The 10 Greatest Latin Rock Albums of All Time
From Santana to Soda Stereo and beyond, we pick the genre’s high points.
By Ernesto Lechner
10. Santana, ‘Abraxas’ (1970)
America was never the same after Carlos Santana discovered the smoldering Afro-Cuban magic of Tito Puente. A sinuous cha cha cha that sounds as if it had been waiting for Santana’s soulful guitar licks to reinvent it, the Puente-penned “Oye Como Va” became the pillar of U.S. Latin rock.
9. Os Mutantes, ‘Os Mutantes’ (1968)
Who knew psychedelia could sound so sexy in Portuguese? When “Panis et Circenses” kicks off, with those offbeat tambourines and “Penny Lane” trumpets, that’s the sound of Brazilian music coming of age.
8. Manu Chao, ‘Clandestino’ (1998)
Born in france to Spanish parents, Chao recorded these songs – written in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese – as a nomad. The tunes segue into one another, from the bouncy “Desaparecido” to the sensuous “Bongo Bong.”
7. Karnak, ‘Karnak’ (1995)
A lush tapestry of funky international idioms, this São Paulo group’s first LP sums up Brazil’s limitless hunger for all types of music – from Brazilian reggae to Middle Eastern chants. An underrated masterpiece, from beginning to end.
6. Aterciopelados, ‘Rio’ (2008)
Aterciopelados (the Velvety Ones) began as an irreverent Latin-punk duo. The Colombian act’s most recent LP boasts a more mature sound, heard on the bubbly “Día Paranormal” and the ethereal “Vals.”
5. Babasónicos, ‘Infame’ (2003)
A perverse blend of Roxy Music glam rock with the torrid balladry of Julio Iglesias, Infame is the highest point in the intriguing discography of this Argentine band.
4. Soda Stereo, ‘Sueña Stereo’ (1995)
The most exquisite swan song that Latin rock has ever produced, this Buenos Aires band’s final LP is soaked in psychedelia, ambient pop and infinite layers of regret.
3. Julieta Venegas, ‘Bueninvento’ (2000)
Before she was hailed as a Pan-Latino pop star, the Tijuana-born Venegas was a shy alt-rocker. Her second LP is the blossoming of an idiosyncratic genius. A voracious reader, Venegas adds brain power to the poppiest hooks, and her delivery – all broken syllables and stretched-out vowels – has a haunting quality.
2. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, ‘Fabulosos Calaveras’ (1997)
After starting as a ska group in the Eighties, the Argentinean stars reimagined Latin rock by concocting a working-class stew of salsa, Brazilian batucada, thrash metal and morbid tango, anchored on Afro-Caribbean percussion and a punchy brass section. Not for the faint of heart, Fabulosos Calavera found the Cadillacs ignoring expectations in favor of relentless experimentation and joyful mayhem.
1. Cafe Tacuba, ‘Re’ (1994)
Every album that the Mexican quartet released after this one is just as good, but Re was the one that redefined the rules of the game. It was OK to spoof Mexico’s norteño roots, provided the nod was as affectionate and inspired as their hit “La Ingrata.” It was valid to embrace the foreign influence of rock & roll and punk, as long as it was blended with authentic Latin sounds. A feeling of reckless enthusiasm permeates Re‘s 20 tracks – the wide-eyed grin of a young band discovering the grand achievements it was capable of.