Brazil: Karol Conka — “Vô lá”
I think I’ve had dreams where hip-hop group Dead Prez went to Brazil and engaged in some serious musical fusão. Happily, about a week ago I discovered Karol Conka, a 27-year-old rapper who grew up poor in the southern state of Paraná. This song’s title, “Vô lá,” means “I see you there.” It’s as though she’s letting Brazil’s oligarchs know that she’s watching them.
South Africa: Miriam Makeba — “Pata Pata”
Affectionately referred to as “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba was banned from South Africa in the ’60s because of her outspoken stance against apartheid. Makeba was a true activist, testifying before the UN and advocating an embargo against her native country. She was also a real traveler, holding nine different passports. Makeba never liked this song very much, and didn’t understand why it became so popular. But then, Gabriel García Márquez never understood why readers couldn’t get enough of One Hundred Years of Solitude either.
Great Britain: Kate Bush — “Wuthering Heights”
The oft-reclusive British artist is certainly one of the greatest gifts popular music has received in the last 50 years. Drawing more from literature and modern dance than ’70s and ’80s pop, Kate Bush is an icon for deep-souled introverts everywhere. Throughout her career, she’s provided a guiding light to those of us who aren’t afraid to feel, and pissed off a lot of record label executives in the process.
Argentina: Miss Bolivia ft. Ali Gua Gua — “Alta Yama”
Miss Bolivia is Paz Ferrerya, a dread-locked porteña who loves reggae, rap, and good weed. She and Ali Gua Gua team up here to bring us “Alta Yama.” They reclaim reggaeton and make rap para las madres.
Detroit/Canada: Angel Haze — “A Tribe Called Red”
Canada and the United States have terrible track records with their First Nations peoples. A Tribe Called Red make some of the most happening remixed music around, calling out racist representations at the same time. Check out this collaboration they did with American rapper Angel Haze, whose mother is a Cherokee tribal member. Pure fuego.
Spain: BFlecha — “B33”
It was time: for Spain to produce something other than electric flamenco. BFlecha is super feminine and her rap is truly cosmopolitan, making more space for her country on the musical map.
Puerto Rico: Füete Billēte — “La Trilla (Montate Aqui)”
Yes, I know Puerto Rico isn’t a country. Yet. But culturally it’s pretty distinct from its colonial overlord, the United States. These boricua rappers are vulgar and misogynistic, but they have a quality of I don’t give a fuck-ness that I find deeply refreshing. Of their lyrics, they’ve said, “Rap shouldn’t be an acceptable thing for everyone. Rap is about speaking the truth, what happens in the street, and how people live in the streets.” Whether or not I can fully accept that statement, their ability to authentically rap about how much they love weed resonates with my Californian soul.
US-Mexico Border: DJ Sonora remix of Lido Pimienta — “La Minga”
DJ Sonora is something of a mystery to me. Based in San Antonio, Texas, he’s always remixing my favorite songs with a special flair — often adding jungle noises or cumbia shakes. He keeps a low media profile, but his unique voice finds an audience through his amazing musical projects.
Chile: Ana Tijoux — “Shock”
At Lollapalooza this past January, someone in the audience yelled that Tijoux has a “cara de nana” — the face of a maid. She quickly tweeted a response, “For those who think they’re insulting me by calling me a maid, I have tremendous pride in all those hardworking women who are examples of courage.” She’s a real lucha lady, supporting several causes, from Chile’s student movement to Arizona’s problematic stance on immigration.
Cuba: Silvio Rodríguez — “Ojalá”
I wanted to end this list on a lyrical note. And there’s no one who so exquisitely blends his radical politics with emotional truths as this Cuban singer/songwriter, lovingly called “El Maestro” in Latin America. Is there any word that better encapsulates the spirit of revolution than the title of this song?