10 Essential Rock en Español Albums From 1999 - Rolling Stone
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La Era Rockera: 10 Essential Rock en Español Albums From 1999

Ten groundbreaking albums by Maná, Gustavo Cerati and more

10 Essential Rock en Español Albums from 1999

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With urbano music dominating the pop charts today, it may seem like Latin pop has fully crossed over in the United States. Though we’d be remiss to forget the genre’s monumental year of 1999: it was the year Ricky Martin ushered in the so-called “Latin pop explosion” during his iconic Grammys performance; when Selena actress Jennifer Lopez became a double threat with her exceptional debut; when salsero Marc Anthony brought the tropics to mainstream pop with his first English-language album; and when Santana swept the pop charts with his Spanglish hybrid masterpiece, Supernatural. As Spanish-language music continued to pick up steam in the States, cultural institutions like the Latin Grammys and the Latin Alternative Music Conference were established to catch up with the genre’s increasing popularity.

The experimentations pioneered by Latin rockeros set a precedent for more daring music in Spanish. In September 1998, a Colombian singer-songwriter by the name of Shakira released ¿Dónde Están los Ladrones? — a rock en español opus that resonated well outside of Latin America, through a winning combo of Middle Eastern rhythms and infectious pop hooks. The album hit Number One in 1999 on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, where it remained for 11 weeks; it then peaked at Number 131 on the Billboard 200 in the United States. No longer as predictable, 1999 saw rock en español evolve beyond the trappings of the guitar-bass-drum formula — closing the 20th century by making room for cross-genre innovations with mainstream pop potential. Here are 10 memorable masterworks of the Y2K age.

lotofire

Ely Guerra, ‘Lotofire’ (June 8, 1999)

At the heart of Lotofire, war and eroticism are locked in a perilous tango. In her third LP, Ely Guerra navigated the paradox of owning her sexuality during a particularly violent time in Northern Mexico. As women were being systematically murdered between the border towns of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, the Monterrey-born singer voiced resistance against abuse, namely in songs like “Yo No” and “Tengo Frío”; but with the careful, hushed cadence of a woman in a post-coital haze. Echoes of trip-hop would come together with steely guitars to form a quiet storm — one that could turn thunderous at any instant. Over jazzy, downtempo rhythms, Guerra’s wide-eyed observations gave way to a stunningly provocative and intelligent masterpiece. “There was a need to explain what my soul feels,” said the singer of the album in 2004. “Because at the end of the day, this album reflects my inner being.”

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enanitos, verdes album cover art

Los Enanitos Verdes, ‘Néctar’ (June 15, 1999)

Argentina’s Los Enanitos Verdes put themselves on the map with their contagious 1994 party song, “Lamento Boliviano.” Whether intoxicated or not, shouts of “¡Y yo estoy aquí, borracho y loco!” — “And I am here, drunk and crazy!” — became a staple at any given house party in Latin America. Yet by 1999, the band had decidedly sobered up and followed up with Néctar: a saccharine showcase of rock romántico. “Luz de Día” became an international theme for reunited lovers; meanwhile dance-floor number “Cordillera” fuses Andean sikus and charangos with Van Halen-esque shredding, and “Ayi Dolores” goes from polka-styled ranchera to punk frenzy. To this day, the impact of Los Enanitos Verdes’ quirky output extends much further than rock en español: singer-bassist Marciano Cantero most recently featured in J Balvin and Bad Bunny’s joint 2019 LP, Oasis. “It’s a fusion for different generations,” said producer Sky Rompiendo.

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mana

Maná, ‘MTV Unplugged’ (June 22, 1999)

The most commercially successful group of the rock en español era, there’s no denying that Maná are masters at crafting evocative pop-rock that’s fit for radio airplay. By the power of their sun-soaked love songs, like 1992’s “Oye Mi Amor,” the Guadalajara quartet conquered the hearts of teenagers worldwide. And when it seemed like they couldn’t get much higher, Maná broke records with their MTV Unplugged performance. Recorded in Miami, the electric group went acoustic — and flaunted their knack for setting a good vibe. Spanning their now-classics and ranchera covers, the album became one of the best-selling albums of 1999, and peaked at Number One on the U.S. Billboard charts.

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Bocanada

Gustavo Cerati, ‘Bocanada’ (June 28, 1999)

Rising from the ashes of the defunct Argentine rock band, Soda Stereo, former frontman Gustavo Cerati catapulted his unstoppable electro-rock mastery into the future. With ethereal production and an arsenal of guitar pedals to boot, Cerati made great strides in Latin rock in Bocanada, a dream-pop opus which later inspired space-rock cadets like Zoé and Enjambre. Whether it’s his whimsical finger-picking in “Engaña,” Alejandro Terán’s stunning orchestral arrangement in “Verbo Carne,” or the fuzz-laden riffage on “Paseo Inmoral,” each song possesses its own unique majesty. Cerati’s musical genius was cut short by a stroke that landed him in a four-year coma — leading to his eventual death at age 55 — but he left an indelible mark on global rock history.

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Café Tacvba, ‘Revés/Yo Soy’ (July 20, 1999)

Café Tacvba genre-hopped through 1994’s Re, and made an unusually memorable covers album with 1996’s Avalancha de Éxitos. Then, as if becoming Latin rock’s biggest weirdos wasn’t enough, they completely broke the rules on Revés/Yo Soy. Half-outlandish instrumental (Revés), and half-art rock (Soy Yo), the two-disc album furthered Café Tacvba’s endless quest for reinvention. To match the band’s eccentric double album, frontman Rubén Albarrán adopted a sort of dual personality: changing his name to both Nrü and Amparo Tonto Medardo In Lak’ech. Rock en español purists deemed the electro-infused album bizarre and inaccessible; but brilliant cuts like the punky “La Locomotora,” or the spookier “La Muerte Chiquita” showcased Café Tacvba’s innate ability to navigate through disparate styles with gusto. Their daring musical approach was later honored at the inaugural Latin Grammys, where the band would win the award for Best Rock Album of the Year.

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LosTres

Los Tres, ‘La Sangre en el Cuerpo’ (August 17, 1999)

A spunky Chilean troupe with a penchant for vintage style, Los Tres and their brand of rockabilly jangle pop helped them stand out among South America’s finest rock bands. “If the current trend of musicians is to try the latest recording and mixing technology, [we] have decided to follow the path of the analog sound with mix tapes, as it was done in the Sixties,” said Los Tres frontman Álvaro Henríquez of their fifth album. Produced by Joe Blaney (The Clash, Ramones, Prince), La Sangre en el Cuerpo explores both the sunny and shady sides of love, but with a cheeky, bubblegum pop delivery. “He loved one woman and did not love another, pain burns the blood and dries the soul,” sings Henríquez above the rock ‘n’ roller stomp of “Agua Fría.” Three years after their 1999 release, Café Tacvba declared their love for the Chilean band in their second cover album, Vale Callampa; and their remake of Los Tres’ “Déjate Caer” would become one of the most canonical hits in Latin rock.

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panteon

Panteón Rococó, ‘A La Izquierda de la Tierra’ (September 1999)

In the Nineties, Mexico City was a scorching hotbed for punk and ska. Panteón Rococó’s iconic debut LP, A La Izquierda de la Tierra paints a vibrant portrait of the scene in 1999; more specifically, of third-wave ska’s Mexican contingent. Fused with a sobering, barrio grit, the brass-powered nine-piece troupe used two-tone ska to tell stories of love and political struggle. The desperately romantic “La Dosis Perfecta” became one of Mexican ska’s most lasting anthems; and in “Nada Pasó,” the band pays homage to the victims of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which Mexican armed forces opened fire on civilians protesting the Olympics.

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Jaguares

Jaguares, ‘Bajo el Azul de Tu Misterio’ (September 3, 1999)

They had conquered Eighties rock en español with their esoteric spin on Mexican darkwave; but by the Nineties, the band once known as Caifanes morphed into Jaguares. After taking a sabbatical to heal from cancer, lead vocalist Saúl Hernández took charge as the prophetic, Mayan-inspired poet in the band’s second offering: Bajo el Azul de Tu Misterio. Lyrically, the double album is laden with occult-leaning spirituality, indigenous folklore and social justice — sometimes all in one song. Their grandiose rock anthems resonated far and wide; in 2000, they went head to head with Café Tacvba for Best Latin Rock / Alternative Performance at the English-language Grammys, but both were ultimately knocked out by the Chris Peréz Band.

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Bunbury

Bunbury, ‘Pequeño’ (September 6, 1999)

Dark prince Enrique Bunbury built his own rock empire as the enigmatic frontman of Héroes del Silencio … then set it all ablaze. Rewriting his own mythologies anew, the Spanish rocker trotted the globe, immersing himself in the ancient folk traditions that informed Pequeño, his second solo outing. The high drama of “El Extranjero” sees him resurrected as a ringleader, dwelling in a dark cabaret where carnivalesque Mediterranean folk melodies abound. He built allies with migrants along the way, and then reached for the cosmos on the dissonant “Infinito.”

“Rock was once censored and we preferred to rebel. Now we are in a process of normalization,” reflected Bunbury in 2013. “What interests me now about rock is the possibility of facing — through it — other music. I want to recover the origin of rock, in its most animalistic form, its sexuality and its simplicity as dance music.”

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Apocalypshit

Molotov, ‘Apocalypshit’ (September 14, 1999)

The rap-rock clownery of the Beastie Boys meets Rage Against The Machine’s fuming political urgency in Molotov’s bilingual second album, Apocalypshit. Down to disrupt the system with a dose of dark humor, the rowdy Mexico City band not only stoked a nü metal frenzy in their home country; but Apocalypshit would be their first album release in the United States. Produced by the Beasties’ Grammy-winning producer, Mario Caldato Jr., the album kicks off with the scorching “No Manches Mi Vida (Don’t Stain My Life)” — then gets fiendish in the reggae-infused “Rastaman – Dita,” followed by the grooving “Parasito.” Their no-holds-barred style was immortalized in films like 2001’s Fast and the Furious, and the Alfonso Cuarón classic, Y Tu Mamá También.

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