Sitting on the corner, in front of the rental car agency and across the street from a formidable Catholic church in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, I reflected on the ubiquity of music in the country. Ever since arriving there, three days previous, there had been nary a moment free of noise and music. Latin America is loud, in ways that America rarely is. Nicaraguans seem to lack any notion of quiet hours or personal auditory space, letting their music and conversations ring out on the streets till late at night. There are precious hours in the night when the music, the city sounds, and the cacophony of the jungle rest.
Then, as the tropical sky brightens, the cock crows. And it begins anew.
As I waited for the rental details to be finalized, I tried mentally separating the layers of the soundscape surrounding me. My efforts were hampered by the five foot tall speaker cabinet on the corner, announcing the presence of the Budget Rent-A-Car with earsplitting reggaeton. In the lull between songs, a similar marketing scheme could be heard, a block away.
I realized that the standards that indie music fans place on music would have no place in Nicaragua. Club hits of South America are followed by mariachi music, which gives way to diva ballads. In Nica, music is a force, and trying to control it with taste and aesthetics is foolish.
Yet I did. And still do. That trip left me with a nagging question about who the best Latin indie bands are. Before, I gave little thought to Latin music but still felt short of a familiar gringo trap: stereotyping Latin music since your neighbors bump the same mariachi disc over and over. I lived that way for over 6 months. One disc. And a sub.
With most of the citizens of the Western Hemisphere classified as Latino, there is tons of good indie music from Spanish and Portuguese speakers and it’s important to note that there are a number of blogs that are covering the indie Latin scene with aplomb already.
The most familiar is no less than NPR, which has an awesome feed at Alt Latino. Complete with the sophistication NPR is famous for, they dish out new tunes several times a week from up and comers. If you want a little less NPR filter, check out Club Fonograma. Familiar design signals to the astute audience that this blog is indeed about indie music. It’s chock full of album reviews and mixtapes for download from the hippest Latino bands you’ve never heard. Sounds and Colours breaks things down for you, giving country specific columns to most countries in South America.
It’s really a shame to classify all the bands making great indie music in Spanish and Portuguese as Latin, because as soon as you wade into it, you see a lot of the same themes and sounds prevalent in gringo indie music. Within the genre though, there is plenty that deserves to have it’s Latin roots recognized.
I’ll focus on one such band: M.A.K.U. Soundsystem. During my most recent foray into Latin indie, this group really caught my attention. Their website describes them as an “Afro-Columbian Punk and Folkloric Funk Band.” Surprisingly accurate, though you could really spin such a genre mashup in any direction. The octet, mostly Colombian, takes the energy and grooves of Afrobeat and strains it through the traditional music of their home country. Add a dash of dub and a sprig of New Orleans jazz, and you’re almost there.
In interviews, the band displays the same populist ideology that permeates their music. On record, it’s hard to imagine this group not playing in the street, a mobile South American revolutionary soundtrack. It’s certainly some of the most exciting new music I’ve heard in a long time, drawing from a variety of influences to create a unique and enigmatically recognizable sound at the same time.
As for mining the depths of musica latina indepndiente, stick with me. I’ll be looking high and low for indie music from around the world, including Central and South America, a place I have a great love for. How can you deny a culture that paints its cities with sound?