he has good reason to fear the young Iglesias: Live, the 24-year-old Enrique is simply mesmerizing.
Both Miguel and Iglesias, however, pale in comparison to Ricky Martin, former singer with teenybopper group Menudo, who has "crossover" written all over him. After conquering Latin America, Europe and Asia with "La Copa de la Vida," the song he performed at the closing ceremonies for the 1998 World Cup in front of billions of people, Martin went after the U.S. with a vengeance. His first English-language album already promises to be one of this summer’s biggest sellers.
Not as widely venerated as the pretty boys, but still enjoying long-lived success, are a few Latin singer-songwriters whose work is as vital as it is uncompromising: Cuba’s Silvio Rodríguezand Pablo Milanés, representing the nueva trova; Argentina’s Mercedes Sosa, who took folkloric music to a new level of political and sociological impact; and Spain’s Joan Manuel Serrat, a Catalonian singer who inspired them all.Where To Go:
The Universal Amphitheater is the only place in town that consistently presents Latin pop with first-rate production values. "We are one of the most technically complete venues in town as far as the overall quality of the shows we present goes," says Georgia Carrera, Latin events coordinator for the Amphitheater. "In the past three years, the demand of the audience for quality Latin music has been overwhelming."
The more obscure names of Latin pop occasionally appear at diverse places like the Wiltern Theater or UCLA’s Royce Hall. Because of their promoters’ limited budgets, those shows are usually poorly publicized, and the fans learn about them through word of mouth.What To Get:
For mainstream pop, a copy of Ricky Martin’s last Spanish-only album, Vuelve, is all you need. A superb example of the frothy digital production and crystalline sound that marks the genre, it’s actually an enjoyable and lovingly manufactured piece of aural candy. For the real thing, get one of the many greatest-hits collections by Mexico’s Agustín Lara. These are achingly romantic songs about unrequited love, failed romance and pain. You don’t need to speak Spanish to savor the lyrics — this guy’s smoky voice says it all. If you’re into poetry, Cuba’s Silvio Rodríguez is the guy for you. You’ll probably fall in love with the frightening beauty of his words and the disarming simplicity of his melodies. David Byrne has released a wonderful compilation of Silvio’s work on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label.REGIONAL MEXICAN
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