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10 Best Latin Albums of 2016

Helado Negro, Alex Anwandter and more of the year’s best from Latinx artists

10 Best Latin Albums of 2016

Ceci Bastida, J Balvin and Juan Gabriel made some of the year's best Latin albums.

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No mames, 2016. Contrary to last year’s politically charged show, the Latin Grammys responded to Donald Trump’s crushing victory with a mandated silence – broken by indie-pop heroine Carla Morrison, who openly slammed the President-Elect for his xenophobic remarks. Then, besides legends David Bowie, Prince and George Michael, 2016 claimed inimitable queer icon Juan Gabriel. Yet still kicking around, somehow, is the term “Latin music” – an ever-elastic label defining a vast community that constantly migrates and expands its cultural soundscapes. What does “Latin music” mean to Mexicans who grew up swapping Smiths songs on mixtapes, as did the Moz-reverent supergroup Mexrrissey? Or Colombian rapper J Balvin, whose success in the United States eclipses that of his birthplace? Drawing from both homegrown sounds, to sounds that claim no fixed home at all, Latinxs continue to craft some of the most inventive music around. Here’s our favorite 2016 releases from Latin America and its broadening diaspora.

4

J Balvin, ‘Energia’

On Energía, J Balvin's breakthrough album, the Columbian lothario spends 45 minutes lighting up the dance floor while attempting to steal somebody's girl before last call. Not that J Balvin is particularly smooth – think more Jean-Ralphio Saperstein than Arthur Fonzarelli. Just give a listen to "Bobo," where our man advises a friend that the best way to get over her ex is to … casually go to bed with J Balvin. But Energía is at its best when at its most sinister: "Veneno" is a brash slice of Latin trap; crossover track "Safari" is a slinky club number dripping in pre-coital sweat; and the provocative "Ginza," with its deliciously liquid beat, is among the finest three minutes in reggaetón history. J Balvin may be corny, but he can buy you a drink. A.C.

3

Systema Solar, ‘Systema Solar’

The galvanizing debut from this fiery pack of tropical-loving space cadets, released in 2010, displayed an urgency and compassion for the hardships of marginalized earthlings. This year, that LP got a colorful makeover in the hands of Nacional Records, adding a new sense of indignation for all of 2016's abominations. Bellwethers for bringing socio-political resistance via Afro-Caribbean-style street parties, Systema Solar get right into hypnosis in the cumbia-trance "Bienvenidos." Boasting spellbinding accordions in Colombian picó fashion with a hip-hop spin, it starts with a physical declaration ("Si no te dieron visa, no te escaparás"), then offers a mental alternative ("Hazte lo que quieras, liberas, que esperas"). They flaunt funky turntablism over whirling pan flutes in the bombastic "Yo Voy Ganao," declare their love for "Mi Kolombia" through vintage vallenato rhythms, and lyrically shatter borders via their champeta-tinged new track "Tumbamurallas." Vibrant and demanding, the Colombian psychedelic soundsystem champions the causes of immigrants and POC while commanding bystanders to get rowdy on the dance floor. I.R.

2

Mexrrissey, ‘No Manchester’

A mariachi-steeped tribute to Morrissey, Mexrrissey's No Manchester revels in both the band's crush on the Smiths crooner and Mexico's unlikely obsession with him. Forged by M.I.S.'s Camilo Lara and Sergio Mendoza (Calexico, Orkesta Mendoza), this charming document combines Britain's fascination for bleak humor with Mexico's knack for melodrama. In a soundscape where passion, rebellion and melancholy take charge, listeners observe the desolate journey of a sad loner roaming in a republic burdened with agony in "México." The lilting, brassy take on "Suedehead" (titled "Estuvo Bien") features the angelic coo of Jay de la Cueva in trio with Chetes' swaggerful sneer and Adanowsky's warm growl; while Ceci Bastida channels Morrissey's effete cool in her surfy remake, "International Playgirl." Delivered by an all-star cast of charro-clad rockeros, this all-Spanish homage is rich with clever puns, vibrant horns and percussive vihuela strums that collide perfectly with the fey jangle-pop of the Moz. I.R.

1

Alex Anwandter, ‘Amiga’

A tribute to the world's maligned and ignored, Amiga, from Chilean pop maestro Alex Anwandter, chronicles oppression as both party starter and protest singer. "Siempre Es Viernes en Mi Corazón," one of the finest singles of 2016, is a celebration of the persecuted rebel set to black-light beats. Anwandter tackles the brutality of the patriarchy on "Mujer" and government corruption on "Cordillera," both over fervent electro-pop. On the beautiful "Manifiesto," Anwandter brings the lights down to recognize the plight of fellow "town queers." Ultimately, Amiga is about how pop music can provide short-lived liberation from suppression. When Anwandter prays for Friday to arrive because he can finally die, it's an expression of hope and determination, because he knows that even the brave eventually fall – so you might as well die dancing. A.C.

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