Multiflora National Hispanic Heritage Month Playlist for The Washington Post
Monday marked the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs to Oct. 15. Why in the middle of the month? The celebration started as just one week in 1968. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan decided 30 days made more sense.
Keeping that theme of expansion in mind, we asked Jim Thomson, the booker credited with turning U Street’s Tropicalia club into a hotspot for global beats, to tell us about more than a week’s worth of Latin music. In this week’s mix, Thomson goes beyond “cheesy salsa romantica” and even throws in a little ñu-cumbia.
1. “Soul Drummers” — Ray Barretto
“You know it’s all dance floor business when you hear the life-affirming conga rhythm and someone scream, ‘Yeah, baby!’ This song is a pure adrenaline rush from the one they called Hard Hands.”
2. “Trocitos de Madera” — La Yegros
“This Argentine has been called the first lady of the ñu-cumbia and this song explains why. In it the feel of traditional cumbia percolates beneath a pulsing tropical bass underpinning with assured vocals. Plus, it’s got a pop hook that’s simply irresistible.”
3. “Cuando Te Vea” – Tito Puente
“One of Tito Puente’s finest moments as the mambo king. But it’s the classy, buttery vocals of Santos Colón that always draw me into this classic. He floats through this big band arrangement like a true songbird.”
4. “Fuego A La Jicotea” – Marvin Santiago
“Pure Puerto Rican 70s salsa and that wasn’t on Fania Records. When two of my best Puerto Rican friends were making me mix tapes of salsa, this was top of the list. It’s hard hitting, runs like a race car, and has an absolutely killer arrangement. Marvin Santiago also had a bit of a bad boy persona like Johnny Cash. He recorded a live record while he was in prison called ‘Adentro.’”
5. “Mi Swing Es Tropical” – Quantic and Nickodemus featuring the Candela All-stars
“To me this song sums up everything that’s great about life. It exudes happiness without having to instruct you to be happy or even mention happiness. While both Quantic and Nickodemus are capable of producing bangers, what I like about this collaboration is their restraint. It beckons, it builds to a nice arc, and the horns and minimal guitar keep sprinkling the perfect amount of chili powder on the mix.”
6. “La Via” — Bio Ritmo
“Richmond, Virginia’s Bio Ritmo have aged like a fine vintage for consumption today. Hard to believe this song was released this year. It’s got all the elements of a classic 70s salsa with the experimentation that I favored from the likes of Eddie Palmieri, La Sonora Ponceña, and Roberto Roena. It gives me hope that a group like this exists after surviving years of cheesy salsa romantica.”
7. “Guns of Brixton” – Chicha Libre
“Chicha revivalists based in Brooklyn, Chicha Libre, did a great take on this classic by The Clash. I love the dubby production – a psychedelic accordion and surf guitar set to a cumbia backbeat that could have been produced by King Tubby.
8. “Calabongo (Thornato Remix)” – Son Palenque
“Co-host of New York City’s Que Bajo parties, Geko Jones and co-producer Atropolis released this song last year on a compilation of remixes mined from the vaults of Colombian label, Palenque Records. The hypnotic, repetitive guitar line sounds like something you’d hear in West African highlife music. I’ve never heard the original, but it just goes to show that we still have a lot to learn from those that went before us if this music still sounds this good.”