Viva Las Divas!

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VH-1 fans aren’t the only ones in love with divas. These days, record companies have been quick to notice that music fans around the globe want their divas, and South America is no exception.

Over the past two decades, there haven’t been many recordings of any sort coming out of Peru. What with the recent political and economic messes there, Peruvian record companies haven’t invested in modern productions, and hence haven’t had anything to export. This led vocalist Olga Milla to produce her own recording Caricia (Caress). It’s an intimate acoustic exploration of Peruvian folk music, including romantic valses (waltzes), African-based landos and Andean huaynos. Unlike most of the formulaic, canned session recordings plaguing Peru today, Milla’s Caricia is a tender, emotional tribute to Peru’s rich musical diversity. Whether backed by guitars and strings (on the valses), Afro-Peruvian percussion (on the landos) or charango (small four-stringed Andean guitar used in the huaynos), Milla’s passionate voice unifies the album. The only weaknesses are the lounge-esque strings and piano on a few of the valses, a problem easily rectified with a handy remote control.

Rosanna & Zelia are Rosanna Tavaras and Zelia Foneca – a dental student and a journalist, respectively. The duo from Minas Gerais, Brazil, offer an intimate take on many of Brazil’s national forms, including samba, samba-reggae, chorinho and Brazilian jazz. Musically, this acoustic album sounds a bit like Ricky Lee Jones singing in Portuguese. The problem is that R & Z aren’t sure whether they want to be singer-songwriters or Brazilian sambistas. What they choose to do on Passagem is something in-between, sacrificing all of the passion and energy at the heart of most Brazilian traditional music.

Carmen Gonzalez’s Andarele is by far the pick of the bunch, and one of the best albums of the year. The music is from the city of Esmereldas, on the northern coast of Ecuador. A country more known for enormous turtles and colorful finches, Ecuador too had a role in the slave trade, and Esmereldas is the largest center of African culture in the country. On Andarele, Gonzalez is joined by a 12-piece band led by Cuban musical director Omar Sosa. He throws in touches of Afro-Cuban salsa – principally piano and a brass section – intertwined with the Afro-Ecuadorian percussion. Larry Preciado’s marimba solos are simply mesmerizing, as are Gonzalez’s fiery vocals. The album is filled with tune after infectious tune about life by the sea. So, clear away the furniture, crank your stereo and get ready to dance – Andarele is scorching.

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