The Latin beat is nothing if not hybrid, like the whorey old cliché about the Aztlan nation: La Malinche lying down with the man from La Mancha. Like the culture, la música lays down irresistible, indigenous rhythms on top of which Western conventions do the nasty. Two years ago, for instance, the Nortec Collective led the last border revolution, the Tijuana crew dosing ravers with funky Norteño techno. Two refugees from the gang, Plankton Man vs. Terrestre (Provider), demonstrate this movement was not your papa's electronica, queuing up 130 minutes' worth of Casio beats, progressive, percussive technique, and insinuating vocal samples, which includes an equally glistening "Mexicomp" sampler CD of more horn-kissed Mexitronica. Radio Zumbido's significantly shorter, but no-less-neon blissful Los Últimos Días del AM (Palm) casts AM radio as the voz of this late-night conflagration, courtesy of Guatemalan guitarist Juan Carlos Barrios, who dwells in Madrid. Scion of Spanish schmaltz Enrique Iglesias and Guadalajara's dreamy Maná were both born for AM frequencies, the former's tin ear consistent on Quizás (Universal Latino) with his no-range croon and drum-machine-matted arrangements. The latter's first studio album since 1997's Grammy-winning Sueños Líquidos, meanwhile, the new Revolución de Amor (Warner Latina), sinks further into nasal balladry. Miami quartet Volumen Cero fares significantly better than the veteran Maná with their AM alt.pop release, Luces (Warner Latina), an early Eighties version of MTV bandwagonry. Across the water, in Cuba, the Latin beat was never in better (or bigger) hands than those of Art Tatum-like jazz titan Chucho Valdés and/or Sinatraesque sonero Eliades Ochoa. Valdes' enchanted Fantásia Cubana: Variations on Classical Themes (Blue Note) jazzes up Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel -- solo -- and, in doing so with such utter serenity, plays bookending contrast to his previous domestic career high, 1998's dizzying Bele Bele in La Habana. Buena Vista Social Club's Ochoa, for his part, on his third foray into foreign distribution, descends the mount of supremely soulful wisdom for a more festive outing. What Estoy Como Nunca (HigherOctave) surrenders in depth to its powerful predecessors it makes up for with the same élan witnessed at Ochoa's pair of La Zona Rosa blowouts. The gem-encrusted histories of Latin jazz and folk are time-capsuled on single-disc primers from the expert musicologists at Smithsonian Folkways, Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta and Raíces Latinas: Smithsonian Folkways Latino Roots Collection. Finally, except for perhaps Colombia's Aterciopelados -- due next month with their greatest hits -- no one hybrids rock/rap/reggae en español more than ex-Mano Negra wildman Manu Chao, whose live Radio Bemba Sound System (Virgin) is gleefully simpático. A beat-box edit of his two killing solo albums, plus hits like "Mala Vida" and "King Kong Five," Chao's Bemba continues his personal Latin beatification for a new millennium.
Here are a few album recommendations courtesy of Antonio "Toy" Hernández for a primer in cumbia-dub fusion:
Andrés Landeros: Check out his original LPs from Colombia or buy the rebajada mixes at the Puente del Papa flea market, open Saturdays and Sundays.
Los Mirlos: Anything
Los Corraleros de Majahual: Greatest Hits
Celso Piña: For a look at the roots of the Monterrey cumbia scene, check out Piña's first album on BMG U.S. Latin, Mis Primeras Grabaciones ... Mis Primeros Exitos.