Putumayo has done a fantastic job over the past decade introducing world music to a middle-aged Yuppie crowd looking for something after having just worn out their thirteenth copy of The Eagles’ Greatest Hits. The amazing thing has been their ability to find calm, soothing, quality music no matter the country or context to create a “Putumayo sound” — that has been guaranteed to entertain and not offend.
In recent years the challenge has been that so many people are now familiar with many different forms of “world” music and are looking for more. In 2000, Six Degrees exploded onto the scene to provide just that with their hipster electro-world sound and bit the old guard in the ass. Lately, labels like Putumayo have been scrambling for that funky-ass world music with an attitude to play a little catch-up. While previous attempts like MoÃ Vida and New World Party couldn’t quite shed that middle-aged lard around their belts, Latin Groove comes in trimmer and is almost down to fighting weight.
While it still isn’t in the same class as Six Degrees’ Latin Travels or Ubiquity’s New Latinaires series, the label has done a fabulous job compiling some of Latin music’s biggest forethinkers out right now. Si*Se (lead singer Carol C. is a goddess and a damned good DJ to boot) contributes a very seductive “Bizcocho Amargo.” Ozomatli’s classic “Cumbia de los Muertos” combines cumbia, hip-hop, tejano, reggae, and soul with their magical, left-wing touch. Supatone’s “Yorulamento” belongs on every dance floor. Funkanzazenji’s “Latin Flavor” sounds more like hip-hop Fela. And Los Aterciopelados’ “El Estuche” is sheer brilliance. You can tell that Putumayo’s working hard on a hipper, more dance floor-oriented sound, and your feet and hips should commend them for their efforts.