Best of the 2010s

The Club Fonograma staff have reunited to recap the Best Iberoamerican (Latin America + Iberian) music of the decade. This project consists of essays from ex-Club Fonograma writers and friends, along with a full list of our top 100 songs and top 50 albums of the decade.

Best Albums of the 2010s
Coming Soon
Best Songs of the 2010s
The World According to Natalia Lafourcade
by Andrew Casillas
What her rise to pop icon status says about our past, our present, and our future.
Generación Ruidosón: Creating the Sound of the Border for a New Decade
by Reuben Torres
On ruidosón, Mexican identity, and the ghosts of a generation.
Club Fonograma,
the Ungovernable Generation,
and the Pop Insurrection:
A Decade in Revolt

by Ze Puga
Understanding the socio-political (and highly danceable) last decade of protest pop.
The Brief Cuban-American “Gozadera”
by Stefanie Fernández
Cubatón in the age of U.S.-Cuba normalization.
El Embrujo Inconfundible de Mi Sol
by Verónica Bayetti Flores
On Rita Indiana's diasporic return anthem "La hora de volvé."
Déjenme Llorar: Thank-You Letters to the Songs that Held Me 2009-2019
by Phoebe Smolin
Club Fonograma and the songs that are my favorite places and my sweetest friends.
How Women Reclaimed a Space for Themselves in this Decade of Música Urbana
by Lucas Villa
A post-Ivy Queen generation fights for representation in a male-dominated genre.
The Night Dënver Gave Me a Future
by Richard Villegas
How Música, Gramática, Gimnasia changed my life.
by Sam Rodgers
The Latinx LGBTQIA+ artists who globalized queer culture.
How Spain Turned to Música Urbana in the 2010s
by Pierre Lestruhaut
Trap music found a new outpost in the Old World.

Club Fonograma Archive

Club Fonograma was a United States-based music publication established in 2008 by Carlos Reyes, and featuring collaborators from 10 different countries. The site was devoted to music criticism and commentary focused on global pop and independent music from artists of Spanish and Latin American origin or background.

The present site is an effort to preserve Club Fonograma's full archive, as it still remains a rich and exhaustive testimony of Latin music and culture from 2008 to 2016. Below you'll find links to pages compiling some of Club Fonograma's most meaningful work over the years, which includes end-of-year lists, album reviews, compilations, artist interviews, and coverage of music festivals.

Carlos Reyes

Contributors/Staff Writers:
Paulo Correa
Jean-Stephane Beriot
Andrew Casillas
Juan Manuel Torreblanca
Blanca Méndez
Pierre Lestruhaut
Enrique Coyotzi
Adrian Mata Anaya
Reuben Torres
Giovanni Guillén
Souad Martin-Saoudi
Claire Frisbie
Sam Rodgers
Glòria Guso
Jeziel Jovel
Monika Fabian
Cheky Bertho
Marty Preciado
Pablo Acuña
Stella Vásquez
Zé Garcia

The World According to Natalia Lafourcade

   By Andrew Casillas | Nov 21st, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

Only ten short years ago, I interviewed Natalia Lafourcade on the balcony of the Austin Convention Center; conducted during our annual SXSW coverage, it was the first interview ever published on Club Fonograma. In the decade that followed, Natalia:

  • Released the seminal indie album Hu Hu Hu;
  • Shot straight into the upper annals of Latinx pop stardom with Mujer Divina (which included a performance at the Latin GRAMMYs);
  • Released “Hasta La Raíz,” Club Fonograma’s #1 song of the 2010s;
  • Released an accompanying album by the same name – Hasta la Raíz – which won an actual Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative album and was nominated for Album of the Year by the Latin GRAMMYs (and led to another performance on the telecast);
  • Performed on the seminal American music series Austin City Limits;
  • Released her highly-successful Musas album series (which led to ANOTHER Latin GRAMMYs performance); and
  • Performed the Academy Award-winning theme from Coco, “Remember Me,” which included a performance on the telecast.

Phew. Seriously, that all happened within ten years of performing “No Viniste” before a ballroom of laconic, half-bored music industry middle-managers (and one overeager blogger) in central Texas. Even the Kim family in Parasite would impressed by that quick rise in stature.

But this essay isn’t meant to contextualize Natalia’s music within the spectrum of the Latin American songbook. For anyone interested in that (and you damn well should be), I suggest reading Julyssa Lopez’s excellent NPR essay on the subject. Instead, as we close this chapter of Club Fonograma, it’s important to contextualize how one of this site's own achieved a level of canonical importance and what it potentially bodes for the next decade of Latinx pop.

For the casual Latinx pop fan in March 2009, to see Natalia Lafourcade go from playing the token “Latin” SXSW showcase to performing on the fucking Oscars would have been unfathomable. But even the high of that creative peak was quickly diminished upon seeing many U.S. media outlets (including one self-anointed “Most Trusted Voice in Music Criticism”) not even reference Natalia Lafourcade by name in recapping the performance. That is to say: that for many Latinx musicians, even some of the most popular and critically acclaimed, public discourse is still prone to ignoring your achievements completely for . . . reasons.

And Natalia Lafourcade is arguably one of the lucky ones, albeit with some built-in advantages. She started her career with a Sony recording deal and quickly developed a profile and marketing strategy worthy of the pop star 1%. And as Rosalía’s rise to global fame has shown, there remains whole segments of the media who will go to bat over lighter-skinned (if not literally white European) artists occupying the same space as Afro-Latinx or non-European, U.S., or Mexican-based artists. Even the most well-meaning outlets (including this one) could have done a better job at prioritizing non-white Latinxs in their coverage.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Latinx artists are greater able to seek success on their own terms – and in their own language – far more easily than in generations. Even ten years ago, it would not have been surprising to hear Bad Bunny drop an English-language verse on a Katy Perry track, or Cardi B playing hook girl for Usher, and everyone just accept it. But that’s no longer the case. The #1 song in the United States of America was a Latin trap song headlined by three Latinx artists. And rather than have J Balvin in the studio for a remix, Beyoncé jumped on J Balvin’s own song and made him the special guest for her iconic 2018 Coachella performance. Latinx artists can now suffice appealing for their own, predominantly Latinx audiences, and everyone else can jump into the line if they choose (looking at you, Grammy Awards).

Of course, there’s also the issue of “Despacito.” One of the global smashes of the decade, if not the century, came perilously close to becoming a novelty hit, resurging the talking point of “a new Latin boom.” Even “I Like It” and its boogaloo sample almost fell subject to the same trap. (For greater detail on that issue, I’d highly recommend Gary Suarez’s excellent Vice article.) Ultimately, however, those tracks were able to avoid “cultural fad” status. And the fact that general music fans can look beyond the novelty, and Latinx audiences have a space to call out media bias in the promotion and promulgation of white artists over their Afro-Latinx precursors or contemporaries, is something to celebrate. It shows that these artists – our artists – are operating within something bigger than a movement. It’s something that’s growing to scale, and will survive into the next generation.

And that brings us back to Natalia Lafourcade. To think that this generation – the oft-examined Millennials – has its first legacy artist . . . and that she was one of Club Fonograma’s seminal artists . . . and that such success was achieved without catering to a cynically created “Latin Explosion” or on the back of an English-language crossover (even her verse on “Remember Me” is in Spanish) is remarkable. Her decade of rapid success is unlikely to be repeated again any time soon, at least not while streaming media waits to fracture and consume us all. But to think that there’s a chance – an actual, plausible chance – that this level of acclaim and fame could happen to your own future favorite Latinx artist or band, that is what’s life affirming.

Think about that the next time you read an interview taking place on a non-descript balcony. Club Fonograma forever.

Andrew Casillas is an attorney and former Club Fonograma writer from Texas. Today, you can find him writing about Latin music for Rolling Stone and on Twitter @PincheAndrew

Club Fonograma's Best Songs of the 2010s

     Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The Club Fonograma staff have reunited to recap the Best Iberoamerican (Latin America + Iberian) music of the decade. This project consists of essays from ex-Club Fonograma writers and friends, along with a full list of our favorite songs and albums of the decade.

Here are Club Fonograma's top 100 songs of the decade. You can listen to songs featured in this list on our Spotify playlist. And also check out all of Club Fonogramas best of the decade recap here.

Generación Ruidosón: Creating the Sound of the Border for a New Decade

   By Reuben Torres | Nov 19th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The 10s were a decade of oversaturation. Even before the streaming revolution came along in the latter half of the decade, my generation, that is, the generation that came of age in the new millennium, had for years already been bombarded by a wealth of sounds coming from a slew of avenues: p2p networks like Napster, Limewire, and Soulseek, the rise of mp3 blogs, and endless torrents. All of this allowed us to consume every artist and style from across history, in a way that no generation had before. We experienced a kind of flattening in our mode of consumption and subsequent exhaustion as a result. This proved to be a great source of anxiety for some of us who lived through the analog-to-digital transition.

It was this anxiety, I think, that first spurred me and a small cohort of artists and misfits to throw small raves disguised as house parties around San Diego and Tijuana sometime around the start of the decade. At the time, we had the lofty aspiration of creating a musical scene that would speak to our experiences as fronterizos, or border kids. Something that would wade through all the noise.

Up until that point, Gen X had been the only reference point for Tijuana. They were the first generation to introduce the border city to the world as something other than a seedy pit stop for low lives and narcos and instead presented it as an actual vibrant metropolis and unlikely cultural epicenter. They defined what it was to live and experience that geographical limbo, through literature, art, and especially music. The very notion of a true “regional sound” of Tijuana that we aspired toward had already been cemented in electronic music through the legacy of Nortec Collective, who would characterize the clash of cultures in their mix of house, techno, and banda/norteño music. But that narrative was already growing stale for our generation and it was clear that someone needed to break away from it.

That someone was Tony Gallardo. Up until then, he was a virtual unknown in the scene, because, well, there was no real scene of which to speak. He’d been making music as Unsexy Nerd Ponies – a kind of glitchy avant-pop project that was criminally underrated during its time – and performed regularly at our aforementioned parties. After a few years of flying under the radar, he began experimenting with guapachoso sounds. The sawtooth synths and chiptune beats in his songs were replaced by tropical rhythms, cumbia and banda samples, inspired in part by the likes of El Guincho and the burgeoning global bass craze.

The hybrid that Tony explored wasn’t especially groundbreaking, but it hit close to home for a select group of artists, myself included. Our generation had a closer affinity to American culture, as opposed to our Mexican roots. This wasn’t exclusive to the border, but it definitely felt more present there due to our geographical proximity to the US. Even though we’d grown up with the folkloric sounds of our forebears, they somehow felt alien to us. We were culturally uprooted as a result of capitalist consumption, globalization, and, of course, the Internet. But Tony’s approach made these sounds tangible again, somehow, like hardening back to some earlier, more innocent time.

The true seismic shift in Tony’s music came when he began to sing in Spanish, which for him necessitated a new identity. He rebranded himself as María y José, the names of his parents and also two of the most common – if not the most common – in Mexico. It was as rootsy as it could get. Through songs like “Espíritu Invisible,” “Tierra Sagrada” and “Ola de Calor” he spearheaded a new sound, which married the old and the new. We called it ruidosón.

It began as a joke, as it was never really clear what ruidosón was, nor was it meant to be, really. It was a sound, to be sure, and a series of parties. But it also sounded like something that’s been around forever. Like the name of a salsa radio station or a banda channel on cable TV, ruidosón evokes the soundtrack of every Latin American party ever. But really there was a great deal of ingenuity in the name, if you read between the lines. It described a condition, which we were all simultaneously experiencing, a sort of zeitgeist that would ultimately shape the way we made music: that eternal clash between the past and the present, tradition and relentless modernity.

Los Macuanos – a group I created alongside Moisés López and Moisés Horta – was the first ruidosón project to emerge after Tony’s. Our sound manifested all these aforementioned anxieties: political, technological, cultural, existential, even temporal. Early songs like “Alma,” “Ritmo de Amor” and “El Metralleta” – first featured on this very blog – defined what the ruidosón sound would become: ghostly, noisy, unsettling, dissenting, dark, made for the hips as much as the head. But more importantly, it was curious. The music of Los Macuanos, and ruidosón, always presented Mexican identity as a question rather than a statement.  Our first true successor, Santos, would later mold this aesthetic into even weirder permutations (See: Agonía and La Sombra de Satán), featuring a much more prominent guapachoso sound, true to the joie-de-vivre spirit of Mexico, and painting a darker shade on the debauchery of our culture’s eternal fixation with la fiesta.

But it was Siete Catorce who really took ruidosón to unprecedented heights. His music, the most abstract and formalistic of the lot, exposed what was at the core of ruidosón: a total erasure of borders.  The most sublime incarnation of his vision could only be experienced on a sweaty dancefloor. It is there that he perfected the seamless art of crossing musical boundaries in an almost alchemic fashion, going from cumbia to tribal, juke to banda, hip-hop to your hips, his twisted mind to yours, without you ever realizing what went down. Perhaps no other artist defined Mexican electronic music during the past decade better than him.

Ruidosón was our way of breaking through the noise, or rather, embracing it. We assumed the transformation – at once musical and existential – that came with the new millennium and new technology, by exorcising the ghosts that haunted us, of our predecessors and theirs before them. We built a new culture from the ashes of our old, so-called traditions through the appropriation and detournement of its most prominent signifiers, those which supposedly defined our “Mexican identity.” This conflict, both specific to our time and timeless, I assume, will be relived in the coming years. When that happens, I anticipate that we will seem archaic by comparison. Perhaps this is the way it’s always meant to play out. Perhaps we too will become the ghosts to haunt the generations to come.

Reuben Albert Torres is a writer, journalist, musician and audiovisual producer from the San Diego-Tijuana border. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, where he completed studies in film and journalism, respectively. He has written about arts and culture for publications like Remezcla and Vice, among others. He served as producer and co-host of the podcast Intelécto Genérico––alongside Tijuana writer and theorist Alfredo González Reynoso––which focused on the condition of the US-Mexico border through the lens of art and politics.

As a musician, Torres has developed several electronic projects such as Los Macuanos and Espectro Caudillo, whose productions appear in films and series like Hecho en México (Pantelion, 2012), 1994 (Vice/Netflix, 2019) and Los Espookys (HBO, 2019).

He currently writes about New York City life and politics at Univision NY.

Club Fonograma, the Ungovernable Generation, and the Pop Insurrection: A Decade in Revolt

   By Ze Puga | Nov 15th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

As this decade draws to a close, it seems appropriate to become more intentional as we process the world we inherited and the worlds we propagated. The cultural production of our era’s music, in all of its genius, contradictions, potential, manic obsessive excess, or dissociative malaise, reflects a time when we were forced to contend and respond to the banality of our brave new world, a techno-dystopian cliché drowning in data, distorted realities, and alternative facts. Meanwhile, a formidable set of upheavals presented genuine opportunities for all people – across genres and cultures, genders, and class hierarchies – to shake the habitual. Artists, music lovers, industry executives and consumers alike were forced to contend with, interpret, and navigate an era of precarity, digital transformation, and the culture of woke. This decade – the age of the polyglot – was a time of intervention and deep questions into the logic and processes of  consumerism and citizenship. The musical polyglots of our era shapeshifted across genres, eschewed borders, and circumvented traditions, embracing instead the turning of the digital tides. In 2019, even Iggy Pop (a previous generation’s Jack White) made a comeback with “Resist” along one of the newest inductees into the Club Fonograma pop insurrection hall of fame: Femina.

Musically, the most memorable personas and moments featured in this anthropological reverie (i.e. blog post), excelled in memorializing and celebrating the conflictual and deviant. Suddenly in an era defined by rupture, everyone, even pop stars, were encouraged (maybe even expected) to have a plan of attack, or at least a clue about the draconian, increasingly Orwellian global standard. Overtly political messaging in the music was not even the mood or the most effective means of attack. Take Cardi B, pop’s crucifixion of respectability politics: a sex worker, Blood, an already legendary lethal virtuoso.

The inaugural sermon of dystopian tastemaker Donald Trump, rich in distorted aphorisms and bursting with supremacist doctrine, perfectly encapsulates humankind’s biggest, current mood: carnage. Indeed Mr. Trump, without a border you have no country.

Behind all the noise (smokescreens, phone screens) nation-states, corporations, and emerging actors are duking it out for physical boundaries and virtual territories. Today, attention and allegiance are an essential form of currency and and our personal and social imagination(s) are of deep importance and sincere concern. If we can extract anything from this bygone decade, let it be the realization that we too form part of the battlefield.

The following noise is a catalogue of artists, albums, and records within the Club Fonograma universe that were swept up in the chaos and paid homage to our ungovernable generation. Absent from this conversation are the majority of musicians, artists, and communities worldwide who have dedicated their entire or considerable craft towards emancipation. We remind ourselves and you the reader that the pop insurrection we speak of is limited to (because of time, resources, cultural bias, and personal exposure) a set of moments and movements in music within the Club Fonograma milieu, 2010-2019. We hope this essay can add to conversations over the world about the complexity of human affairs under late capitalism – a testament of some of the best music that our peers were making while we let the nation-state burn.

The pop insurrection as a measurable concept and practice is a worldwide phenomenon. It audibly rejects boundaries and genres. Naturally, the memetic energy of perreo combativo or insurgent reggaetón is of paramount importance. If indeed all colonies are burning, the Afro Caribbean diaspora has responded decisively, maybe even instinctually. By now, reggaetón is undeniably the new modality of globo-pop, underscored by views in the billions on a truly mind bending dimension. As sunset falls on the 2010s, it feels surreal that the top of the pops, the world charts, are now dominated by Spanish speaking Caribbean diasporic artists. Reggaetón (and its more aggressive sibling, perreo) is inherently political. It is a genre cut from the outlaw / DIY culture of reggae and hip-hop, nurtured in paradise-islands beholden to the restless energy of prehistoric original peoples and self emancipated runaway slaves. Uncoincidentally, reggaetón in the 2010s is the war dance of anti-colonial rebellion in Borinken. In the eyes and ears of mi gente: sin perreo no hay revolución and today, not only is the colony burning, its subjects are interrogating and rejecting the illusion of citizenship itself.  Of superlative importance are the people’s reliance on each other in the absence of the state. In the words of Bad Bunny, the colonizers might be “in denial” but you know what? Estamos bien.

2014 was the year Club Fongrama documented what I call the pop insurrection, perhaps best reflected in Fakuta’s Tormenta Solar, an album which saw the DIY pop darling collaging 80s synthpop (“Guerra Con Las Cosas”), (James) Blakeian electronica (“La Intensidad”), 90s Latin freestyle (“Despacio”) with lyrics concerning animal liberation (“Mascota”) and fugitive lifestylism (“Fugitivos”).  5 years ago, this entire concept was relatively tongue-in-cheek blogging by an up and coming neophyte with a few hundred words to fill and a noble, aspirational brand of a more dangerous pop. 2014 was also the year that Mask Magazine published the indispensable A Year of Pop Music and Party Riots and while the transgressive energy of the party-riot persisted, the website’s domain did not. Al Jazeera, Vice, and Ultra still carry its detritus but let this be a reminder that like Beyoncé, you should be your own best friend archivist. My point then as it is now is thus: we need a popular music befitting the end of days, a pop music that sounds and speaks the language of Revelations.

It was late October 2019 and the illegal (and wildly popular) actions against public transportation fares in Chile had turned into protests turned into riots turned into over a million people manifesting against capitalism. Naturally, I turned to fakuta for her take on things and we got to talking about the response as the security apparatus of Chile unleashed a wave of despotic, deadly repression tactics usually reserved for its indigenous populations and unseen on such a large scale since the U.S. sponsored dictatorship of the 1970s. “Of course, the Mapuche cosmovision has always opposed capitalism and been the primary ‘enemies’ of the state” Fakuta messaged me. Simultaneously, she was also posting personal Instagram stories of street clashes in Santiago, plumes of pepper spray, and reposting memes referencing Axe Bahia (see: beso en la boca es cosa del pasado, la moda ahora es derrocar al estado).  Alex Anwandter was also at the riots, and I remembered me and cer of Marineros’s conversation in Wicker Park (2016) about the importance of chaos, destruction, and new beginnings. Watching Santiago actually burn (Adrianigual set the Chilean capital on fire for 2011’s “Arde Santiago”) through the social media feeds of the Chilean pop scene was brilliant albeit a bit freaky. The prophecy was coming full circle and over the next few days me and Fakuta discussed our precarity under global capitalism and how the dictatorships of the 20th Century had disguised their management strategies as democracies in the 21st.  “I don't think capitalism can save itself, much less save us, but I also don't think it will disappear so soon” Fakuta recognized. She was lamenting the (as of this writing) twenty individuals murdered, hundreds blinded, and thousands more injured by the Chilean state who have been shooting rubber and lead bullets into people’s faces in street clashes. Part of our conversation touched on the post traumatic stress again overtaking the elders who survived the U.S. imposed Pinochet dictatorship which ushered in the age of neoliberalism. She denounced the complicity of the right and the left in maintaining a despotic social order and celebrated the rushing street adrenaline fueling her personal rebellion and the “collective rage” underway in contemporary Chile. By 2020, the pop artists of today were sounding much more like the anarcho-punks of the 1980s. And as of November 12, 2019, Fakuta had reacted with the word “obsessed” and shared videos of military police being firebombed in the matrix.

Planeta No harnessed a similar effect in 2014 with their Matucana EP, a charming debut that oscillated between lo-fi charm, glossier indie-pop, and insurrectionary cool. The music video for Matucana’s acme (“Señorita”) presented queer, feminist, and gender nonconforming squatters running around Santiago setting neoliberal fetishes on fire, smashing the patriarchy, and reveling in the praxis of dangerous friendships (a concept based on the intertwining dynamics between intentional care, intimiacy, and sabotage). The heroines of “Señorita” finish a night of life-affirming vandalism in their squatted mansion – referencing the crime candy punk of “Casa Okupa.” Their 2015 follow up and Odio LP lead single “Sol a Sol” presented a sunnier, funkier hi-fidelity alternative to their punkish jangle pop but still carried the mutinous energy that had made Planeta No so appealing in the first place.

Club Fonograma’s pop insurrection found one of its greatest exponents in the iconoclastic club anthems and meticulous songcraft of Alex Andwandter. Rebeldes teased some of these concepts, but it was the superlative Amiga that established Alex as a political ambassador of Chilean pop to a global audience and went on to become Rolling Stone’s #1 Latin Album of 2016. Generally, the politics of the pop star – especially in today’s music industry – can be understood as an evolving, muted phenomenon that is part of the artist’s global humanitarian brand, carefully tailored for liberalized mass consumption in an era of clickbait cataclysm, manufactured consent, and digital dislocation. This could apply to Shakira, Latin America’s biggest pop star, who has remained transparently silent about the state of our world.   When asked by The Guardian about her thoughts on headlining the 2020 Super Bowl during a known boycott of the event by the likes of Cardi B and her collaborator Rihanna, Shakira caught herself. How clandestine is Shakira, really? In any event, credit is due to the visionaries and innovators who have stepped outside the marketable safe spaces of woke culture and plunged into overt militancy. Beyonce sank a cop car in New Orleans; riots, lasers, and stampeding elephants became part of Jay Z and Kanye’s street scripture; Cardi B described why people attack police officers and call them pigs in her interview of Bernie Sanders;  M.I.A. printed 3D guns and the floor plans of parliament; Alex Anwandter put out the call to set the State and the Church on fire.

Alex’s calls for “total destruction” might find more allegiance with the crust-kids of No Cash or Crass Records, but in the 2010s, as in the age of Stonewall, the club was the ruse and disco the dialect of the dispossessed. On Fridays, we set the work regime on fire is the distilled essence of “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón,” an echo of Gepe’s insistence on general disobedience and his refusal to become a proverbial working class hero on “Marinero Capitán.” “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón” was the first single from Amiga, an album brimming with anti-patriarcal vitality (“Traición,” “Amiga”); queer violent balladry (“Manifiesto”); and even a Juan Gabriel revival in the epic closer, “Te Enamoraste.” The album’s highlight is the elegant, post-colonial parable of “Cordillera,” an audio-visual odyssey taking place in a War of the Worlds, martian terrain where an emaciated, rugged Alex states the obvious: “quiero pelear.”

2018’s Latinoamericana delivered another set of politically aggressive (and masterfully engineered) moments of excellent pop, this time harnessing more Talking Heads and less Fleetwood Mac. The album’s first single, the daylight funk of “Locura,” found Alex driving maniacally with a shotgun on his way to (presumably) kill Donald Trump – reminiscent of Rita Indiana’s visual for “El Juidero” which also looked towards the dynamite-ready 1970s for inspiration. Guitars, funk grooves, and the opulent, majestic sounds of Motown constitute what could be Alex’s finest album, but it is “Canción del Muro” which transcends, connecting the bright pop of Rebeldes with the orchestral and political prowess of everything Alex has done since. The result is another anthem for the pop insurrection: an infectious call for the demolition of laws and borders and a cosmic proposition against obedience.

Even the beguiling Dënver could not escape the fervor of Chilean pop. Their most direct overture to direct confrontation occurred with the Cristóbal Briceño [of Ases Falsos fame (another political and polemical component of the pop insurrection] assisted “Concentración de Campos.” . In between the krautrock of “Arbol Magnetico” and the psychedelic disco of ‘Tu Peor Rival”, “Campos” condemned the logic of the concentration camp and revived new life into the old adage: everything begins and ends with you. Elsewhere, as esoteric as ever, Dënver alluded to the barricades and the expanding fire (“Revista de Gimnasia”) and even imagined themselves as bank robbing outlaws (“El Infierno”). Not really one for politics, Milton and Mariana (back in 2015) confessed to me their complete and total devotion to Motown and Black American music in general (particularly for Fuera de Campo). During this same conversation after their show in Chicago, Milton turned to me and said something about the Milton Friedman School of Economics and how here in Chicago, they (you know, they) had planned the U.S. funded invasion of Chile in the 1970s. Indeed, neoliberalism may have been designed in Chicago but it was first implemented in Chile. Today in 2019, millions in Chile chant: here neoliberalism was born, here neoliberalism will die.

Major recording artists from Mexico or Mexican origins arguably did not rise to the challenge in a way befitting the plight of Mexicans and immigrants in the U.S.: from mass shootings to concentration camps. This is nothing new as traditionally, the Televisa-Univision apparatus has been incredibly effective in enforcing uniformity. One highlight from the 2010s was Kap G’s fuck the police anthem which connected the fact that the functions of la migra and la policía are inextricable: the criminalization of captive populations. The rise of DIY channels, aptitudes, and technology did also give rise to the perennial chillwave of Cuco who has been doing more than most in using his #Vote4Pedro swagger to speak against immigrant detention and the separation of families. He also used his spot on Univision to wear his branded FTP (see: fuck the police) t-shirt but still, it really does seem like those of us who were assigned Mexican at birth can and should be doing more to step it up (including Cuco) in advancing a vision that all of us, regardless of a criminal background or statutory qualification, belong in the communities of our choosing – not in the camps. Such was the message of Miguel, who made the GEO Group / Immigrations Customs Enforcement operated Adelanto Detention Center one of his first stops along his War & Leisure tour in 2017. Miguel’s performance was his contribution to a movement aimed at defunding the police and prisons, a conversation he is very much a part of as a Black Mexican with roots in Los Angeles and Michoacán.

Mom (Julieta Venegas) did have her moment with “Explosión,” a post-punkish vignette of contemporary Mexican death: Ayotzinapa, femicide, and apathy in the face of annihilation. Reminiscing in the anarchist motifs of her time with Tijuana No!, Julieta’s prescription is didactic: may everything explode, rise.

Mexico’s crowning moment within the pop insurrection does in fact belong to Tijuana, the motherland of ruidosón. Ruidosón, a new genre of borderlands electronica, arguably came into full view with María y José’s beloved (and unmastered) Espíritu Invisible. The genre was sustained by Santos – a ruidosón “purist” and the genre’s superlative torch bearer. It was brought to international prominence under Los Macuanos who closed out the genre with 2018’s Epílogo, notably not a ruidosón album per se. Ruidosón was also filtered through the cold, spectral qualities of Siete Catorce but in the eyes of many, movements come in three and Siete Catorce (who to be factual was  already firmly branded within the NAAFI logotype) is often overlooked.

Ruidosón and its main protagonists are inherently political: they were creating spaces within the barren, shuttered, and horrific nightmare of the drug-war-torn borderlands from 2009 onwards.  The sound of ruidosón was never uniform and always shapeshifting and might explain why the genre has seemingly perished by 2019, but its basic elements shared and reflected the macabre reality of living and dying through the apocalypse of narcocapitalism in the 2010s. Its best moments transposed folk sounds like banda, cumbia, bolero, and pasillo and refracted their traditions through sinister techno, tribal, and combat electronica. It is the music that best encapsulates contemporary Mexico (so much so that “Ritmo de Amor” has become the de facto theme song for Vice videos diving into Mexican political and cultural affairs) and sounds like a disturbed DJ set at a ghastly fertility ritual (colloquially known as a quinceañera); a bullet ridden narcowedding; or a broken family party in someone’s backyard. More than just a concept, it was an intervention into party culture not just in Mexico but also in the U.S. and begged the question: how are we mobilizing against this trauma, what do our parties sound like living through a genocide? Ruidosón’s essential moments answered the latter and it sounds like dancing on top of graveyards collecting the bodies of a perennial holocaust, sediments of Latin American history, from colonization to neoliberalism.

In fact, Santos did precisely that for a Guerrero Negro x Club Fonograma video project which documented a performance of “Sin Salida” on a graveyard of fresh, post 2006 graves. Plan Mérida, the U.S. funded military assault into Mexican society- particularly indigenous communities and student and activist groups – was launched in 2006 under the guise of battling the Mexican drug cartels and has resulted in the deaths of over a quarter of a million people (by conservative estimates) and disappeared tens of thousands more.

By 2019, María y José had already adopted (and severed) several monikers, his most enduring being Tony Gallardo II, which delivered the gothic New Wave of “Juventud Guerrera”, which after our performance in Chicago, he described to me as a love letter to the Black rebellions across the U.S. against the police. “Juventud Guerrera” arrived not long after the Mexican military (using Plan Mérida money and protocol) killed, wounded, kidnapped, and disappeared scores of students from the indigenous Ayotizinapa student college in Guerrero. Santos shited focus (and presented new material under Dor+an) but 2014’s Mi Technobanda, 2012’s Shaka and 2015’s EP 3106 are essential ruidosón classics. Los Macuanos delivered the sinister hits with the brutal “Sangre, Bandera, Cruz” and the triggering “El Camotero” during the height of their international tour in the mid 2010s but had radically shifted their sonic output by 2018’s Epílogo, which found scant traces of tribal or cumbia but delivered heavy on the noise element of ruidosón and featured field recordings of street battles, military helicopters, fiery manifestations, and police-state chatter through the dispatch radio. The oppressive tension of the album culminates with “Soldado Sin Cara,” a true banger that flirts with tribal but remains devoted to the spectral, ominous techno of Silent Shout. As a solo venture, Los Macuanos’ Moisés Huerta became ℌEXOℜℭℑSMOS and adopted the anarchist techno hashtag, and plunged into harrowing “sound technologies” and “prehispanic sound artifacts” in order to address the “politics of colonization and occupation” through ritual.

As the political and corporate global order established after World War II continues to erode or fragment, suddenly, our age of mass surveillance and information warfare can be understood as a historical process of military expansionism and geopolitical strategy. It is in this moment of disintegration that leaderless social movements, motivated individuals, and yes, even corporate and independent musicians, can continue creating and leveraging the propaganda of the deed against authority.

In this definitive era of mass extinction where we have seen first hand the transformative and mind bending power of Black insurrection in places like Ferguson, it is important to reflect on the genre-defying, mind bending, and transcendent soundtrack of our ungovernable generation. Weaponizing the arts – performative, poetic, visual, sonic – towards liberatory and unforeseen horizons is in line with the heritage of Dadaism, tropicalia, punk and hip-hop. The novelty and power of our moment is that pop music – a music that can trace its origins to the Negro Spirituals of the middle passage and slavery; later hijacked by the minstresly; usurped by the corporate jingle – has been appropriated and can continue to be a physical, virtual, and spiritual form of resistance to the masters. What else could “Blood on the Leaves” be about? To hijack the words of  W. Benjamin:  we can use the language of pop music, “a language tainted by power against that power, to turn the instrument of the [corporate] state against that state.”

Latin American artists have been perennially criticized for allegedly yielding and bowing to American trends (and European standards) in the arts at large. For the sake of entertainment and its implications into the 2020s, if “Latin America” is to respond to America’s cultural lead, it would have to continue looking to the fertile grounds of Black cultural icons, the top brass in the pop echelon. By the sounds of it, the haute monde is also in on the uprising: Beyonce revamped her entire output and came home (all while paying homage to Malcom X, the Black Panther Party, and the militancy of Nina Simone); Kanye West used his platform to agitate against “the biggest factory of all,” prison slavery; and Kendrick Lamar gave this generation its first anti-police, pro-Black anthem of our post-Ferguson reality.  Not since the 1970s has “protest music” sounded this apolitical, this radiant, this strange. In the words of Ibiza Pareo “ondas oscuras nos rodean... sol y luz envuélvenos.” Without a doubt, into the 2020s (just America or Europe) the world will have to respond to the sounds of “Latin America”.  

Arguably, the imaginative dial-up of M.I.A.’s Arular and the throttling broadband of Kala served as architectonic ancestors to the current politi-pop landscape. Evermore criticized for “performing” as an insurrectionary, it seems appropriate to remember that within semiotic capitalism, anything can be stripped of context and yielded as a weapon. It will be up to those who take up “the culture” to either live to the premise of “World Town” (hands up, guns out) or capitulate to the A.I. colony, the digital plantation of the 21st Century. In the words of Lido, a garden begins with a seed and in this past decade, we have been harvesting and situating for the coming vivification.

Zé is a Chicago based (via Michoacán and CDMX) anarchist dedicated to the interrogation (and ultimate destruction) of the racist-colonial social management strategies of the global police-state.  

Zé’s work has been been published by or appeared on Club Fonograma, National Public Radio, University of Georgia Press, Northwest Medill School of Journalism, University of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago, Northeastern Illinois University and through a variety of autonomous publications and disparate methods of DIY, anti-authoritarian, and anti-colonial cultural production. 

Zé grew up with his family, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins next to a garbage dump in Mexico City outside the Benito Juárez Airport and is a community-taught legal assistant currently working within the intersections of criminal, immigration, asylum, and civil rights law in the US. 

Zé’s interest in poetry, sound, and film continue to converge through collaborative music projects and a forthcoming debut album as a solo artist. 

Follow Zé on Instagram at: nilismo2000000

The Brief Cuban-American “Gozadera”

   By Stefanie Fernández | Nov 14th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

The ‘10s was the decade of “Despacito” and “Mi Gente” – the decade when Latin music broke streaming platforms and finally didn’t need a translation to be taken seriously by a white American audience. For Cuba and Cubatón, the island’s unique subgenre of reggaetón influenced by traditional Cuban genres, this was the decade that saw the first significant thaw of Cuban-American relations in half a century, which had its own theme song: Gente de Zona’s “La Gozadera.”

The first single from the group’s third album, Visualízate, was released in April 2015, only five months after Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced a formal thawing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States that would begin with the reopening of embassies in both countries that summer. In fact, “La Gozadera” dropped just two weeks after President Obama announced that Cuba would be removed from the U.S. State Department’s “State Sponsors of Terrorism” list.

But despite the long freeze in diplomatic relations, Cuban music continued to journey across the stretch of sea to a new audience. Cubatón, in particular, was born in the 1990s, a decade that saw Cuba undergo the período especial or “special period” of unique economic strain, a byproduct of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. Marked by drastic shortages of food, medicine, and petroleum, this era and its sound reflected the fervor of the Cuban protest spirit and its native genres. In 1999, Carlos Manuel y su Clan created a prototype and precursor of Cuban reggaetón with their hit “Agua Fría” that blended timba, salsa, and zouk. Artists like Máxima Alerta, formed in 1999, fused son cubano, salsa, and rumba with rap and reggaetón, then gaining prominence via Puerto Rico (via Panama), while Cubanito 20.02, formed in 2002 by members of the rap group Primera Base, experimented with dembow, dancehall, calypso, and soca. Both groups are widely considered the pioneers of Cuban reggaeton. Many others then finessed the sound of Cubatón, including Eddy-K, Clan 537 and Chacal y Yakarta.

Alexander Delgado and Michel Delgado (no relation) formed Gente de Zona in 2000. Rappers Jacob Forever and Nando Pro replaced Michel after his 2005 departure, and eventually each of them left to pursue their own projects. Gente de Zona songs of this era such as “Le Gustan Los Artistas” and their “Homenaje Al Beny” tribute to Beny Moré’s “Que Bueno Baila Usted” included on the Chef soundtrack celebrate the brass and dance of Cuban timba and mambo, the first major Cuban genre to draw American attention in the early 20th century.

It was after the addition of Randy Malcom in 2013 that Gente de Zona became global stars, and not entirely by chance. In 2014, the group, along with Cuban singer Descemer Bueno, featured on Enrique Iglesias’ “Bailando,” which ricocheted in clubs internationally, including in the U.S. With the co-sign of Marc Anthony’s entertainment company Magnus Media LLC and Sony Music Latin, the group and Anthony released “La Gozadera,” which has since gone 12x multi-platinum.

It begins: “Y se formó la gozadera / ¡Miami me lo confirmó!” From its first line, “La Gozadera” takes the pan-Latinx diaspora around the world and the microcosm of Miami as its starting points and sets them to a buoyant salsa. It shouts out a handful of Latin American countries and their collective uplift. The third verse ends: “El mundo se está sumando a la fiesta de los Latinos!” For the Latin music industry in the United States, this was a literal statement.

Often the U.S. epicenter of the fraught dialogue between Cuba and the United States, Miami is nothing if not loyal to its convictions, many times to its own detriment. Yet despite long-standing pressures to enforce the embargo, the exchange of music and art between Miami and Havana always seemed to circumvent it. For Miamians, the combination of the Cuban radio machine and new generations with strong ties to the island allowed Cubatón to thrive naturally (just tune into Ritmo 95.7 FM, “Cubatón y Más”). In Cuba, organic content distribution networks like el paquete semanal and the hustle of resolviendo keep even restricted music circulating. And with the loosening of restrictions on travel and trade, formal channels of communication opened across the Straits of Florida that seemed levied for good.

2015 also saw the unforgettable proliferation of Osmani García’s “El Taxi” featuring Pitbull. And Jacob Forever’s 2016 hit “Hasta Que Se Seque El Malecón” has not ceased playing in every club, nail salon, and Lyft on Calle Ocho since its release. But not all Cubatón artists have historically been able to broadcast their sound so widely.

The state-operated music industry in Cuba controls the recording (see EGREM, the main national label since 1964), production, sale, and distribution of music. Only genres cosigned by the Ministry of Culture, like jazz or salsa, receive industry support. In 2012, the Ministry’s Cuban Music Institute announced that it would heavily censor reggaetón in public spaces, on television, and on the radio due to its “vulgarity.” Tracks like “Hasta Que Se Seque El Malecón” succeeded in spite of these restrictions via paquete.

In December of 2018, current Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s Decree 349 went into effect, “[prohibiting] artists from operating in public or private spaces without prior approval by the Ministry of Culture” (Article 1) according to Amnesty International, and allowing the Ministry jurisdiction over art containing “sexist, vulgar or obscene language” (Article 3d) or “content harmful to ethical and cultural values” (Article 4f). Like rap and hip-hop before it, which were (unlike reggaetón) scrutinized for expressly political messaging, reggaetón was a genre de la calle that remains heavily kept at the gates despite its global embrace and subsequent softening.

As a result, some Cubatón artists have defected to the United States. In 2003, Carlos Manuel of Carlos Manuel y su Clan famously defected by walking across the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, Osmani García’s particularly raunchy song “Chupi Chupi” was denounced and banned from the airwaves by the Cuban Music Institute and the Ministry of Culture. “¿Cómo pudo un ministro de la cultura ir en contra de lo que quiere y prefiere su país?” García responded in a letter to the Minister of Culture. García was supportive of the thaw and has lived in Miami since 2016.

Efforts on the part of the United States have sometimes undermined local resistance. In 2014, for example, an Associated Press report uncovered USAID’s failed two-year attempt to infiltrate youth hip-hop scenes critical of the Cuban government. This resulted in a slew of artist detentions and greater scrutiny on rap groups like Los Aldeanos, whose frontman Aldo Rodriguez was detained in 2009 for illegal possession of a computer after appearing with Juanes at his USAID-supported concert in Havana. Los Aldeanos’ Bian “El B” Rodriguez sought political asylum in Miami in 2014, explaining that it had become impossible to create their music freely in Cuba.

And in Miami, the debate over which Cuban artists get to perform for Cuban crowds in the city continues under old-guard exile pressures. Just this summer, the majority-Cuban City of Hialeah canceled performances by Señorita Dayana, El Micha, and Jacob Forever at a Fourth of July concert – to the disappointment of a lot of Cuban concertgoers.

The “normalizing” of relations felt anything but normal. Yet “La Gozadera” helped many Cubans excluding only the most hardline hope a little easier.

It helped that Gente de Zona doesn’t make expressly political music. Yet even if “La Gozadera” isn’t strictly a political song, it assumed a world in which the Cuban people’s voices were as loud as those of any Latin American country. Which is really what we wanted.

Delgado sums it up in the bridge: “Yo canto desde Cuba y el mundo se entera / ¡Si tú eres Latino, saca tu bandera!”

Since President Trump rolled back many of the Obama-era reforms and reinstated restrictions on travel and business in 2017, the thaw has slowed significantly. The brief window of normalization allowed Cuban artists to travel more easily to the United States and set the gears of the Sony Latin machine in motion. Now, even though it set an industry precedent for larger artists like Gente de Zona to be embraced, artists with fewer state resources have a harder time reaching audiences abroad.

Yet the Cubatón exchange continues to thrive. Well-loved Cubatón artists like El Chacal, El Micha, Jacob Forever, Yomil y El Dany and more continue to perform in Miami (like at this month’s annual Cubatonazo in Coral Gables) and New York. Cubans stay experts in resolviendo.

When Delgado was asked about Marc Anthony filming his scenes for the “Gozadera” music video in the Dominican Republic in a 2015 Billboard interview, he demurred in the way Cuban artists of his fame are really good at: “Marc Anthony hasn’t gone to Cuba yet, but he will. Everyone will.”

I hope he’s right.

Stefanie Clara Fernández is a Cuban American writer from Miami, Florida. Her work has appeared in NPR, Pitchfork, No Depression, and Miami New Times, among others. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she is a producer at The Atlantic and co-curates NPR Music's Alt.Latino weekly playlist of new Latin music. You can find her on Twitter @matervamami.

El Embrujo Inconfundible de Mi Sol: On Rita Indiana’s Diasporic Return Anthem “La hora de volvé”

   By Verónica Bayetti Flores | Nov 12th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

¿Quién quiere estar comiendo mierda y hielo cuando puede estar bailando algo mejor?

The most devastating irony of classic xenophobic insult “go back where you came from” is arguably that many – maybe even most – of us wish deeply to do exactly that, but just...can’t. It’s almost a cliché for immigrants and their children – the return fantasy. Hitting this tender nerve, Rita Indiana crafted one of the best songs of the last decade, full stop: the diasporic return anthem “La hora de volvé.”

Rita Indiana y Los Misterios’ El Juidero came out in the fall of 2010, a masterpiece ahead of its time. The album is a glorious cacophony of güira, tambora, and synths, the driving alt-merengue diasporic Caribbean weirdos everywhere had been waiting for. It’s not exactly that it had never been done before: Rita Indiana herself engaged in initial explorations of this sound with Miti Miti – whose 2008 album Altar Espandex teased at the glory that would be El Juidero – and Maluca’s “El Tigeraso” played with alternative merengue in 2009. But what you must understand about Rita Indiana is that she is quite literally a novelist; her facility with words, her poetry, her narrative ability are a thing of sublime beauty, and the lyrics on El Juidero are nothing short of rhapsodic. Nine years later, I haven’t found a lyricist that, for me, captures the same intoxicating mix of Caribbean humor and flow with metaphors that elucidate quotidian experiences in a way so alive as to render them an almost visual experience. An allegory for the hardships, joys, and everyday absurdity of diasporic life, El Juidero explores leaving home, exploitation, love, everyday microaggressions, and, of course, return.

Salir pa’llá pa’ después darme cuenta que no hay de na’

Before migrating here, the United States we know is the United States of television – a glossy fantasy where everyone is financially comfortable and lives in homes with wild luxuries like garbage disposals, carpeting, and multiple stories. This is the dream we’re chasing when we come here, but what awaits immigrants, more often than not, is much less glamorous: xenophobia, racism, back-breaking work, y un frío del demonio that threatens to mentally break those of us used to more gentle temperatures.

Similar to its thematic predecessor – Gloria Estefan’s classic 1992 diasporic longing anthem “Mi Tierra” – “La hora de volvé” speaks to the pull of one’s homeland. But while “Mi Tierra” focuses almost exclusively on the beauty of home, Indiana’s modern, arguably more honest rendering highlights a different motivation for returning: how deeply uncomfortable it is to exist in a place where no one wants you.

In the visual, Rita Indiana and her crew of dancers and musicians are in a surrealist space landscape. Dodging rocks and strange animals, it’s not unlike finding yourself lost somewhere magical and strange where you’ve made a home nonetheless, dancing to the rhythm of life the only way you know how.

“Subiste nevera con cinco vaca a’entro,” she sings, and I think about what metaphorical cows I’ve been carrying in the heavy refrigerator of migrant life.

Coge un avión coño, una yola al revés

There’s nothing quite like diasporic longing for home, but for most of us, a fantasy is all it is. Returning is either impossible or stupid – because we don’t have the money or the visa, because our careers aren’t viable at home, because the global economic violence that sent us here in the first place has ravaged home so badly that eeking out a meager existence there is nearly impossible for most people. Logistics aside, the reality of return is much more complicated than a triumphant homecoming. Maybe you’re gay and it’s awkward, maybe when you’re home you miss some other kind of food that you got used to that you can’t access there, maybe when you finally get back you realize you’re actually in some hopeless ni de aquí ni de allá limbo and your longing for home isn’t cured after all.

But “La hora de volvé” gives life to the fantasy. It makes you feel the pain and longing of being far from home, has you start thinking of pulling out that giant maleta – that fleeing the country maleta you got under your bed filled with all sorts of random shit – if only for the four minutes and two seconds of the song. When the beat is a quick staccato and the synth is foreboding and harsh, I imagine my life in this dirty, cold city I live in; when the melodic chorus kicks in, my mind shifts to the smell of the ocean air as I get off the plane in Venezuela, the dark green, shiny foliage that threatens to take over everything, the pastel rainbow of peeling paint on the homes and businesses. That an openly queer woman is the narrator makes it feel even more possible – maybe I, too, could make it work.

Tengo nueve años llenando maletas

In my diaspora return fantasy, like Rita I come home with a maleta llena a casa de mi abuela, with is airy patio and solemn sala filled with dark wood and velvet furniture donde no se sienta nadie, making way to the open air comedor with wicker seating where we’d always eat papayas, watermelons, and mangos from my abuelo’s huerta. All my primos are there like it’s semana santa or something, and mi tío Elieser who lives across the street knocks on the door with some dominoes and a bottle of liquor in hand. Pero la casa de mi abuela was long ago divided up into something much smaller to make room for tenants. My cousins have mostly left and are scattered across the world. And in March my abuela passed, joining my abuelo and the rest of our ancestors. The displacement inherent to global economic violence means that there is no longer one obvious place where my triumphant return could take place, no one matriarch holding the family together, and barely any family together at all, really.

What we have left is held together by the thin thread of the Flores WhatsApp group, where family members spread out from Argentina to Sweden write in with an assortment of birthday wishes, health updates, jokes at best corny and at worst offensive, and copy-and-pasted chains of what’s more likely than not political misinformation.

Y en un invierno en Nueva Yol te viste muerto

As I write this I am in Miami, having stayed extra days away from the brisk fall air of New York City with the excuse of meetings to set up, work to do. But really I’m here chasing home, listening for a Venezuelan accent on the street or the Lyft driver, or searching for them more intentionally at El Arepazo in El Doral. I try to surround myself with strangers who speak the way I do, fishing for the accent of my people, the familiar Caribbean sing-song of our words, the opportunity to experience Venezuelan strangers clowning each other in riotous laughter for the smallest infractions, as we do. There’s something about hearing it not from family, or friends, or people I come into contact with purposefully; to just exist in the vast expanse of the outside world among people who are, in this particular way, like me.

As a teenager I had the return fight with my parents – I hated this place, I wanted to go back, please let me go back – and for the longest time I maintained the fantasy that I would, when things back home got a little better.

Things have gotten worse. I don’t know when or if I’ll get my yola al revés. But I will always have “La hora de volvé.”

Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron, al embrujo inconfundible de su sol. ¿Y quién quiere estar comiendo mierda y hielo cuando puede estar bailando algo mejor?

Verónica Bayetti Flores is a New York City based, writer, policy wonk, and cultural critic. She has led national policy and movement building work at the intersections of immigrants’ rights, health care access, police accountability, and LGBTQ liberation. Verónica has written extensively about race, immigration, gender, and music. She is a co-creator and co-host of Latinx music podcast Radio Menea, and is a co-founder and Managing Partner at the Center for Advancing Innovative Policy.

Twitter/IG: @veroconplatanos

Déjenme Llorar: Thank-You Letters To The Songs That Held Me 2009-2019

   By Phoebe Smolin | Nov 11th, 2019

    Artwork by Alonso Ayala (@ouchal)

To all of my friends, who are also songs:

I am right here because of you.

Here is on the floor of my Silver Lake apartment listening to “Me Voy” by Julieta Venegas on repeat because, once again, it’s all too relevant and here we are (life why you gotta be so cyclical?); here is at the end of the decade that saw me through the bulk of my twenties, scrambling to turn love into money but never quite getting the hang of it. Here is home, and the way I’ve come to understand it across latitudes. Here is a sound that rings of one moment and every moment since – you are that sound, you are my here.

To all of my friends, who are also songs: let me briefly explain how we got here.

It must have been about 2007 when I was sitting in my childhood room listening to the radio at the tail end of my dad’s show (shout out KPFK/public radio), when a song came on that happened to be Bebe’s “Siempre me quedará.” I was deep, deep into my punk phase at that point (and probably angry that I wasn’t old enough to get into the X show that night) and that should have been the last song to perk my ears. But for some reason that raspy whisper, that language I only kind of understood, and that strange way of putting a melody together hit me deeply. I wished I’d made that song. I proceeded to obsess over it, scouring Google with vicious searches for the lyrics until the bigger story revealed itself to me. I swapped out the Sex Pistols for Café Tacvba and Julieta Venegas and found a strange sort of solace in the entire musical history that surrounded them – an obsession that would eventually become the profound remapping of my sonic environment. And that is how this insanely contentious-to-categorize musical world (that I’ll call Latin Indie for simplicity’s sake) found an unassuming teenage Jew from Los Angeles.

When I found Club Fonograma, I found a heavenly vortex on the Internet that made me feel a little less alone. It was my everything for a while, my favorite place, teaching me how to think critically about the music that I resonated with and didn’t know why, giving me the tools and the words to understand my position and privilege when I listened to it. The site introduced me to the songs that would be catapulted from their existence as isolated sounds to things that I would love deeply, that would start movements in some cases, that would be there to catch me at any given moment.

Over the last decade, what began as an obsession became my entire life. And there are certain songs that, within this batch of absolutely confusing and gorgeous years, I’ve kept coming back to, as if they themselves were places. Little homes I’ve come to feel safe in for some reason or another. I’ve grown with them, I’ve heard them echoed in the songs that succeeded them. I’ve cried to them (with them?) after terrible days, and revelled with them after the good ones. These are the songs that may not have been critically praised – or even acknowledged – but they’re the ones that I needed. They’re my favorite places, my sweetest friends. And so, when tasked with reflecting on ten highly formative years, I feel duty-bound to simply thank them.

So, to all of my friends who are also songs, this is for you.

Dear “Los Adolescentes” (Dënver), 

I remember the first time I heard you. In the middle of my first snow, alone in my Massachusetts dorm room, feeling that nebulous kind of sad that comes with knowing you’ve lost something but aren’t quite sure what it is. And then I heard that electrifying opening riff, followed by Mariana’s sugar-smooth voice coming in with those simple-yet-profound lyrics perfectly encapsulating the feeling of the in-between, which is very much where I was (and have been many times since). I proceeded to jump on my bed, rejoicing in the fact that something – this song – made everything feel okay for six minutes. Even when you resolve into dissonant synth-chaos, you hold it together – a lesson I’ve kept with me ever since. There is no greater teacher than that. Thank you.

Dear Fonogramaticos Vol. 10: Nosotros Los Rockers,

I never fully admitted to myself how vital you’ve been to my personal soundscape over the last decade because there’s a certain assumed shame that comes from loving a copy. An inherent cheapness to it. But you, you are a masterpiece. When Julieta Venegas and Ceci Bastida covered Rita Indiana, I’d found the tropical indie rock rave that I didn’t know I needed. El Medio’s cover of “Tus Amigos,” making what is a totally absurd song sound sweet, is genius. Astro’s spacey cover of Los Espíritus is, to me, exactly how it should sound. In twenty-hour tracks you taught me the value in being open to new ways of seeing, and you made that acceptance sound so, so, so good.

Dear Abrázame” (Los Rakas, Uproot Andy mix),

I really didn’t want to like you. When I first heard you in the middle of an indie stupor that I took way too seriously, you were not something I wanted to let myself like. But you started sneaking your way into my mornings, the mixes I made for my friends, the bad college parties I DJ’d, the grimy Los Angeles after hours I saw too many times. You, for ten years, have not left me alone and have not let me hate you the way I wanted to and I am writing this to tell you that you win. I give up. You can’t choose who you love.

Dear Yo Sería Otro” (Dávila 666),

In 2011, when you came blaring through my crappy speakers telling me “jugar con fuego tiene fin” I agreed with you, but decided to keep doing it anyway. You, with that savage sweetness that defined the Dávila, the punk rock call and response that felt as holy as it was confusing, that dirty punk attitude that reminded me of what my priorities were. As soon as I heard you I had a feeling I was doomed (and I was). I followed you and that addictive hook of yours to Boston from Western Massachusetts to see you live and everyone thought I was insane. You led me into the arms of many bad decisions, and were always there to pick me up on the other end. You introduced me to the people who would become my family. You became impossible to unhear, and I’m so grateful for that.

Dear Pa’ Respirar” (Bomba Estéreo) [via a very stylish Vincent Moon one-take]

I can’t tell you how often I come back to you. Brought to you in an anxiety flurry, you are the first thing that sounded like actual peace to me. Me being in the world I’m in, it’s hard to admit that this version of you (what some would call a Bomba deep cut) surpasses anything else that Bomba Estéreo has ever done. Don’t get me wrong, I can get down to some life-affirming Amanecer bangers and Blow Up dancefloor throwbacks, but knowing that this pure, genuine, raspy solace is behind all of those makes me want to peel back the pump-up club sirens and hear you again. You gave me my first taste of the Andes, filmed on top of Monserrate in Bogotá during an overcast sunset – a place I’d proceed to romanticize until I found it a couple of years later only to learn that I wasn’t romanticising anything – you were just right. You are beautiful in the way that the vastness from the top of the Andes is beautiful and also terrifying, how the endlessness of it all is unsettling because of how small you are within it. You, you are that moment where I feel like enough.

Dear Rie Chinito” (Perotá Chingó),

I found you through this simple video shortly after my grandfather died in 2012, and about two weeks before I moved to Chile. I don’t know how, or what propelled you into my life at the time it did, but it was serendipitous. All I wanted was harmony in a time that was relatively dissonant. And there you were. Exactly what I needed to hear. I hope you don’t mind that I played you once in a bar in Valparaíso – I know it probably didn’t sound that great but it felt so good to sing. Once I literally tumbled my way down the tallest part of the Andes to meet you in person (sorry for how bad I smelled that day). I never understood why more people here don’t listen to you more. But I think they might find you someday soon and wonder the same thing.

Dear Sacar la Voz” (Ana Tijoux ft. Jorge Drexler)

You changed everything for me. When you were released, I was in the middle of an idyllic summer in New York City, living with wild musicians, working away at my super liberal media internship, and knee deep in what was becoming a lifelong obsession with music that can restructure society’s DNA. I was also beginning to realize the root of my interest sprung from a very personal place (as they often do). Always a quiet kid, I’d find unconventional ways to be loud – my clothes, my essays, my songs. You validated everything (on top of just being an incredible musical moment). With the line, “Sacar la voz, no estoy sola estoy conmigo,” you reaffirmed that I already had everything I needed. On a larger scale, you exposed that one of the barriers between the ‘powerful’ and the ‘powerless’ is also silence – a barrier that crumbles the louder the collective voice gets.

Dear Derecho de Nacimiento” (Natalia Lafourcade)

Building on what I began to learn from Ana, when you were released in 2012 you gave me further proof that I was not totally out of my mind for believing that music had magical powers. Written as a hymn for the student movement in Mexico, I heard this for the first time when I was living in Chile, when many of my friends were also involved in constant protests against an oppressive education system. It was insane how something so similar could be happening so far away. It was outrageous that something so human could be made inaccessible. It was amazing how all of these voices I’d already loved for their sweet songs about life came together to show us another side of their craft in this video. You made everything feel so entirely connected. And you still do.

Dear Jardines” (Chancha Vía Circuito ft. Lido Pimienta)

When I heard you I had no idea that music could sound like this. I’d found a song I wanted to live in. Between Lido’s voice and Chancha’s intricate, creeping beats I found myself ripped from my reality which, at the time, was at a desk in North Hollywood, and reconnected with a poetic sense of existence that I’d lost touch with in trying to synchronize with the rhythm of capitalist America. Hearing you invoked a feeling I felt was left in my bones by my ancestors for me to find at that exact moment. Nothing ever really was the same after that. You led me to some of the people who’ve become my family over the years, and you’ve led me back to the shamelessly human part of myself.

Dear Jamaica” (Ela Minus)

You were one of those songs I hid in. When you came out I was in the process of navigating one of the most evil relationships I’ve ever known, something that ripped me so far from myself that no one was sure I’d ever come back. Most of my moves were highly surveillanced by my partner at the time. I’d become aimless in a lot of ways, living purely to tip-toe around this person’s disapproving outbursts. I’d become convinced that so much of what I’d loved before was irrelevant. But there was something about you that woke me up. “No hay luz sin oscuridad,” you sweetly repeated with a quiet strength. There are so many songs I’ve loved because they aggressively confronted society’s ills loudly and obviously. You were my own quiet revolution, my first dance with my own shadows that I gladly dance with every day now, thanks to you.

Dear Give Me Some Pizza” (Nathy Peluso),
Some loves can be simple. Not everything is the end of the world. You, in all of your ridiculous realness, came into my life to remind me of that. That cravings hurt because they matter. That they’ll only get louder if we don’t listen – or, in this case, sing to them in the key of a distant Ella Fitzgerald after a long night. You are fearless in your realness, and you’ve saved so many awkward silences since you were released and for that I love you (and pizza) forever.

Dear Te Guardo” (Silvana Estrada),

You are where memory activates – echoing so many of the trovadoras before you while feeling so, so distinct. When I heard you for the first time it was raining in Los Angeles, you’d been sent to me by a friend in Mexico with no words, just urgency. I lost track of time for a minute. Coming from the mind of such a young person you sound like you contain the ages. Hearing you at a time where the musical climate leans in favor of the all holy autotune, digital glitches, and juicy bass drops was refreshing. A reminder that there are still so many layers to who we are and what this moment sounds like – that the decades after this one promise so much light, that the profound wisdom of the youth is not to be underestimated.

Dear Convéncete” (Princesa Alba),

Unlike a lot of the songs here, I’m writing to you mere months after hearing you for the first time. You’re new, but that’s not how it felt upon hearing you. You immediately recalled the moment I heard Teleradio Donoso for the first time: urging me off of my bed and onto the proverbial dancefloor somehow all of a sudden in love and unsure with whom. That is the magic of a flawless pop song. That is the magic that the Chilean pop scene exposed me to ten years prior to hearing you. I listen to you and immediately feel like I’m at the end of a 90s rom-com, butterflies in my stomach, dramatically panning out to some ambiguous skyline while I twirl on a football field. That lightness, especially lately, is invaluable.

Dear This Is How You Smile (Helado Negro)

I don’t mean to make the rest of the songs feel bad but the whole of you, glittery being, have been my greatest friend this year. From the soft realness of “País Nublado” to the permeating drone weaving in and out of melodic glitches on “Fantasma Vaga,” it feels as if you are the album that I (and a lot of us, really) have been waiting to hear for an entire decade. You are proof that there is a way to find sweetness amongst the dark pieces that make up our reality these days. It’s been a strange year, a heavy-yet-revealing end to the decade, and you have been by my side every day in all of your glitchy glory assuring me: “quédate que hay luz.”

I will, I promise.

As Christopher Small (Musicking, 1998) so simply put it: “to take part in a musical act is of central importance to our very humanness.” So, to all of my friends who are also songs, thank you. Without you, there is no me.

Here’s to another ten,


Phoebe Smolin is a nerd from Los Angeles who lives to create and understand spaces of sonic exchange. She fell into the music industry by accident 7 years ago, and has since been working as a publicist, label coordinator, artist manager, producer, curator, connector, researcher, among whatever other title makes sense in the moment. Working with artists and arts organizations from Latin America and beyond, the heart of her professional adventures has always been a drive to bring creative expression to the forefront, and to help make often prohibitive industries easier to navigate for artists. 

IG: @phoebelousmolin
Twitter: @phoebesmolin