Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Lila Downs/House of Blues

Cumbia, Latin, Regional Mexican, Son, Tejano, World Music No Comments »


The first time I saw Lila Downs was about a decade ago, when she was participating in a Latin American-themed evening and she shared the bill with a Brazilian singer. She was still riding the wave of exposure brought on by her participation in the 2002 movie “Frida,” in which she played an unnamed singer whose tunes wove key elements of the plot together up to the very end, when she was joined by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso for the Academy Award-nominated “Burn It Blue.”

On that show, she came on stage playing a two-sided drum that set the pace for the set, which exuded energy from beginning to end, and I was hooked. Her strong voice and charisma on stage had me from the first song, and I have been following her music ever since. During her sets, she always celebrates her heritage, often including songs in regional Mexican dialects alongside original and traditional Mexican tunes. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Bailar En La Cueva” by Jorge Drexler

Afro-Cuban, Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Cumbia, Forró, Hip-Hop, Latin, Merengue, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »


On his most diverse release to date, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler—best known Stateside for being the sole composer to date to win an Oscar for a non-English song—goes into various musical styles to convey his message. The title song mixes electronic and folk elements with a syncopated beat and a catchy chorus, while “Bolivia” blends forró and cumbia. A berimbau (a Brazilian instrument commonly used in capoeira meets) leads the beat.

Legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso makes a cameo appearance toward two verses in Spanish with a melody that goes against the song’s entire form. “La Luna de Rasquí” is an upbeat tune with Afro-Caribbean elements that is sure to get you moving. “Universos Paralelos” is arguably the most inventive track–it begins with an easygoing samba-like feel and the vocals of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who seems to be all over Latin pop lately) comes almost out of nowhere to give her bit on the topic of star-crossed lovers. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Traditional Songs and Dances from Colombia” by Son de Pueblo

Chicha, Cumbia, Latin, Record Reviews, Salsa, World Music No Comments »


Colombian pop music is well known in alternative circles thanks to the efforts of bands like Aterciopelados or individual performers like Juanes or Shakira, but the country’s traditional sounds are not as widespread, and are often confused with the ubiquitous Andean music that is played on the streets of many major American cities.

This new release from Son de Pueblo is a great document of the various musical styles played around the country, and they run the gamut from cumbias, salsas and charangas (to name a few). Their arrangements are not at all dated; for instance, “La Cumbia Cienaguera”  blends traditional percussive instruments with a very funky electric bass and electric piano, and “Moliendo Café”  showcases the classical and jazz influences among the band members—the track begins with a Villa-Lobos-inflected flute intro that is followed by an intricate piano solo. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Cuatro Tigres” by Chicha Libre

Alt-Rock, Chicha, Cumbia, Latin, Pop, Record Reviews, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »


Brooklyn-based Chicha Libre started out playing covers of obscure psychedelic songs from Peru, and on this four-song EP they come full circle with a collection of inventive takes on pop tunes reimagined into the chichi format, starting with a very personal take on the “Simpsons” that expands on the TV version by adding some improvisation and a more danceable beat. They recreate Love’s classically inspired “Alone Again Or,” as a song innovated by featuring a mariachi band in the middle section, something quite uncommon in the late sixties. They also pay tribute with “Guns of Brixton” and also include “Chicha Rica,” a song that I could not trace but I am sure comes from bandleader Olivier Conan’s treasure trove. Read the rest of this entry »