When I turned on the third season of American Idol to see William Hung destroy “She Bangs,” I knew the Latin music revolution of the late ‘90s had begun its glorious swan song. Remember the darkened age of music history that brought us diet-tejano musicians like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, and Enrique Iglesias? Their bevy of cliched Spanglish hits revolutionized the pop world, spinning all who willingly participated into a salsa, tango, and flamenco frenzy. We Macarena-ed our way through “La Vida Loca” and begrudgingly lived to talk about it. But recently the fad of yesteryear has risen from the ashes in a more legitimate and culture-friendly fashion. And with the revisiting of Latin sounds in American music, there remains the hope that we can escape our latter-day sins and find redemption through a more accepting and innovative music industry.
I wasn’t fully aware of the second coming of the Latin music revolution until a recent trip through my FM dial introduced me to a song by Down AKA Kilo titled “Lean like a Cholo.” True, it’s not the most socially provocative or emotionally profound hip-hop song, but there is something to be said for its place in this sudden resurgence of Latin music. The song represents a cast of Latino musicians who were dispirited in the late ‘90s by the inaccuracies commercially represented in Latino culture. With songs like “Lean like a Cholo,” Down AKA Kilo attempts to take the music back to the streets to represent la gente (the people).
But the forerunner of this new, urban sound is Reggaet³n, a Caribbean-inspired phenomenon that blends the sound of reggae with Puerto Rican dance music and hip-hop. Reggaet³n was the first genre since the late ‘90s to address the explicit, controversial, sexual, and veritably seedy underbelly of shiny Latino pop through mainstream songs like “La Gasolina” and “Oye Mi Canto.” Even prog rock has also seen its share of urban Latinization, exemplified by the raw lyrics and acidic sounds of indie band Mars Volta on their sophomore release, Frances the Mute.
The revisiting of Latin music is truly in full swing, as leaders in the music industry have begun to return to their roots. Jennifer Lopez released her first full Spanish-language album in March of this year, titled Como Ama una Mujer. Ricky Martin shakes his bon-bon once again in a U.S. tour opening in September, with fall concerts in Anaheim and Bakersfield. Shakira continues innovating her Arabic-inspired salsa sound with dance tracks like “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Beautiful Liar;” a song she recorded in collaboration with hip-hop diva Beyonce. Even Carlos Santana returned to the studio to record a new album, Ultimate Santana, for release in October, and has collaborated with Gloria Estefan, Shakira, Lil’ Wayne, and Angelique Kidjo on Spanish side-projects.
As a result, things are looking up for the legacy of Latin music in America, and the arrival of Fiesta offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate the past and future incarnations of this culturally rich music. The lineup of guest artists for this year’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta features the flamenco of Fuego Gitano and Tony Ybarra, alongside indie rock, punk, folk, bluegrass, and country artists who infuse Spanish sounds into their respective genres. Like Latin American music, Santa Barbara has evolved far from the aloha shirt and awkward, jerky moves of William Hung-landing us, thankfully, in greener, edgier, and more authentic pastures. Keep a watchful eye out for these Fiesta concerts:
• Las Nochas de Ronda , an evening of traditional and Spanish music,dancing, and singing takes place every evening of Fiesta, from Friday, August 3 through Sunday, August 5 in the Courthouse Sunken Gardens at 8 p.m.
• Enjoy the flamenco styling of Tony Ybarra as he plays the Mercado delNorte on August 1 at 5 p.m. Ybarra is followed by evening entertainment at the mercado by local Spanish-inspired talent sponsored by Univision,KPMR, and Telefutura KTSB. Visit oldspanishdays-fiesta.org.
• The Santa Barbara Bowl presents Slightly Stoopid, G. Love & Special Sauce , and special guests Ozomatli and The Expendables on Sunday, August 5, playing primarily Latin, hip-hop, rock, and reggae music. Visit sbbowl.com.