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10 Best Latin Albums of 2017

Ozuna, Bomba Estéreo, Residente and more

Despite rising political tensions and natural disasters throughout the Americas in 2017, morale has never seemed higher in Latin American arts and culture. Latin music’s growing popularity in the United States feels like the weather vane for a huge cultural shift: This year Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” nabbed a Grammy for Song of the Year, and by August became the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Rapper Cardi B became the first Dominican artist to hit Number One on the Billboard Hot 100, and reggaetoneros like Bad Bunny, Nicky Jam and Maluma piqued the interest of anglophone audiences after some hot crossover collaborations. Although 2017 was a banner year for Latin pop and trap singles, the market hardly accounts for just how expansive Latin music really is.

Natalia Lafourcade, ‘Musas'

Natalia Lafourcade, ‘Musas’

That Natalia Lafourcade took another deep dive into Latin America’s golden age of songwriting wasn’t unexpected. Even then, the first volume of Musas is stacked with surprises. While the bulk of the album is made up of well-chosen covers from venerable composers across Latin America, it’s the original songs that shine a light on Lafourcade’s growth as an artist. “Mexicana Hermosa,” a paean to her home country, is simple and refined like an abuela’s consommé, while “Soledad el Mar” is a sweet bolero bolstered by the presence of Los Macorinos’ nimble guitar work. And lead single “Tú Sí Sabes Quererme” is equal parts powerful, complex and melodic. A.C.

Café Tacvba, 'Jei Beibi'

Café Tacvba, ‘Jei Beibi’

For more than 25 years, Mexico’s Café Tacvba have constantly revamped the Latin alternative soundscape with a highly eclectic body of work: from the genre-hopping genius of 1994’s Re to the intricate prog-rock splendor of 2007’s Sino, to the gleeful cynicism of 1996 covers album Avalancha de Éxitos. Yet, Jei Beibi feels like a fresh arrival. It starts with a juxtaposition: happy-go-lucky synths illuminate “1-2-3” while starkly alluding to the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa. “Matando” evokes latter day Doors with crystalline, dissonant arpeggios, which become outlandishly funky on the off-kilter “Automatic.” Vocalist Rubén Albarrán plays a female protagonist in the stripped-down “Enamorada,” and “Que No” stands out as one of the most beautiful ballads written by the quartet since 1992’s “María.” Yet it’s “Futuro” – a thumping-yet-languid banger laced in dubstep – that truly gives rise to a new sound, a testament to their prowess for rock experimentation. I.R.

Ozuna, ‘Odisea'

Ozuna, ‘Odisea’

With “Despacito”‘s meteoric rise to prominence, a myriad of reggaeton tunes spread through the Americas like wildfire. While some went out as quickly as they lit up, a few continue to ignite dance floors the world over. Among them are songs on the all-killer, no-filler Odisea, the intoxicating debut of 2017 breakout star Ozuna. His voice soothes like a plush pillow over arresting dembow rhythms, tugging craftily at your hips in “Dile Que Tu Me Quieres,” a work of pop-reggaeton gold. He tinkers with a tantalizing trap groove on “Pide Lo Que Tú Quieras” while lyrically straddling between seduction and unbridled raunch. Brazen and quixotic, tender and provocative. I.R.

Residente, ‘Residente'

Residente, ‘Residente’

Whatever Calle 13 fans expected of their conscious rap hero Residente, it probably wasn’t this self-titled debut. Residente is a statement of global solidarity, co-starring a madcap assortment of collaborators from 10 different parts of the world, to which the Puerto Rican icon traced back his DNA from a saliva test. Each song is its own new genre, sourced from regional sounds and specially tailored to reflect the diversity of his DNA. The record opens with some splashy verses from his cousin Lin-Manuel Miranda; the Latin Grammy-winning “Somos Anormales” draws hip-hop from Central Asian Tuvan throat singing; recorded between conflict zones Ossetia and Georgia, Residente is war personified in the doomsday track “Guerra,” and featuring French it-girl SoKo, “Desencuentro” is a transatlantic chanson. “I wasn’t trying to make a world-music album, but you know,” Residente told Rolling Stone in April. “The radio right now, I’m in shock, everyone sounds the same. It’s like junk food. You need to eat better, otherwise [you’re] going to die a slow, cultural death.” S.E.

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