The problem with most overt protest songs is that as soon as the political climate changes, they become like old newspapers: You have to throw them away. But Casa de los Babys, the soundtrack for the recently released film by director John Sayles, is a reminder that they don't all suck. Cuba's Carlos Puebla chills you to the bone with the ultimate Che Guevara song, "Hasta Siempre Comandante," which he originally wrote shortly after Che's death. Argentina's Atahualpa Yupanqui (who can't sing, yet no one sings better than him) appropriately closes the album with the classic "Duerme Negrito," a hauntingly charming lullaby to a slave kid. In between those two is heavyweight Panamanian Ruben Blades, who sings like a black Cuban sonero in one of the best son montunos he has ever recorded, "Un Son Para Ti" (taken from his Grammy-winning 1996 album Rosa de los Vientos). French-Canadian band Lhasa (led by out-of-this-world vocal marvel Lhasa de Sela) sets the magical, warm tone for the whole album with "De Cara a la Pared," and the legendary cult Cuban bossa/doo-wop vocal combo Zafiros offer two jewels: "He Venido a Decirte" and "Canción de Orfeo," just in case there's any doubt that Ignacio Elejalde is one of the best -- and most underrated -- singers in the history of Latin music. "Siboney" by Panchos, the ultimate Latin bolero trio, is the cherry on a juicy soundtrack.
Not everything works, though. Much-hyped Texans Grupo Fantasma try a merengue on "Caña Brava," but end up sounding like a below-average Tijuana ska band. (That's what happens when you only "wanna make people dance.") Lila Downs, the only truly talented artist that really looks like Frida Kahlo, is condemned by "Naela," a poor selection that doesn't do justice to her tremendous abilities. Rita Moreno sings two "songs," too, one of them a cappella. Next.
With all due respect to the guy, I was never a big John Sayles fan. But this soundtrack is so good that I'm going to see the damn movie.
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