Best Albums of 2016

By 19 December, 2016

The votes have been collected and now we’re ready to divulge our favourite Latin American albums of the year. As usual, it’s an eclectic mix, with pop, electronic, afrobeat, rock, folk, tropical bass, punk, hip-ho, cumbia and avant-garde artists all represented here. There’s even a prog rock album this year, which must be a first for us. Country-wise it’s Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador who are representing the majority of our picks, which highlights just how good the Ecuadorian music scene is at the moment (especially as Ecuador’s Quixosis only just missed out on featuring in the list too). Frustratingly, in what has been the year of the Latinxs there are not as many female artists as we would have liked, but this is something we are sure will be rectified in 2017. So, without any further ado, here are Sounds and Colours’ Best Albums of 2016:

20. Perrosky – Cielo Perro (Chile)

Chosen by Russ

Fifteen years after first forming, Chilean garage blues duo Perrosky have delivered their best work to date. The modus operandi of the band has always been clear. This is music influenced by American Blues, by RL Burnside, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hound Dog Taylor, early Black Keys and Bo Diddley. With Alejandro Gómez on guitar and vocals, and his brother Álvaro on drums, it is also music that sticks to the simple two-man blues format. On Cielo Perro they succeed by finding many variations within that formula, as well as writing some of their best melodies to date. Russ Slater

19. Family Atlantica – Cosmic Unity (UK)

Chosen by Marco

If you’ve never had the chance to listen to their self-titled debut, sign their name down, because Family Atlantica are set to become one of the sensations of 2016. The Latin… hmm, actually they’re not just Latin. African… well they’re not entirely African either. Caribbean… Not fully Caribbean too. So, let’s just define them as boundless or transcendental London-based band…

It almost goes without saying that Cosmic Unity is a fulfilling and gratifying album: it has an entire world inside and an endless sequence of sparks and references. It is able to widen cultural and geographical horizons offering a sui generis experience to its listeners. Then, just think that, when it comes Family Atlantica, the studio dimension is not even their most exciting one (you really have to see them live). Marco Canepari

18. Abayomy – Abra Sua Cabeca (Brazil)

Chosen by David

The 13 or so musicians who make up the Abayomy Afrobeat Orchestra’s dizzying array of saxophones, brass, keyboard and percussion first met back in 2009 when they assembled for a gig at the inaugural Fela Day in Rio de Janeiro (an annual celebration in tribute to Nigerian Afrobeat king, Fela Kuti). United by their love for afrobeat, they decided to join forces, selecting a name that lends a clue to their convergence. Abayomy means ‘chance encounter’ in Yoruba and since this incidental meeting in Rio, the band have made it their mission to establish the legacy of Kuti and his contemporaries in Brazilian music and culture.

The overarching sound from Abra Sua Cabeca is the spirited horns-rich, funk-infused style we have come to expect from Abayomy. This is served from the outset as the first track, “Abra Sua Cabeça”, opens with a recording of drummer Tony Allen reminiscing over Fela Kuti (“Fela sang all, he sang everything, he sang past, present and future all at the same time…”) before heading down a road of lively polyrhythms and wind section playing call-and-response in anticipation of a wild saxophone solo. Orlando Del Maestro

17. MAKU Soundsystem – Mezcla (Colombia)

Chosen by Gina

MAKU Soundsystem, an eight-piece immigrant band based in New York, mix Colombian beats with American funk, jazz and hip hop. With roots in Barranquilla, Bogota, the Bronx and Savannah, GA, MAKU’s new album brings a powerful and honest sound that goes beyond borders.

Their new album, Mezcla, released in late May 2016 hones in on a tender rawness mixed with an overwhelming and powerful feeling. “Who’s gonna build a wall in the middle of the ocean?” shouts lead singer Liliana Conde in their introductory song, “Agua”. Drawing from their own experiences, MAKU created an experimental and politically charged album that you can dance to all night. Jessica Diaz-Hurtado

16. Metá-Metá – MM3 (Brazil)

Chosen by Marco

On their third album (and second to include bass and drums) this São Paulo trio continue the sound that they perfected on MetaL MetaL. It’s a sound that is influenced equally by samba, jazz and punk, yet somehow manages to meld these diverse influences into an organic whole, which some critics have taken to calling ‘afro-punk’. Featuring Kiko Dinucci’s incisive guitar work, Thiago Franca’s emotive sax playing and Jucara Marcal’s dynamic voice, capable of building from a whisper to a full-throated roar in a fraction of a second, this latest sees them take on a greater African influence in the melodies – as on “Angolana” and “Toque Certeiro” – as well as offering up a stronger group offer, integrating drums and bass even more into their sound for their heaviest release to date. Tracks like “Angolême” and “Mano Lengua” are brimming with menace and angst. In these dark days for Brazilian politics Metá-Metá provide an essential soundtrack, cataloguing the complexities of emotion and the spirituality that is needed to provide hope. Russ Slater

15. ÀTTØØXXÁ – É F*DA P*RRA (Brazil)

Chosen by Amaya

The hype behind ‘Bahia bass’ saw the emergence of different labels collecting bedroom producers that were infusing new life in to Brazilian electronics. A space where, besides the classic samba and bossa nova, more contemporary genres like tecnobrega and rasterinha were being mixed with trap, bass and dance music. The record label Kafundó was born as a compilation series, and this year saw them release their first album by a solo artist. ÀTTØØXXÁ is the alter ego of Bahia musician Rafa Dias, known through his work with different and diverse musical outfits. In this new project he explores the electronic music world with a dance-floor vision, putting pagodão rhythms on top, but touching on different influences to make this local and suburban genre a global sensation. David Bugueño

14. Sidestepper – Supernatural Love (Colombia)

Chosen by Marco

The new Sidestepper album, the sixth of their twenty-year history, is also their most significant. Not simply because Supernatural Love comes after seven long years of silence and even ten years after their last work of original material, but because it represents a decisive and mature turn in their career, which will easily help the British/Colombian electro-cumbia collective to spread its name and sound around the world. The essential nature of the album is ultimately embodied by its lyrics. Supernatural Love is characterised by important but elementary images and icons: the four elements, the seasons, joie de vivre and Caribbean lust for life. The songs narrate simple social happenings, love stories, inspiring tales and encouraging calls, which induce and reinforce a community spirit and sense of sharing common values and emotions. Marco Canepari

13. Aisles – Hawaii (Chile)

Chosen by Nuno

The Chilean neo prog band Aisles have come a long way and with their latest effort Hawaii they have undoubtedly caught the attention of the press. Packaged with mind blowing artwork that revisits the importance of the album cover in this world of legal downloads and online streaming, it presents the story of a spaceship carrying the surviving members of the human species. With their memories and a longing for a world that’s forever gone, the passengers face their destiny heading in to the unknown. Among the possessions that were saved there is a record player and a vinyl with a song called “Club Hawaii”. It is the only reminder of music for the future generations.

This brilliant piece of work, just as that old fashioned record lost in space, is made to last. It is a cosmic journey into the vision of this band, a vision where music is made to capture our imaginations again. Be curious. Discover this album. You will be thrilled to the bone. Nuno Veloso

12. Dengue Dengue Dengue! – Siete Raíces (Peru)

Chosen by Amaya

Siete Raíces is Dengue Dengue Dengue’s most sonically diverse record — where they explore everything from downtempo, psychedelia, Chicago footwork-like drum patterns, dancehall and dub — but it also happens to be one of their more emotionally weighty efforts. While DDD! are known for their colourful performances and party ready beats, Siete Raíces sees them distancing themselves from the cumbia of their peers to create tracks that are dark, intellectual, introspective and mischievous, not to mention sonically tight. On the album opener, “Yuyu”, they introduce drum samples and synths slowly to the mix to create a hypnotizing, tribal track that is followed by the deeper and darker “Guarida”, featuring an excellent Sara Van. There’s little breathing room in the album, as its full of these peaks and valleys —fast paced, hip swaying tracks (like Magín Díaz sampling “La Rama del Tamarindo”) between darker, downtempo gems. Siete Raíces is DDD! at its best: more nuanced and even more committed to deconstructing folklore and pushing it towards new frontiers. Amaya García

11. Mala – Mirrors (UK)

Chosen by Amaya and Marco

Mala‘s latest sonic venture is an accomplished outing that delicately incorporates the sounds of traditional Peruvian music within his trademark low-end framework. Opening track “Kotos” immediately carries us high into the cordillera with an opening motif played on the siku, a traditional Andean panpipe. Mala drafted in a number of local musicians for this project and the sikuri group Asosiacion Juvenil Puno add great presence to the opener which deftly morphs into a 140 bubbler with manipulated pipe swells and Mala’s characteristic rim shots resonating beautifully. This feel continues through the noticeably darker, yet equally evocative, “Dedication 365” until we fall upon “Cusco Street Scene”, which is as frenetic as one would expect. Mala has shown his worth as an innovator time and again, and Mirrors is perhaps his finest achievement to date. Alexander de Lacey

10. Mateo Kingman – Respira (Ecuador)

Chosen by Amaya and Marco

Mateo Kingman’s Respira is the musical link between the Andes and Amazon. It is soaked in the flora and fauna of the south-eastern Ecuador region of Morona Santiago, where forests give way to the slopes of the cordillera and preserve the rich traditional expressions of the locals. As much as it is dominant in the region, nature is also the absolute protagonist of this album. As Kingman explains, Respira breathes the “water, earth, birds, the spiritual power of the jungle, the heat, the trees, the simplicity of the people, and traditional Amazonian medicine”. However, the musician from Macas goes even beyond the mountain range, transposing those sounds in Quito and giving them a contemporary perspective. Kingman blends his roots with urban arrangements. He adds hip-hop metrics, pinches of electronica and dance attitude. Doing so, he has produced one of the most surprising and intriguing works of 2016, able to emphasise even further the current Ecuadorean scene. Marco Canepari

9. Xenia Rubinos – Black Terry Cat (US)

Chosen by Gina and Russ

Xenia Rubinos made her first musical appearance in 2013 with her debut, Magic Trix. Three years and 14 tracks later her second instalment arrived, Black Terry Cat. The album delivers an experimental mixture of punky bluntness, soulful chirpings, bassy riffs and choppy hip-hop beats. Lyrically the tracks are largely backed by a civil rights message, Xenia demonstrating her socially awareness of today’s turbulent political climate, “You know where to put the brown girl when she’s fuckin’ it up. Where you gonna put the brown girl now she’s tearin’ it up?”. Clocking up an eleventh spot in NPR’s top 50 albums of 2016 , and a string of reviews and interviews Xenia’s sound has not gone unnoticed this year, and rightly so. Felix Higgins

8. Helado Negro – Private Energy (US/Ecuador)

Chosen by Gina and Russ

The fifth album from Roberto Carlos Lange (Helado Negro) is a high-quality offering. Private Energy is well-written and varied, blending different music genres, different languages and different production styles. “Young, Latin and Proud” heads up what is the solid centre of the album. This particular song is a charged, bilingual celebration that anyone can belong to any societal mould with which they feel an affinity, regardless of age or status. That feeling of empowerment comes through once more in “We Don’t Have Time For That” where he sings that “physical dimensions don’t hold me back anymore”. It is an easy-listening album that is never in danger of being banal, allowing us to go on a journey of melodious contemplation without ever losing focus. It is calm but not cloudy; it is thoughtful but not a daydream. Ross Cullen

7. Orkesta Mendoza – Vamos A Guarachar (US)

Chosen by Marco and Russ

Mingling genres, decades and languages, Orkesta Mendoza is yet another band to do the borderlands city of Tucson proud. With a strong set of songs and excellent production, ¡Vamos a Guarachar! is clear proof these guys deserve international notice. The opener “Cumbia Volcadora” is a brassy barn-burner that would not be out of place on a Discos Fuentes compilation; electric guitars and spooky keyboard riffs give “Mapache” a psychedelic feel and other songs, like the driving “Caramelos” and the acoustic guitar-dominated “Nada Te Debo,” which sounds very much like a Calexico song, are more rooted in rock music than styles like cumbia or mambo. Moreover, the electronic touches on “Caramelos” make it clear this is not an album totally rooted in times past. Ryan Schumacher

6. Carmelo Torres y Los Toscos – S/T (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

Well I’ll be damned if opening track “Mi Machete” is not the best song of 2016. In a world where cumbia is being ripped apart and reassembled in so many different ways, there can be few instances of a group keeping the traditions of cumbia intact while also pushing it forward into new sonic possibilities, which is exactly what Carmelo Torres y Los Toscos are doing. This album is the second by the Bogotá collective Los Toscos whose mandate is to create unique one-off collaborations with artists from all over the world (their first album was with US sax player Tony Malaby, and their third will have a distinctly Brazilian flavour). It sees them pair with Carmelo Torres, an accordion player and singer who was taught by Andrés Landero and can be seen as one of the few remaining musicians keeping the San Jacinto variant of cumbia sabanera alive. Also featuring the talents of Mario Galeano (Ondatropica/Frente Cumbiero), Pedro Ojeda (Romperayo/Los Pirañas) and Juan David Castaño (La Revuelta), the group give Torres’s accordion playing and singing extra oomph with a lower back-end, insistent percussion and the occasional detour into ragged guitar riffs (that never sound out of place). This is a unique collaboration that brings classic cumbia well and truly into the 21st Century. Russ Slater

5. Eduardo Zambrano – Ritual (Ecuador)

Chosen by Russ and David

Ritual is the latest example of how comfortably nostalgia and futurism can coexist within the same sound. Ritual wears its local influences on its sleeve, with abundant samples of Andean pan flutes, charango guitars and rainforest field recordings. You would not mistake this album for being from any other part of the world. Yet these local folk influences are coupled with the sounds of gurgling synthesizers and drum machines, along with rhythmic sensibilities that suggest influences from house, footwork, hip hop, grime and other subgenres of global dance music. A big part of Ritual’s cohesion stems from always being in more than one place at a time, a type of disorientation of space that plays into the dark, psychedelic nature of this music. Alexander Coppola

4. Sentidor – Memoro Fantomo/Rio Preto (Brazil)

Chosen by Amaya, David and Russ

First off, let’s put any biases to one side. It is true that at the start of this year Sentidor released SIBÖ Revisted, an album on Sounds and Colours, a co-production with NILLO which saw various producers remix their recent SIBÖ album, which was itself a reworking of indigenous songs from Costa Rica. We thought it was special, hence why we released it. However, since then it seems Sentidor (aka Brazilian producer João Carvalho) has gone from strength to strength, having released this astonishing album, an ambient exploration of his own personal turmoils. Borne out of a period of depression the album is marked by a sense of hope rather than turmoil, marking potentially the moment when things turn for the better rather than the worse. Incredibly, Carvalho has since followed this up with another album released this year, an ambient pop release that features his voice for the first time, and once again is capable of conveying intense beauty. That project and album is called Rio Sem Nome and is well worth a listen too. Russ Slater

3. Alex Anwandter – Amiga (Chile)

Chosen by Amaya, David and Juan Pablo

After releasing the 2012 smash Rebeldes, Alex Anwandter became the torchbearer of left-field, avant-garde Chilean pop; a status solidified this year with Amigas, his most brazen, bold and overtly political album yet. His signature mix of nü-disco (those string arrangements!), thumping Euro house beats and folk sensibilities make for a fast paced, dance-floor oriented album with strange but welcoming acoustic moments, like “¿Qué Será de Ti Mañana?”. But underneath the shiny pop veneer, Anwandter delivers his most searing and poignant critiques directed at Chilean society and its apologism of macho culture, homophobia, sexism and the silence of some musicians on those subjects. With tracks like “Mujer” and “Manifiesto”, the artist reinforces his status as an ally for women and the oppressed, but it never feels like pandering. There’s always an introspective moment (like on “Manifiesto”) where you can feel Anwandter himself asking: is this enough? The answer, of course, is no, but that self-reflection gives his work a deeper humanity and melancholy than we’ve heard from him before. Musically and lyrically, Amigas is Anwandter at his fiercest, most experimental, outspoken and most importantly, independent. Amaya García

2. Edson Velandia – El Karateka (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

There are few artists as inventive as Edson Velandia. There are also few artists as hard to pin down. Since Velandia emerged around 10 years ago with his group Velandia y La Tigra and a brand new style of music called rasqas (an original mix of rock, folk, Latin and avant-garde influences that actually achieved its aims of originality), Velandia’s releases have been varied and sporadic, never letting the listener know what’s coming next. The fact that they had also been hard-to-find outside of Colombia added a veil of mystery too (though all of Velandia’s albums are now available on Spotify, Apple and the like). His latest release is his second to be credited as Edson Velandia, and it is certainly his most stripped down, featuring just Velandia on guitar and vocals (except for just a hint of electronics on one track and a backing vocal on another). Despite this minimal setup these are urgent songs, somehow uniting the imminency of punk, the intimacy of folk music and a strong connection with Colombian and Latin traditions through the lyrics. Where else can you find a beautiful lullaby-esque folk song like “La Curandera”, a tongue-in-cheek tango like “La Tanga Negra y el Tango Solo”, an insistent plea for forgiveness such as “El Canibal” and a stunning social commentary such as “La Muerte de Jaime Garzón”. It’s the best set of songs Velandia has written to date and the perfect excuse to get to know this uncompromising and visionary artist. Russ Slater

1. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens (US/Chile)

Chosen by Amaya, Juan Pablo, Marco and Russ

The unanimous choice for our album of the year is the latest release from Nicolas Jaar, a Chilean producer who grew up in New York City. As with previous much-acclaimed albums Space Is Only Noise and Pomegranates, Sirens builds hypnotic soundscapes from beats, jazz piano chords, flitting sound effects and by creating a delicate balance between ambient noise and more structured elements. Where it differs to previous releases is in the political themes of the album. “I feel an affinity with the political aspect of dance music — maybe it can increasingly become a place of protest”, Jaar told Pitchfork recently. He has also spoken about how time spent at the Museo de la Memoria in Chile and conversations with family and friends have helped shape the mood of the album. It’s an album that has ghosts, that documents a personal journey, and is perhaps the perfect embodiment of the genre IDM (intelligent dance music), being as it’s music that can be listened to on the headphones or on the dance-floor, as our recent live review can attest. Sirens is an album that has bewitched us ever since it was released in September, offering a kaleidoscope of musical influences and emotions that somehow are knotted together into a compulsive whole. For us, it’s Jaar’s finest release to date. Russ Slater

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