Recommended Listening in South American Music

Posted by on August 8th, 2016

Elis Regina, Brazilian vocalist

OK, big disclaimer: We’re not even going to be scratching the surface of the surface here.

Latin America has an extraordinary history of musical output. Sometimes we just feel like we have to share some of it for those who might not be familiar.

Here, in no particular order, is some great stuff from a variety of genres that you may or may not have heard before:

Desde Que O Samba E Samba, by Caetano Veloso & Gilberto Gil
Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil are Brazilian singers, guitarists, songwriters, and political activists. Both have had incredible solo careers spanning decades and multiple genres, and the two have also collaborated on a number of projects. Veloso and Gil were pioneers of the Tropicália musical movement in the 1960s, and they faced arrest and temporary exile for the political content of their music. Gil also served as Brazil’s Minister of Culture from 2003-2008.

Maria Lando, by Susana Baca
A prominent Peruvian singer-songwriter, Susana Baca has been a key figure in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music. In addition to winning two Latin Grammies, Baca was named Peru’s Minister of Culture in 2011. Maria Lando, the heartbreaking tale of a servant girl in Peru, is the song that launched her to international fame.

Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, by Heitor Villa-Lobos
The Bachianas Brasileiras are a series of nine movements written between 1930 and 1945 by Brazilian classical composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959). Each movement is a fascinating combination of Baroque procedures and stylings with elements of Brazilian folk and pop music.

La Rebelion, by Joe Arroyo
Salsa and tropical music artist Joe Arroyo (1955-2011) was one of the greatest Caribbean music performers to come out of Colombia. His revolutionary 1986 hit La Rebelion paints a vivid picture of 17th-century slavery in Colombia.

Águas de Março, by Elis Regina
Elis Regina (1945-1982; pictured above) was a jazz and pop vocalist who has been called the greatest Brazilian singer of all time. She helped to popularize the work of the Tropicália movement led by Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, and she was a pioneer of Musica Popular Brasileira. Her unexpected death at the age of thirty-six shocked and grieved the country.

Agustín Barrios: Classics of the Americas, Vol. 3: Paraguay, performed by Jesus Castro Balbi (works composed by Agustín Barrios)
Agustín Barrios (1885-1944) was a Paraguayan classical guitarist and composer who produced over 300 songs in his career and is considered one of the greatest Latin American musicians of all time. The above link is to a full album of his compositions, as played by Peruvian guitarist Jesus Castro Balbi. La Catedral, widely viewed as Barrios’s magnum opus, begins at 32:30 in the recording.

Drume Negrita, by Victor Jara & Quilapayún
Victor Jara (1932-1973) was a Chilean singer-songwriter and political activist. Quilapayún, a Chilean folk group most known for its protest music, has been performing since the mid-1960s, though the band’s lineup has changed over its many years. They, along with Jara, were very closely tied to the socialist movement in Chile and identified with socialist former president Salvador Allende. Victor Jara’s torture and murder at the hands of the military government that ousted Allende was one of the most infamous events in Chilean history; during the same era the members of Quilapayún were forced to flee the country and go into exile in France. Their musical collaborations and personal histories are emblematic of the deep history of protest and folk music in Latin America, particularly in the Andean countries.

Gracias a la Vida, by Mercedes Sosa
Mercedes Sosa (1935-2009) was an Argentine singer best known for her political folk music. Winner of several Grammy Awards, Sosa was an integral part of the 1960s Nueva Canción movement, which addressed themes of political and military repression in Latin America. Sosa also covered numerous works by other Latin American artists, including the beautiful Gracias a la Vida, originally by Chilean musician Violeta Parra.

Matador, by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs
Considered the signature song of one of the most influential Latin rock bands of all time, Matador sets political themes to an irresistible rhythm.

De Música Ligera, by Soda Stereo
De Música Ligera is the most enduring song of Argentina’s legendary rock trio Soda Stereo, which is probably the most famous Rock en Español band of all time. You might be tempted to turn up the volume very loud for this one. Then again, you might be tempted to turn it down, depending on your tastes.

Bonus Album!

Santa Maria, by Gotan Project
We’d feel somewhat remiss if we didn’t include tango at least once. While not strictly Latin American, the distinctive stylings of Paris-based group Gotan Project are a fantastic twist on traditional tango. The group consists of Eduardo Makaroff, from Argentina, Philippe Cohen Solal, from France, and Christoph H. Müller, from Switzerland. They combine tango with modern elements to create a unique and compelling sound.

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