Ten Spanish Language Songs That Rock

With so much great music out there, I have a hard enough time keeping up with English speaking bands, not to mention all instrumental groups.

But, every so often I get a feel for crossing the language barrier. Maybe I'm looking for vocal music, but want to remain blissfully unaware of the lyrics. Maybe I want to get geared up for cooking a Mexican meal or eating at a Latin American restaurant.  For a gringo like me, the rhythm and flow of Spanish language songs can also spur thoughts of travel and escape, providing immediate sonic transport to another place. With the best tunes coming in several textures and tempos, there's enough variety to satisfy any type of craving I get.  When I get that itch, here are ten tunes with Spanish lyrics that I can turn to.

1. For many, Spanish language rock begins and ends with Carlos Santana.  Shaman.  Mystic.  Guitar hero. This spiritual leaning musician coined the concept of The Hose to describe my boys in Phish, so his head and heart are clearly in the right place.  The name of this tune, "Se A Cabo" from the Abraxas album, is actually a bastardized form of the correct Spanish phrase "se acabó", meaning "it's finished".  A proper name for a song with such a thrilling finale -- check this 1970 version from a Bill Graham Presents concert.

2. Classic rockers who are used to Santana's version of "Oye Como Va", might be surprised to hear the original was my none other than the master percussionist and bandleader Tito Puente.  It is great to see how this jazz inflected tune gets shifted into the rock world but equally impressive to see the proto-elements of funk and disco that had a place in this 1963 composition. Via wikipedia:

The title comes from the first words:

Spanish: English:
Oye como va (Literally) "Listen to how it goes"; (Colloquially "Hey, what's up?" or "Check it out!", or more literally "How's it going?")
Mi ritmo "My rhythm"
Bueno pa' gozar "Good for enjoying" or "good to enjoy"
Mulata See: Mulatta [2]

The fact that the phrase “Oye como va” is the title of the song and is sung somewhat separately from the phrase “mi ritmo” makes it easy to interpret the meaning as “Hey, how’s it going?” However, the first sentence is actually “Oye como va mi ritmo,” meaning “Listen to how my rhythm goes.”

3. Moving into more modern times... this tune has been described as "Brooklyn grooves meet Columbian rhythms" and I think it's a good start at getting to what makes this music so infectious, yet 'out there'.  The song  is called "Muchachita del Oriente" and it is by Chucha Libre -- a band that was first brought to my attention via the wonderful Hidden Track column The Weekly RecommNeds.

4. Here's one of those unknowable, indescribable yet inspirational musicians. Multi-lingual, brazenly political, omni-cultural in a way that is in-your-face and world broadening, Manu Chao is just as likely to be heard singing in French, English, Portuguese, or Arabic as Spanish.  In "Clandestino", the cathartic shout of "MARIJUANA ILEGAL!" sounds great in any language.

5. There was a time when American rock and roll was still traveling the world, turning on youth and leaving a trail of bands who filtered it through their own culture.  It got a foothold in Peru and produced bands like Black Sugar, who took traditional music and peppered in with the funky, chunky waka guitar of American soul rock.   "Viajecito" is their signature tune and is the template for this particular style.

6. One of the many revelations I had while reading the excellent Love Goes To Buildings On Fire:Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever by Will Hermes was just how popular Salsa music was in the bubbling cauldrons of New York City sounds that was stewing in the mid-70s. The undisputed kings were the Fania All Stars who packed Yankee Stadium and MSG in '75. There is nothing like this -- laying groundwork for all sorts of popular dance music and hip hop that exploded out of the city.  And check out this guitar solo on "El Raton", delivered by Jorge Santana, the brother of Carlos.

7.  Cross-over success is rarely more richly deserved than that of Los Lobos.  Modestly claiming to be "just another band from East LA", they are anything but. Their punk/roots rock/Mexican-informed music is a formidable hybrid. For my money, nowhere is the vast repertoire are all of these elements  more evident than "Mas Y Mas".

8. Remember Jorge Santana from just a few entries up?  He had is own band, too.  The severely underated Malo, took parts of his brothers Latin Rock sound and sprinkled in a tone of jazz and boogaloo.  There is a world of sound and tone which comes through on this cut, "Nena" from a recent reunion gig.

9. I love love love this video.  Jerry Garcia has rarely looked as happy (or animated) on stage as he appears  jamming along with Reuben Blades on "Muevete". It is a testament to how much he enjoyed getting pushed out of his comfort zone and exploring all facets of the music that got him off.  Jerry's solo starts at 545 and watching practically makes me well up in tears.

10. Let's stick with Jerry for a moment -- he did, after all, have Hispanic roots.  Did you know Garcia actually sang a Spanish language song with the Grateful Dead? In fact, it was the only time the band had ever played a number one hit while it was number one on the charts. Of course, in '87 the Richie Valens arrangement of "La Bamba" had a bit of a renaissance, while rerecorded for the eponymous movie by fellow listmakers Los Lobos.  Here it is tucked inside a typically fierce "Good Lovin'" (English version).

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