Best Albums of 2017

By 22 December, 2017

If you’ve been following Sounds and Colours since the start you’ll know that we started off by focusing on South American music. The reason for this was simple: we wanted to show that there was an incredible amount of great music being made in South America that was distinct from the Latino music of the US or of the Cuban music that was so beloved by world music fans. Well, at some point we realised that we could still show that Latin music had an adventurous underbelly while featuring music from across Latin America. This is proven in our end of the year list which for the first time features a #1 outside of South America (scroll down to see who won). Pleasingly, it also features a hugely-divergent range of music from across Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico and Venezuela that shows the depth of music on offer. So, without any further ado here are our favourite albums of 2017:

20. Olaya Sound System – Música del Mar (Peru)

Chosen by David B

After the great national success of their previous album, Quién Es Quién, Olaya Sound System have strengthened their sound on Música del Mar. Moving forward from the dub experiments of their first albums to Latin fusion compositions – such as “Agua De Manantial”, which draws from Andean folklore and cumbia – that have earned them a bigger audience in their country and taken them on tours to other cities around Latin America. Nowadays, the band is one of the most promising in the ever-growing musical scene from Peru. David Bugueño

19. Federico Durand – La Niña Junco (Argentina)

Chosen by Pablo

In a world where nonsense speeches saturate the space and where it’s hard to believe that the present ecocide humankind is somehow linked to the humankind that worshipped trees and created alphabets, Federico Durand, as a skilled impressionist painter of sounds, makes the world his protagonist and forces us to listen, showing us its beauty with sheer pure light. No voices or rush, secret melodies sung by flowers, birds and grass, epic mini loops, tenderly crafted. Using his first synthesizer, a Crumar, after getting it back off a friend, and recorded in a two day session in his home in the mountains in the middle region of Argentina, this, his second full length album (released by the exquisite label 12k) can be used as a portal to breathe a parallel rhythm, embrace the joy of continuity of life, feeling every borough as golden and sacred, and enjoy being here on this rock that floats across the universe. Pablo Andrés Bobadilla Echenique

18. Hurray for the Riff Raff – The Navigator (USA/Puerto Rico)

Chosen by Russ

While the lyrical content of The Navigator might not be completely intelligible without some knowledge of Latin America and the experiences of Latin Americans in the United States, listeners expecting an album deeply rooted in Puerto Rican music might also be disappointed. Songs like “The Navigator,” “Rican Beach,” and the finale are very clearly informed by Caribbean styles, but generally the greatest point of departure from Hurray for the Riff’s previous album, Small Town Heroes, is that the songs tend to be louder, bolder, and more electrified. One of the lead singles from The Navigator, “Hungry Ghost” reminds me of Arcade Fire, truth be told. Musically, this is an album that should find a warm welcome from more adventurous fans of Americana (and The Navigator is Americana in the very broadest sense of the term) and indie rock, but as a cultural and intellectual document, it should appeal to anybody concerned with the past and present of America, both North and South. Ryan Schumacher

17. Lil Supa – Serio (Venezuela)

Chosen by Juan

When people talk about hip-hop’s golden age, they usually point to the ‘90s, when lyrics dropped science and beats were crafted with samples taken from obscure vinyl records. In Latin America, however, during those years, hip-hop was barely crawling on all fours, rappers, many times, looked like a pantomime and beat producers lacked the know-how and the proper tools to put together something that resembled those good ol’ boom-bap instrumentals. So, when in the 2010s Latin American rappers, like Venezuelan Lil Supa, deliver magnificent pieces of work that seem to be nostalgic for the sound, aesthetics and message of the genre’s golden age it’s, in a way, as if they’re imagining a glorious past of Latin American hip-hop that never truly existed. To a foreign untrained ear it might sound anachronistic, but Lil Supa’s Serio represents the current sound of a wave of Latin American rappers that are firmly standing their ground in recreating that imaginary past, in the present, while resisting the advance of the more commercial trap sound that’s taking over the mainstream airwaves in across the continent. Born in Caracas in 1985, Marlon Morales, a.k.a. Lil Supa, a.k.a. Lou Fresco is one of the dopest MCs out there and many point out at his masterpiece, Serio, as Latin America’s equivalent to Nas’ Illmatic: a milestone album that symbolized the hip-hop reaching full maturity. I happen to agree. Juan Data

16. La BOA – Volumen (Colombia)

Chosen by David B

Bogotá-born perhaps, but the sound is truly worldly: funk guitar rhythms glue together bars of marimba, horn sections punctuate between rap and soulful vocal delivery. The percussion is sensory with ambient beats raining down amidst the wide-spanning harmonies that soak them up. Undertones of jazz rear their heads from within. It’s afrobeat, albeit with a distinctly Latin American-blend of attitude, elegance and swagger. The band’s second album, Volumen follows 2015’s Animal. Yet, where the last was an album in full collaboration with talismanic afro-roots singer Nelda Piña, on this new disc Piña only fleetingly accompanies the celebrations. That is not, of course, to understate the power of her voice; when it does return to the fold in the simply sublime “Que Mate El Mar” it does so with a reassurance that belies her aching tones. 2016’s collaboration with Nidia Góngora sounds arguably even better now that it did before, as it sits alongside six other tracks which compliment it’s brilliance. Afrobeat may well be finding its future, in Colombia. Frank Kinsey

15. Meridian Brothers – ¿Dónde Estás María? (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ

After receiving a mute response to his previous album, Los Suicidas in 2015, a concept album of largely-instrumental ambient organ music, Meridian Brothers’ Eblis Álvarez returned to the kaleidoscopic approach found on 2014’s Salvadora Robot for his latest album, which featured what Álvarez calls a “fictional ensemble” featuring just two keyboard sounds, fuzz guitar, bass, drums, vocals and the cello. Conceptually, the album is strongly influenced by the cumbia rhythm with vocal melodies snatched from Peruvian huaynos and a sense of melancholia that Álvarez felt in Brazilian music – which he’d been getting more interested in after touring Brazil several times – but that is missing from its Colombian counterpart. Essentially though, the album continues the creation of a fantastical musical universe that embraces avant-garde ideas as well as folk music from across the Americas, and delivers in its own satirical, characterful manner. Russ Slater

14. Making Movies – I Am Another You (USA)

Chosen by Gina

What did British songwriter Billy Bragg and salsa great Ruben Blades have in common in 2017? They both discovered Kansas City’s Afro-Latin indie rock band, Making Movies. The quartet are ending 2017 on a high after spending much of the year touring in support of their album, I Am Another You, with Hurray for the Riff Raff. The record is a story of real life scenarios all over the United States: young people, namely immigrants, struggling to live their lives in an uncertain time. With 20 strong bilingual and genre-blending tracks produced by Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin, the album put the band on the Billboard Latin charts for the first time in their five year history. Add a chance encounter with Billy Bragg and recognition and an invitation to work together by Ruben Blades, an idol of the band’s founding brothers, Enrique and Diego Chi, and we see more good things for this band in the future. Gina Vergel

13. Rio Mira – Marimba Del Pacifico (Ecuador/Colombia)

Chosen by Marco

Rio Mira are a new group from both Colombia and Ecuador who are aiming to show the close cultural links between the Afro-descendent communities of the two countries. With a production team of Colombian producer Iván Benavides (known for his work with Sidestepper, ChocQuibTown and Carlos Vives) and Ecuadorian Ivis Flies (who brought to attention the work of Pacific coast singer Don Naza) there is little surprise that this one turned out quite so well. Featuring songs from the música pacifica canon – including tracks familiarised by Grupo Naidy, Hugo Candelario’s Grupo Bahia and Gualajó – they opt for a relatively traditional set-up with pairs of cununo and bombo drums offering rich, often-booming percussive drive, guasa percussion giving texture, and two marimbas taking the lead on each song. With their rapid, resonant notes it’s the sound of the marimbas that rises to the fore. To this instrumental backing are added call-and-response vocals which speak of daily life for those on the Pacific Coast. Marimba del Pacifico is a great reminder of the powerful music being made in the Afro communities along the Pacific Coast and which continues to be played by younger generations. Russ Slater

12. Juana Molina – HALO (Argentina)

Chosen by Amaya and Pablo

Four years after Wed 21, Juana Molina returned with HALO, an album that sees her keep to the high standards of which we are used to in her work, creating tapestries of electronic and organic sounds that are given their own unique cadence thanks to her lithe, direct vocals. Molina has spoken in the past about how words are the last things she adds to an album and you can see that clearly here, with a number of songs featuring wordless vocals, instead Molina creating melodies and textures with her voice rather than creating any lyrical conceit. It’s also an album that sees her loosen a little, with a more relaxed sound that feels freed from urbanity, spreading out across the Argentine pampas perhaps, and with Odin Schwartz and Deerhoof’s John Dieterich occasionally appearing as collaborators it also shows that she’s allowing room for other musicians on her releases, something which has rarely happened before. If anything, the biggest criticism you could have of this album is that it’s equally as brilliant as her earlier work, offering this reviewer no chance of saying she’s either lost her muse or had a return to form, it’s simply just more of the same greatness. Russ Slater

11. Sentidor – Am_Par_Sis (Brazil)

Chosen by Amaya and Russ

We have to put a big disclaimer on this album’s presence here, after all it is an album we released. However, there is a caveat to this: the reason we released the album ourselves is because we god damn loved it and wanted to make sure it got out to the world. Hence, it’s inclusion here is perfectly legitimate. So, why did we want to release it? Well, the reason is simple: music that is this detailed, passionate and raw while also being masterfully constructed is rather hard to come across. Using only samples taken from Tom Jobim’s Passarim the album shifts through different moods that range from the apocalyptic to sumptuous beauty, with the concept of the album being a degraded relic found in the future seemingly spot on. On this album Sentidor showed us why he is an artist we really should all be keeping an eye on. Russ Slater

10. Daymé Arocena – Cubafonía (Cuba)

Chosen by David B and Marco

Arocena extends an idiomatic duality, that sees her sing in Spanish and English, to the idiosyncrasies that surround the songs, mixing Latin genres such as son cubano and pop-infused bolero experiments with jazz and power ballad structures. For those familiar with 2015’s Nueva Era, it’s fair to say that this album follows a more upbeat direction, with tropical rhythms on many of the pieces, offering a joyful experience, especially for those who like to swing their hips while listening to Caribbean music. The album may be called Cubafonía, but this is more an exercise in making music with a global view, not allowing it to get confused by trying to put everything into the mix, just letting it flow naturally through diasporadic afro-Latin references that will put a smile on your face (unless you are listening to the emotional devotion song “Todo Por Amor”). If you didn’t know Daymé but love the passion of Omara Portuondo or the cutting edge rhythms of Mongo Santamaría, you will find here a favourite new artist. David Bugueño

9. Ondatrópica – Baile Bucanero (Colombia)

Chosen by Amaya and Marco

Recorded between Bogotá and Isla de Providencia (two places that are worlds apart yet combine brilliantly, to express the Colombian soul), Baile Bucanero still exudes and champions the roots of South American music. These two locations allow the album to marry the exuberance of Bogotá’s underground culture with the Afro-Caribbean and up-tempo influences washed ashore on the San Andrés archipelago in the Caribbean Sea. At the same time and more than ever, Ondatrópica’s sound has turned global. It is tropical, African, Caribbean and all intersections in-between. As a matter of fact, when you collaborate with 35 musicians, you take on board their backgrounds too and so it’s inevitable to end up with an overflowing palette of styles. When listening to Baile Bucanero, you can easily tell that it is the result of a 4-year process. If, on the one hand, you can perceive the passion and artistic intensity that it nurtures, on the other hand you can also point out that the album is a finely chiselled work with precise arrangements and an exquisite balance between its ingredients. Its authors are far from being novices and they instinctively know how to write and produce a record embodying a country like Colombia and its many souls. Marco Canepari

8. Curumin – Boca (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ and Wander

Curumin, the stage name used by the Brazilian singer Luciano Nakata Albuquerque, released his first album, Achados e Perdidos, in 2005. Since then the musician, who is also a drummer, music producer and composer, has delivered three more collections, the latest being Boca, which brings compositions that deal with subjects such as politics (“Boca Pequena Parte 1”) and sensuality (“Terrível”). The songs on this record delight us with a mix of guitars, bass, drums and electronic sounds produced by Curumin. From these mixtures some songs stand out, such as “O Burguês Deu Errado” and “No Slam Resistência”. One can also notice a considerable amount of partnerships spread throughout the album, some being worth mentioning like those in which Curumin turns to rap and samba. The Brazilian rapper Rico Dalasam is found in “Tramela” and Russo Passapusso in “Boca Pequena Parte 2”, this last one featuring a typical U.S. hip hop beat. Curumin also approaches traditional samba and partners, in vocal and composition pieces, with the musicians Andreia Dias, Anelis Assumpção, Iara Rennó and Max B.O., all of whom take part in the final track (“Paçoca”). Boca was made available by Curumin on his Youtube channel, making this a great opportunity for those who are not yet familiar with his work to get to know it better. Wander Barbieri

7. Arca – Arca (Venezuela)

Chosen by David B and Russ

Caracas born, but now a worldwide electronic music icon, Arca’s rise to notoriety was not quite regular. He started producing as a teen under the name of Nuuro, generating a little buzz in his country, then moved to the US to study music in New York. Suddenly, and after a couple of independent EPs, Arca was on everyone’s radar, with productions for Kanye West, FKA Twigs and Björk. It’s said that it was the Icelandic singer who pushed Alejandro Ghersi to sing on his latest album, simply called Arca, and the result is one of the most interesting releases of 2017. Dramatic, intense and delicate at the same time, it declares the freedom of showing who you really are, something that he didn’t feel comfortable to do in his homeland, that is probably the reason why he uses the lyrics of one of the most popular Venezuelan folk songs for one of the hit singles of the album, “Reverie”. Musically speaking, the release turned an electronic music producer into an alternative pop artist, reaching bigger audiences, and especially gaining a big place in the heart of the LGBT community around the world. David Bugueño

6. Chicano Batman – Freedom Is Free (USA)

Chosen by Gina and Juan

When I first saw Chicano Batman live, in 2010, they were a trio introducing their self-titled debut album at a small bar in downtown Oakland, to a crowd of no more than 25 people. Earlier this year they came back to the Bay Area to present Freedom Is Free at a sold-out Fillmore theatre. They’re now four and they are signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO Records, they appear in national TV shows and rock the crowds at major festivals like Coachella, all that while going very much against every and all current trends in the Latin pop universe. A one-of-a-kind phenomenon, Chicano Batman were able to exploit the inherited nostalgia of the descendant of immigrants in a way that appeals not only to other young Chicanos, but to a wide, heterogeneous crowd dispersed around the United States and beyond. Freedom Is Free is just the latest installment in their impeccable catalog, that seamlessly combines Curtis Mayfield’s brand of soul, with Latin American romantic legends like Los Angeles Negros, plus some tropical psychedelia, delivered in a carefully crafted analog retro sound that’s meant to be enjoyed best on vinyl format. Closer to the experiments of retro soul revivalists like Adrian Younge, than to anything that you can listen on Latin music radio stations these days, it’s a mystery how this band grew in popularity so fast. But they deserve every bit of it, and more. Now I’m left wondering how long before Ghostface Killah records a verse or two over one of their tracks. Juan Data

5. Magín Díaz – El Orisha de la Rosa (Colombia)

Chosen by David B and Gina

For fans of Colombian music, especially bullerengue, El Orisha de la Rosa is truly a joy. Traditional songs, that have been heard in Colombia for decades, are sung by Diaz, some in collaboration with big names such as Carlos Vives, Toto la Momposina, Petrona Martinez and Celso Piña. Plus, there is also Diaz with a modern twist, as he has a track with Colombian, French-influenced, gypsy jazz band, Monsieur Perine, and an electronic dance song with rap lyrics by Bomba Estereo’s Li Saumet and New York City based rapper, Nani Castle, as well as singers La Yegros, Kombilesa Mi, and La Bermúdez. So while the record has beautiful solos and duets of a bevy of traditional songs, such as “Rosa,” “Dolores Tiene Un Piano,” and “La Totuma,” we were inspired by hearing this 95-year-old’s beautiful grainy voice alongside young women who are considered buzzworthy in today’s genre-defying Latin music scene. Gina Vergel

4. Kaleema – Nómada (Argentina)

Chosen by David B and Amaya

Kaleema is the stage name of Argentine violinist, composer, and electronic music extraordinaire Heidi Lewandowski. Her debut album, Nómada, published on Tropical Twista Records is a fascinating look into Lewandowski’s journey from the straight-laced world of classical orchestras to travelling through South America and immersing herself in the world of Andean rhythms and Afro-Colombian music. What comes out is a deeply nuanced, minimalistic approach to global bass, one that cares more about the ritual of listening, of letting go of conventions and embracing emotion above all else. Her influences are never clear cut, as you can hear some minimal cumbia in title track “Nómada,” Afro-Latin influence in the aptly-titled “Sierra Leona,” and some amazing ambient in the left-field collaboration with Chancha Via Circuito. Among the standout tracks you can also find collaborations with Colombian wunderkind Lido Pimienta and rapper Sara Hebe. Nómada contains multitudes and requires several listens to fully comprehend the beauty Lewandowski has dreamed up for us and for herself. Amaya García

3. Betsayda Machado & Parranda El Clavo – Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree (Venezuela)

Chosen by Russ and Marco

This was a complete revelation when I first heard it. Normally folkloric recordings can be a little polite, well-recorded but lacking the vitality of when you hear the music in its natural environment. Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under The Mango Tree (which was recorded under a mango tree) shows us all how to capture the passion of simple rural music. Betsayda Machado & Parranda El Clavo were completely unknown before this album came along, but they are a tremendous group and one of the few exponents of Venezuela’s Afro tambores music to be getting a global profile. With just drums, percussion and constantly-changing lead vocals this is blistering stuff, full of energy with pounding rhythms and with vocals that seem to lift you off the ground. This really has set a high benchmark for the recording of folk music and is up there with the classic Afro-Latin recordings of Totó La Momposina on Real World. Russ Slater

2. Criolo – Espiral de Ilusão (Brazil)

Chosen by David M, Russ and Wander

Espiral De Ilusão, the latest album from Criolo, sees the singer (who emerged out of São Paulo’s hip-hop community) working with a samba band for the first time, transposing his tales of inequality, hope and the realities for many Brazilians living in the peripheries to a tight-knit band of percussionists, guitar, cavaquinho and horns. It’s an essential album from one of Brazil’s stand-out talents of recent years, a singer and rapper who has managed to synthesise the sentiments of so many Brazilians who feel like they are being ignored by those in power. By working with a samba band Criolo is harking back to his youth – his parents used to listen to samba a lot in the house, as well as it being one of his major passions. Taking nods from the heroes of São Paulo samba, Criolo switches from cutting critiques of the government (“Menino Mimado”) to evocative tales from his neighbourhood (“Lá Vem Você”) and shows his knack for crafting great melodies and his astonishingly-emotive singing voice. Russ Slater

1. ÌFÉ – IIII+IIII (Puerto Rico)

Chosen by Amaya, David B, Gina and Marco

IIII+IIII [Eji-Ogbe] is the product of Otura Mun’s life long journey of self discovery: reinventing himself as a musician, to understanding life and meaning through spirituality, and love through sacrifice. These themes are the backbone of his band ÌFÉ’s debut album, where you can hear one of the most unique fusions between Afro-Caribbean and electronic music; between the percussion of the Yoruba rituals, the Cuban rumba clave, dancehall downbeats and even R&B. For that, Mun (who is an ordained babalawo and student of Yoruban and rumba) electrified the basic rumba set up of congas and cajones, drilled holes in the instruments, added electronic sensors, and connected them to a nine-surface sampling pad. It’s music that breaks the rules. With its abundance of reverb, it’s challenging percussion and sweet sonorities, it’s one of the strongest and most beautiful expressions of Afro-Caribbean creativity and resilience. The end result is music that lives in its own self-contained world of love and expansion. Amaya García

Contenders (here are the albums that just missed out on the Top 20 – all of which are worth checking out): AJ Dávila – El Futuro (Puerto Rico); Ariwo – Ariwo (Cuba/UK); Blue Beast – Devil May Care (Netherlands/Brazil); Bomba Estéreo – Ayo (Colombia); Boogarins – Lá Vem O Morte (Brazil); Café Tacvba – Jei Beibi(Mexico); Calostro – Árboles de Vidrio Esquirlado (Chile); DJ Tudo e Sua Gente de Todo Lugar – Gaia Música Vol. 2 (Brazil); Djonga – Heresia (Brazil); EEEKS – Pet City (Paraguay); El Búho – Balance (UK/Mexico); El Mato a un Policia Motorizador – La Sintesis O’Konor (Argentina); El Septeto Santiaguero – Raiz (Cuba); Elastic Bond – Honey Bun (USA); EVHA – El Viejo Hombre de los Andes (Ecuador); La Vida Boheme – La Lucha (Venezuela); Linn da Quebrada – Pajubá (Brazil); Mateo Kingman – Respira Remixed (Ecuador); Miss Bolivia – Pantera (Argentina); Nina Miranda – Freedom of Movement (Brazil/UK); Nomade Orquestra – Entremundos (Brazil); RAKTA – Oculto Pelos Seres (Brazil); Residente – Residente (Puerto Rico); Rimas e Melodia – Rimas e Melodia (Brazil); Rincon Sapiência – Galanga Livre (Brazil); Victor Rice – Smoke (Brazil/USA); Vika Souto – Que Es Esto? (Argentina)

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