After we spent most of last year confined at home during a crushing pandemic, artists across the Spanish-speaking world approached 2021 with a voracious sense of creativity, their imaginations gushing out with the force of a burst pipe. Such a sense of enthusiasm and inventiveness led to wide-ranging projects, many of which distilled traditions, broke genre rules, and landed powerful fusions that pushed unflinchingly into the future.
The Colombian bullerengue treasure Petrona Martinez put African roots front and center on her Latin Grammy-winning Ancestras, while the Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade continued her quest to bring Mexico’s musical history into the present day on Un Canto Por México, Vol 2. There were albums guided by introspection and depth, such as the Colombian multi-hyphenate Mabiland’s gorgeous LP Niñxs Rotxs, the Mexican singer-songwriter Ed Maverick’s self-reflective Eduardo, and the Nicaraguan-Canadian electronic artist Mas Aya’s Máscaras, a meditation on people fighting oppression over the decades. Others, such as the honey-voiced Panamanian singer Sech on 42 and the Chilean indie icon Javiera Mena on I. Entusiasmo, celebrated the euphoria of hitting the dancefloor again after lockdown.
The two albums that perhaps best embodied 2021’s wayfaring sonic experiments were C. Tangana’s stunning, avant-garde opus El Madrileño, which is likely to stand up as one of the best Spanish-language musical recordings of the last decade, and Rauw Alejandro’s intrepid blockbuster Vice Versa, a daredevil’s blend of pop, house, and even bolero music that rocked commercial pop and reggaeton conventions, spawned off mega-hits like “Todo De Ti” that defined the summer, and blasted him into global stardom. Both albums shaped an adventurous year that left us hopeful for more music with a vision.