Instead of listing my picks for the best Latin CDs of 2008, this year I decided to make a playlist of the hottest songs. It’s an eclectic mix, with some local flavor thrown in and singles from albums released late in 2007.
1. “Ojo de Culebra,” Lila Downs, from “Shake Away”: The world music diva has four songs on this list, and with good reason. “Shake Away” was the best world-Latin CD of 2008, with its sweet mix of folk, blues, rock and Latin influences. A duet with La Mari of Spanish flamenco-chill group Chambao, this tale of catharsis lures in listeners with its infectious Latin-Middle Eastern beat.
2. “Kind of Latin Rhythm,” The Juju Orchestra, from “The Rough Guide to Latin Lounge”: This Germany-based ensemble charms with its funktified version of bossa nova.
3. “Campanera,” Maneja Beto, “Ruido” EP: The best unheralded band on the alt-Latin scene continues to impress with its intelligent songwriting and innovative fusion of Latin, rock and pop in this cumbia about the Iraq war.
4. “The Anthem,” Pitbull featuring Lil John, from “Boatlift”: Though released in late 2007, many of the songs on this CD stayed hot throughout 2008. Latin dance-hip-hop has never sounded better than on this sizzlin’ hit from the Miami singer.
5. “Quizas, Quizas,” Buena Vista Social Club, from “Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall”: This is a great CD but an even better version of this song can be found on BVSL member Ibrahim Ferrer’s “Mi Sueño” CD from 2007. It’s a rare duet of this standard, performed with Omara Portuondo, and is recorded as a ballad. Classy and romantic.
6. “Tierra de Luz,” Lila Downs, from “Shake Away”: We knew Downs and Argentine folk music legend Mercedes Sosa would one day record together – and thank God they did. The result is this gorgeous and heartfelt ballad.
7. “Pose,” Daddy Yankee, from “Talento de Barrio”: The talented Puerto Rican star continues to separate himself from the imitators by keeping his sound fresh, as he does on this reggaeton smash. He is the young king of the genre. Just don’t tell Don Omar.
8. “Calma,” Bah Samba, from “The Rough Guide to Latin Lounge”: Bossa nova with a touch of ambient, how can Bah Samba go wrong?
9. “Inspiración,” Calexico, from “Carried to Dust”: A big shout-out to the Tucson boys for including some Spanish songs on their latest CD. The best is this duet by Jacob Valenzuela and Amparo Sanchez of Amparanoia, with its hypnotic beats of modern tango-rock.
10. “Akai 47,” Nortec Collective presents Bostich + Fussible, from “Tijuana Sounds”: The Nortec Collective members continue the Monterrey band’s exploration of techno-electronica-norteño-banda fusion on this party song that’ll have you hopping like a Mexican jumping bean.
11. “Tu Fiesta Personal,” Mo’ Horizons, from “The Rough Guide to Latin Lounge”: This funky dance number isn’t your nana’s lounge music. Trust me.
12. “Justicia,” Lila Downs, from “Shake Away”: Downs has never been afraid to speak her mind, and she and Spanish alt-rocker Enrique Bunbury let loose on this rousing and politically-charged duet.
13. “Llego Teté,” Teresa Garcia Caturla, from “The Rough Guide to Cuban Street Party”: The joyful energy of Cuban music overflows in this Latin dance gem by one of the island’s most popular singers.
14. “Mas Que Nada,” Sergio Mendes featuring Black Eyed Peas, from “Lotería Beats Mixtape”: The CD was released in 2007 but this remixed version of the Mendes classic is timeless, melding samba, hip-hop and dance.
15. “Gracias,” Omara Portuondo and Jorge Drexler, from “Gracias”: This elegant, bossa nova-flavored duet by the Cuban songstress and the Uruguayan singer-songwriter is the highlight of her just-released CD.
16. “Yo Envidio El Viento,” Lila Downs, from “Shake Away”: Downs’ cover of alt-country singer-song writer Lucinda Williams’ love song “I Envy the Wind,” flows with passion and longing.
17. Si Tu Te Vas,” Los Temerarios, from “Si Tu Te Vas”: Try to ignore the infectious chorus of this romantic, haunting ballad by the Mexican ranchera-pop group. I dare you.
18. “Ay Chave,” La Sonora Dinamita,” from “Think Global: Fiesta Latina”: An irresistible cumbia from the Colombian superstars, one of the greatest groups of all time.