It has become difficult to define what Latin Alternative is these days. The genre seems to encompass everything from traditional roots band playing an accordion to a progressive hip-hop MCs to singer-songwriters crooning romantic ballads — and can be sung in Spanish, English or Spanglish. It's a hybrid-culture, forward-thinking scene that is ever evolving.
Those following Latin Alternative music can't just be up on what's happening here in L.A. or out in New York City, they music know what's new in the streets of places like Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Chile. With all of that in mind, here's our list of the ten best Latin alternative albums of the year.
10. Ghetto Brothers
The Ghetto Brothers were a Puerto Rican street gang in the South Bronx that formed a soul and funk band and are linked to the birth of hip hop. The brothers called for a peace treaty among Bronx street gangs in the early '70s, and present was their friend Afrika Bambaataa, who used the weekly peace gatherings as a platform to throw his first hip hop parties. Originally recorded in 1971, Power Fuerza went without a proper release until Soul and Truth Records released it this year.
9. Monsieur Perine
Hecho a Mano
Monsieur Perine surprised us this year, flipping the script a bit with music inspired by French jazz, swing, and Colombian folk. They achieved Gold status in Colombia and a small buzz in the U.S. Once they get around to promoting themselves here, they're likely to cross over and gain a wider fan base, one suspects.
8. Twin Shadow
George Lewis Jr. — aka Twin Shadow — does not come immediately to mind as a Latin Alternative artist, but he's Dominican-born and exemplifies how a new generation of Latino performers are diversifying. He self-produced Confess, his second album, which offers flashback dance pop fit for an '80s movie soundtrack.
Chile is in vogue, and indie-electro-pop quartet Astro is the most buzzed-about young band out of the scene there. Free spirited lyrics, poppy dance beats, and catchy vocals from Andres Nusser makes them one of the most fun and imaginative bands out there.
6. Natalia Lafourcade
Mujer Divina – Homenaje a Agustin Lara
This year Mexican indie-pop darling Natalia Lafourcade released an album paying tribute to Agustin Lara, one of her country's most prolific musicians, famous for his love ballads. Each track features a duet, with folks like Adanowsky, Devendra Banhart, and Jorge Drexler. It's a thoughtful work, well-worth the three-year wait.
5. Bomba Estereo
Bomba Estereo's 2009 work Blow Up mixed traditional Latin American roots music with new contemporary styles. Their latest Elegancia Tropical, on the other hand, is an exploration into electronic music, with a wider range of upbeat dance grooves with tropical flare.
4. Gaby Moreno
Gaby Moreno has been in Los Angeles for 12 years now, but has finally broke out with the release of Postales, her first all-Spanish album. Her influences — vintage soul, blues, and the roaring '20s — give her a unique sound, her songwriting is first rate. “Ave Que Emigra,” for example, discusses settling in L.A. after emigrating from Guatemala.
See also: Gaby Moreno: The Call of the Blues
British DJ Will Holland (aka Quantic) and Colombian musician Mario Galeano together are Ondatropica, along with an all-star lineup of over 40 Colombian musicians. They gathered at the legendary Discos Fuentes studios in Medellin for the project, which took classic styles and mixed them with hip-hop, ska, and funk.
2. Carla Morrison
Carla Morrison has a voice that's hard not to fall in love with. Her second full-length Dejenme Llorar won two Latin Grammys this year, for Best Alternative Song and Best Alternative Album. These are love ballads for a younger generation.
1. Ana Tijoux
Ana Tijoux isn't just a Spanish-speaking rapper from Chile — she's one of the world's best lyricists, period. On La Bala, Tijoux touches on Latin American politics and hard knocks with a flow that's quite adaptable to her beats. La Bala was released back in January, and other than Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.a.a.d city (which has been dominating year-end lists) hers has probably been the best reviewed.
See also: Ana Tijoux: “Recording is like flirting with your songs. Touring is the relationship”