January is a month for new beginnings and these releases kicking of 2024 did not disappoint. From an album we’ve been waiting for a decade to singles that announce upcoming musical revelations, let the listening begin.
Ana Tijoux – Vida
There was no way to ignore this: Ana Tijoux’s first album in ten years finally came out. It’s titled Vida, and she has an explanation for it: “A great friend of mine who works making people laugh at refugee camps shared a thought once that resonated with me for a long time. He said that the best revenge against death is life itself.” This a way for the Chilean rapper and singer-songwriter to pay tribute to close people who passed away – like her sister, honored in the second single “Tania”. And a way to reconsider the value of human existence, with its ups and downs, and with the need not to lose sight of emotions. A big comeback after the award-winning Vengo in 2014 – she took a break because she felt creatively lost and exhausted from touring with her baby.
Produced by her long-time collaborator Andrés Celis, Vida is a moving collection of 15 songs inspired by Tijoux’s life experiences, from raising her children to losing loved ones. The musical range is wide, from hip-hop to jazz, but also from Afrobeats to Latin American roots music, with tracks that mostly invite you to dance. The album starts fun with the opening cut “Millonaria” (a metaphor that what is valuable isn’t money but friends and family). In the middle, the bilingual hip-hop swagger of “Tu Sae’” stands out, with top guests like Talib Kweli & Plug 1 from De La Soul. There are more featurings, such as that of the Puerto Rican songstress iLe in “Busco Mi Nombre”. Anita has taken her time, but it was worth the wait to see her come back revitalized.
Owner of a majestic vocal talent, Daymé Arocena looked for something different when facing what would be her fourth album, Alkemi. So she called on former Calle 13 Eduardo Cabra as producer, who invited her to record in his studio in Puerto Rico. Those five months on the Caribbean island ended up causing the Cuban singer – who until then lived in Canada –to make a life choice: she moved permanently there. The first single was “Suave y Pegao”, a successful mix of bossa nova and urban music featuring reggaeton star Rafa Pabön. Then followed “American Boy”, with its very funky hook, its neo-soul verses and its Afro-Cuban arrangements. Now it’s the turn of “A Fuego Lento”, an exquisite modern jazz ballad featuring Dominican artist Vicente García.
Considered a musical prodigy, called “a cross between Celia Cruz and Aretha Franklin” and “Cuba’s finest young singer”, Daymé Arocena says she started writing “A Fuego Lento” a long time ago but didn’t feel ready to finish it until she felt comfortable with her sensuality. “This is another of the many old and unfinished songs hidden in my songbook,” she explains. “It wasn’t until I found a love that made me feel sensual and spiritually full, that I could finish it and, thus, break with the internal and inherited taboos to fully enjoy the joy of being the woman I am, and with all my cracks and scars build my love.” Her new album Alkemi– Yoruba word for alchemy – is scheduled for February 23.
Chicano Batman – “Fly”
It was never easy to define Chicano Batman. The ‘psych-soul’ label seems to fit them quite well, but their music has always been an unpredictable journey. From funk and R&B to bolero and regional Mexican music, the band from Los Angeles had an identity well marked by its retro vibe, its lysergic spirit, and – above all – its unwavering attachment to groove. This rhythmic quality is precisely what stands out in their single “Fly”, the first preview of their next album Notebook Fantasy, produced by Grammy Award winner John Congleton and announced for March 29. We also notice some changes here: the beat is built with fewer and more forceful hits, giving even more prominence to the bass, while the melodies are lighter and catchier. A sound purification that is offset by a more strident visual aesthetic.
We can’t wait to find out what the rest of Notebook Fantasy will be like. Meanwhile, “Fly” lifts off with an anthemic hook chanted like an invitation: “I wanna fly with you.” This is what Chicano Batman says about their brand new single: “This is a song that you hope for as a songwriter. Lighting in a bottle, straight up! It’s the kind that comes organically from the universe, and if you get out of the way, it takes shape effortlessly into the song it needs to be, like a river flowing and weaving seamlessly through its banks. This song’s creation process was euphoric and full of many inspired and memorable moments in the studio from beginning to end. We hope those sentiments translate to you, the listener!”
Reyna Tropical – “Cartagena”
A few years ago, Reyna Tropical was the big news in the alternative Latin pop scene. At that time, they were a Mexican duo based in the US, made up of Fabi Reyna and Nectali “Sumohair” Díaz. They had released two EPs and some promising singles, bringing out their electronic champeta, in a universe where African highlife beats were also mixed with Amazonian cumbia guitars. But plans changed when Nectali lost his life in an accident in downtown Los Angeles. After a necessary pause to rethink and transform, Reyna Tropical became a solo project led by singer-songwriter Fabi. The first sign of life came in mid-November with the single “Ya Va Pasar”, a song of mourning that reflects the time between something passing and something new coming.
Now the return of Reyna Tropical is confirmed with the March 29 release of its long-awaited debut full-length album titled Malegría, a Spanish wordplay between bad and happy. Of course, there’s also a new single. Built on bouncy percussion, “Cartagena” enchants us with its crystalline guitars and a voice as sweet as it is sincere. Fabi sings about letting herself go with the flow, in a kind of healing ritual between her and the environment. Founded on the feelings of duality between grief and love, and death and rebirth, Malegría pays tribute to Sumohair’s visionary musical legacy by crossing Congolese, Peruvian and Colombian rhythms, but also reveals the influence that revolutionary artists like Chavela Vargas have on Reyna, who sings about queer love, feminine sensuality and the transformative power of the earth.
Helado Negro – “Best for You and Me”
We’d already talked about Helado Negro’s next album among the releases we expect for early 2024. So we argued that Phasor– his eighth full-length album announced for February 9 – has the difficult task of succeeding 2021’s acclaimed Far In. But it’s also worth saying that the singles that have been anticipating this new record do nothing more than fuel the illusion. First, it was “LFO (Lupe Finds Oliveros)”, a psych-rock gem that pays tribute to minimalist composer Pauline Oliveros and Fender amp-builder Lupe López – two secret heroines of 20th-century music history. Then followed “I Just Want To Wake Up With You”, a homely love letter to reconnect with the silky groove and the soft tunes of the Ecuadorian-American singer-songwriter.
Now it’s time for “Best For You and Me”, the third and final single before the release of Phasor. This time, Roberto Lange – aka Helado Negro– seems to dust off the memory of a warm childhood summer night. With frogs and crickets in the background, over a comfortable groove and a playful piano, he draws a soft and beautiful dream-pop melody. The lyrics reveal a sadness beneath, that of his parents splitting up while Roberto contemplates the night outside: “Mom’s asleep/ Dad’s not home/ It’s what’s wrong/ And I’ll go outside/ Looking at the moon way too long.” A postcard in a pastel tone that once again proves how special Helado Negro’s music turns out to be, making the melancholic resonate happily, with tunes that stay with you until the day ends.