This article is adapted from AQ’s latest issue on the politics of water in Latin America
This year’s fall playlist features two acts pushing the boundaries of traditional Latin American musical genres. Take a look at our previous playlists here.
Flor de Toloache – Mexico
The third release from New York-based mariachi band Flor de Toloache marks a deliberate expansion of the musical eclecticism the group has shown throughout its career. The album features a host of guest artists and travels through multiple musical genres, all without diluting the band’s core identity. The flores avoid this pitfall thanks to several songs that fit squarely within their interpretation of how mariachi can sound: carefully crafted arrangements that take advantage of the violin and trumpet’s subtlety, plus dramatic lead singing and inventive harmonies.
Indestructible also includes one of the group’s trademark a cappella tunes, a feature of past releases. But the most interesting element of the album comes from the commonalities and imaginative contrasts the group finds with their guests’ individual styles.
In “Andariega,” the opening track with Spanish quartet Las Migas, the guitarrón (a folk bass guitar) provides a haunting foundation for combined guitars, violins and voices. Here, Flor de Toloache’s trumpet integrates seamlessly with the rumba-flamenco vibe. “Te lo dije,” with R&B singer Miguel Pimentel, starts out like a regular bachata, ringing with guitar arpeggios and bouncy percussion. But jarana (another type of folk guitar) and trumpet are soon added to the mix and work particularly well in the genre. Then, after a false ending in the middle of the song, listeners are hit by a slow ranchera that would make Las Adelitas proud.
Indeed, through cumbia, bachata, reggae, ballad, and corrido, Indestructible shows how a drop of Toloache makes just about everything come alive.
Nathalie Joachim – Haiti
In contrast to Indestructible, the guests in Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti (Women of Haiti) are present only in pre-existing recordings, some made years before the Haitian singer, composer and flutist put together this blend of classical and electronic sounds. Over the course of the album, Joachim draws inspiration from female Haitian artists who preceded and will succeed her in life and music. These include famed folk singer Émerante de Pradines, girls from the church choir in Joachim’s hometown in Haiti, and her own grandmother, Ipheta Fortuma.
Original compositions share the album with new arrangements of traditional Haitian songs. Joachim’s writing for the Spektral Quartet, a boundary-pushing group from Chicago, is inventive and never overwhelms the sung or spoken voices. The electronic elements include singing and speaking as well as percussion and sustaining tones that extend the quartet’s strings. The opening invocation on “Papa Loko” starts with otherworldly high harmonics and grows into a beautiful duet between Joachim and the viola, set over a rhythmically jagged accompaniment from the cello and recorded tones.
Similarly uneven electronic rhythms integrate with the girls’ choir in “Alleluia,” while a pensive background accompanies writer and producer Milena Sandler’s story about her mother in “Couldn’t Tell Her What to Do.” A version of the classic “Manman m voye m peze cafe” captures the political drama implicit in the song’s lyrics with restrained string playing. Throughout, Joachim’s crystalline voice soars full of hope over a multifaceted musical world as rich as her island, reminding us that without her and her fellow women of Haiti, that world would be that much emptier.
Zubieta is the music director at Americas Society