À la Chart

I need variety, which is why I hog the headphones at the Putumayo World Music sampler stand every time I go to Wild Oats supermarket. This year, while everyone else in the store was contemplating low-fat tofu, I was daydreaming of nibbling Serrano ham tapas and sipping red wine in the laid-back boho clubs of Barcelona and Buenos Aires that inspired Putumayo's Latin Lounge. The slick compilation album features eclectic Cuban troubadour Roberto Poveda, Argentina's electronica extraordinaire Federico Aubele, and the sultry Spanish pop-rocker Bebe putting the best of their homegrown heritage to an urban house sound.

Speaking of Bebe, her Pafuera Telearanas won her a Latin Grammy this year for Best New Artist. In feisty Andalusian style, the singer drops her s sounds and putters out intense, socially conscious lyrics of love and abuse to a fusion of poppy folk, flamenco, rap, and ska. Her voice is sweet but edgy, spinning you like one too many glasses of sangria.

Jorge Drexler's Oscar-winning Motorcycle Diaries theme song "El Otro Lado del Rio" reignited my love affair with Latin America's troubadour tradition. His album Eco relives the idealism of old-school folk rock artists like Silvio Rodriguez and Caetano Veloso. Drexler's mesmerizing voice, combined with a modern interpretation of jazz, folk, and milonga, fuels a powerful introspective journey.

Disposable diapers and sterile nipples are nowhere to be found on Andrea Echeverri's self-titled tribute album to motherhood. The solo venture of Colombian rock band Aterciopelados' front-woman dives seductively into creating a family. This mama shows she knows how to rock when she fuses an organic mix of traditional cumbia and champeta, blues, and alternative pop for lullabies that hail birthing and breastfeeding for pumping up her love life with her baby Milagros's father.

I still admire Shakira as a sort of South American Alanis Morissette. On Shakira's Fijación Oral, her haunting, mysterious voice effortlessly alternates between North African wailing and thundering surf rock. The album — available in English and Spanish — showcases Shakira's ability to build upon a sophisticated blend of luscious, multicultural melodies and lyrics for an album that can resound on radios from South Florida to the Pacific Northwest.

I'd like to thank Miami's Locos por Juana for helping my Thanksgiving guests work off that well-basted Haitian turkey. The band's second album, Música P'al Pueblo, features a hyperactive mix of disco, reggae, rock, cumbia, salsa, and improvised hip-hop that got us right out of the tryptophan funk.

But the album that took center stage on my iPod this year was Jarabe de Palo's Un Metro Cuadrado (One Square Meter). Its unpretentious blend of Iberian, Caribbean, and South American rhythms mixed with rock and blues had me salsa dancing with a broomstick one minute and swaying on the back-yard hammock the next. It's no wonder Jorge Drexler and Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde readily collaborated with Jarabe de Palo's frontman Pau Dones on this album. His candid lyrics and whimsical voice invite you to climb into that imaginary square meter of creative space where you're free to just be.

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Julienne Gage is a Miami-based anthropologist and journalist who has worked as a reporter and as a civil rights and international aid communications specialist in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. Her fieldwork has exposed her to many forms of cultural expression, and during her master’s in anthropology, she studied at Cuba’s Center for the Investigation and Development of Cuban Music.
Contact: Julienne Gage

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