October 8, 2005

New sounds redefine tropical music

By Leila Cobo

MIAMI (Billboard) - If you judge the landscape of tropical
music in the United States by what you hear on the radio, you
might conclude that traditional tropical music like salsa and
merengue has been killed off by reggaeton.

But if you listen closely, you will also hear other music
that defies what has long been considered "tropical."

There is the innovation of Aventura and Andy Andy, young,
urban bachata acts with something to say. Then there is peppy
salsa band N'Klabe, which sings the infectious "I Love Salsa!"
and is now charting with "Amor De Una Noche," featuring
reggaeton artist Voltio.

Rather than declaring that tropical music is dead, it seems
listeners are searching for different sounds within the genre
and are still undecided about what they really like.

Labels are ambivalent too, but most executives agree on one
thing: Tropical music needs an infusion of youth.

"Salsa needs a young, successful act to lift it up again,"
says Juan Hidalgo, president of indie label J&N, which
specializes in all types of tropical music. "Radio is not
supporting salsa or merengue."

Radio does support, to a slightly greater extent, bachata,
the guitar-based Pan-Latin music that began as a rustic,
romantic Dominican genre. J&N's acts include Monchy &
Alexandra, the top-selling group in the genre, and up-and-comer
Domenic Marte.

Aside from bachata, Hidalgo is mixing all kinds of tropical
rhythms with, of course, reggaeton.

"Reggaeton mixed with tropical music, with bachata, with
salsa, with Jamaican music," he says. "Really, you can talk
about 'hurban' (Hispanic urban) formats, but reggaeton is
tropical music, because it's music to dance to, played with
certain percussion instruments."


Also falling under the broad umbrella of tropical are acts
like Bacha, a duo nominated for a Latin Grammy Award in the
best contemporary tropical album category. Its sound, like that
of such contemporaries as Cabas and Bacilos, defies

It is music to dance to, built upon Colombian and
Venezuelan rhythms (rather than Cuban), but it has tinges of
pop; Bacha's single "La Cita," a story about hidden agendas,
could be a mini soap opera. Where to put it?

"If you ask me, it's definitely a tropical group," says
Julio Bague, who produced Bacha's self-titled Sony BMG album
and is creative director at Peermusic. "But because of the way
radio formats are laid out, it's getting played on pop radio."

Bacha -- made up of Colombian Juliana Barros and Venezuelan
Jose Luis Chacin, a former member of iconic Venezuelan tropical
group Guaco -- is up against a wide variety of sounds in its
Latin Grammy category. They range from Carlos Vives' mix of
vallenato and rock to Monchy & Alexandra's contemporary bachata
to Los Van Van's Cuban timba.

"Tropical music is changing, and it's changing in the sense
that it's returning to its roots, which is a more urban salsa
sound, more reflective of what happens in the streets," says
Lorenzo Braun, who heads Sony BMG Urbano. The division of Sony
BMG Norte includes tropical and urban acts, from major stars
like Marc Anthony to newcomers like N'Klabe.