25 Best Latin Albums of 2019


Nearly five decades after his Woodstock debut, Carlos Santana and his band, Santana, paid homage to the motherland on Africa Speaks by enlisting African musicians, and the Spanish siren, Buika. Sonically, the cross-cultural album champions against Afro-erasure in a period where Latinx music habitually exults white-passing artists.


This trilingual effort balances liner notes from Algerian singer Rachid Taha, buoyant Afrobeat from Jay U Experience, and the funk contributions of Easy Kabaka Brown.


With a mostly Spanish-language tracklist, Africa Speaks debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 and simultaneously crowned the Top Latin Albums chart. Rick Rubin produced sessions of its live instrumentation in his renowned recording studio, Shangri-La, in Malibu, California.


Carlos Santana’s spoken word opening on the title track affirms a universal truth that shapes the record: “All and everything was conceived here in Africa. The cradle of civilization.”


And if his electric guitar breaks are the lifeline of the genre-bending record, the lush texture of Buika’s voice is its most freeing element. Intertwining intricate riffs by way of her mother’s tribe’s native tongue, Buika’s Bube hymns balance well throughout Africa Speaks on songs like “Los Invisibles” and “Oye Este Mi Canto.” With each compelling poetic leading into the next, arias such as “Batonga” and “Paraísos Quemados” echo the retro feels waxed on Santana’s ’70s hit, “Black Magic Woman.” The mellow Laura Mvula-assisted, “Blue Skies,” brings forth dazzling jazz harmonies and English sonnets.


To songs that, on average, exceed five minutes in length — the Mexican-American legend led his 25th LP with sophisticated indigenous musicality. Santana notably recorded 49 songs in 10 days. Selecting the tracks which encompassed the frontrunner’s life’s work was a task fitted for the gifted.


Its lyrical content punctuates remnants of betrayal, triumph, and the passion required to endure on tunes, “Bembele,” and “Candomble Cumbele.” Over the 11-track release and its Target exclusive extended play — Africa Speaks powerfully fuses rock, flamenco, Afro-Caribbean tradition, and garnered iconic co-signs.


“Luna Hechicera,” a love song-turned-nightmare, was notably propped by the Senegalese-Nigerian bandleader Ismaël Lô. The composition, in its entirety, was both co-written and vocalized by Buika, marking the Latin Grammy Award-winning songstress’ first time performing rock music.


This newfound energy was deemed as “magical from the beginning,” by Rubin on the album’s VEVO visual titled, “A Conversation with Rick Rubin – Africa Speaks.” The body of work’s depth is limitless, and its grooves were not shaped to be radio-friendly — but instead build-out to embody half a century of Santana’s musical prominence. – B.A.

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