Best Albums of 2018

By 21 December, 2018

Time for our round-up of the best albums of the year and, as ever, the criteria remains the same. These are the albums by Latin American and Latin American-descendant artists that we think are the best of the year, as chosen by our writers. This year, for the first time, we’ve also extended the selection from 20 albums to 25 as there were simply too many great albums to choose. So, without any further ado, here are Sounds and Colours’ Best Albums of 2018. Russ

#25. Insólito Universo – La Candela del Río (Venezuela)

Chosen by Néstor

This Paris-based Venezuelan group really turned back the dial on their debut release, offering a nostalgic trip into a Venezuela that perhaps could have been had the country been at the forefront of music industry back in the 70s. With the help of Heliocentrics’ Malcolm Catto on production duties, the group manage that tricky balance between looking back and forward, offering echoes of Arthur Verocai on opening track “Transmutada” with elements of jazz, orchestration and folk song all present. We even get a little glimpse of canción tradition on “Lloviendo en Guatire” though with a haunting musical accompaniment that threatens (and then succeeds) to take over the arrangement, pushing the song into Stereolab-esque territory, which is where we see that forward-thinking attitude, pushing this grand 70s-style psych-jazz into new ground. A startlingly, original debut. Russ Slater

#24. Panchasila – Panchasila (Argentina)

Chosen by Russ and Miko

The Panchasila album kicks off with a perfect representation of how far Cerredo and Calarco have been able to penetrate the DNAs of both Asian and South American sounds to find a common origin. Although “Canción de la Emperatriz” is a direct tribute to jaipong, a style of Indonesian music that is a big obsession of the duo, at the same time it could easily be a lost recording paying homage to the power of the selva (jungle). And maybe it is. Which is exactly what fascinates in Panchasila’s music as their blend of elements that otherwise seem impossible to be joined are so organic that it is hard to differentiate between them in the final product. Mikolaj Kierski

#23. Monsieur Periné – Encanto Tropical (Colombia)

Chosen by Gina and Juan Pablo

How do you follow up a massively successful album that netted you a Latin Grammy win for “Best New Artist?” In the case of Colombia’s Monsieur Periné, you take your time on picking key collaborators and drawing inspiration from across Latin America. On Encanto Tropical, the band returned to the studio with Eduardo Cabra (Calle 13) and while their signature ‘swing Colombian style’ is still present, an evolution into other genres has taken place, most notably on the bolero of “Me Vas Hacer Falta”, the tango flavours of “Guayaba Y Flores” and the Latin pop heartbreak of “La Tregua”. It’s sure proof that this is a group unafraid of challenging themselves and redefining their identity. Gina Vergel/Russ Slater

#22. Amaro Freitas – Rasif (Brazil)

Chosen by Adailton and Mark

Rasif has a swing that is only found in Brazil. Amaro’s playing captivates and shows the intimacy that he has with the piano. It does not contain itself, it turns the keyboard into percussion. It is versatile. This can be heard in “Dona Eni”, the opening track. Influenced by the baião, it is marked only by piano chords for almost two minutes. The accompaniment of percussive instruments arrive next and propel the danceable nature of the song even further. “Trupe” follows the same rhythm. In it, Amaro creates a beautiful ‘battle’ between the instruments. “Mantra” is another remarkable song. Slowly, they combine to give us an overview of Amaro’s abilities. Adailton Moura

#21. Mente Orgánica – Ojos (Colombia)

Chosen by Marco and Juan

Berlin-based Colombian musician/producer Jacobo Polanía’s first full LP Ojos, is one of 2018’s most serious and visionary efforts at creating soundscapes that blend downtempo, cumbia and other shades of South American folk music together in a way that sounds both natural and conscious (hence the project’s name). In a decade that has given us an enormous dose of music by artists like Chancha Vía Circuito, Nicola Cruz, El Búho, and many others, Mente Orgánica’s debut is yet another fresh look at Latin American music’s expansión throughout the globe. Published by Argentinian label Fertil Records, this collection of tracks will hit you like a powerful mantra in times of despair, and it depicts a very sincere study of Latin American tradition, guitar/vocal interpretation and the latest trends in electronic music production, all in the hands of one of Colombia’s most promising new acts. Marco Pisciotti

#20. Rodrigo Brandão – Outros Barato (Brazil)

Chosen by Andy and Adailton

Brandão, president of the Brazilian wing of the Luscious Jackson fan club, believe it or not, has hit the spot with this, his first release as a solo artist. By following the logic of viewing the city of São Paulo as one huge musical collective to collaborate with, an idea that worked so well on the very first album by his rap group, Mamelo Sound System, Brandão has produced a work that is up there as one of the most interesting Brazilian releases this year. Recorded in improvised sessions over 3 days at the Red Bull studios in the old centre of São Paulo and using members of Metá Metá, Hurtmold and the cream of the São Paulo improv and idiosyncratic indie scene, Brandão recites freestyle verses of spoken word over a soundtrack of free jazz squeals, soundtrack rumbling and Afro-Brazilian percussion. Not only does the music intrigue, but his message has matured and is clear as well as being poetic, always paying tribute to those whose talent Brandão admires. Remember don’t shoot the messenger, but let the messenger through. Andy Cumming

#19. Gepe – Folclor Imaginario (Chile)

Chosen by Gina and Juan Pablo

Folclor Imaginario is a lovely compilation of boleros, habaneras, cuecas, tonadas and more paying tribute to one of Chile’s most well-known music legends, Margot Loyola Palacios. It’s a big deviation from the pop sheen that we have come to expect from Gepe as of late, but that love for Latin folklore has always been there – his track, “Hambre”, with Wendy Sulca, off his last album, being a classic example -, though it’s often been in the shadows. On Folclor Imaginario he brings it to the forefront, heading into Andean song at times, letting rip with some exquisite Cuban habaneras and across the album offering a folk-pop hybrid song in which the bass leads the grooves, which in a strange kind of way gives it all the feel of Americana or ranchera. It’s a reminder of Gepe’s restless creativity, in and outside of pop. Gina Vergel/Russ Slater

#18. Dinamarca – Sol De Mi Vida (Chile)

Chosen by David and Miko

If there’s one producer who could get away with mixing reggaeton and trance it is Dinamarca. But, on Sol De Mi Vida there’s definitely more than simply blending together these two genres within one piece of music, as the way he went about doing it is another story entirely. Instead of heading in the heavy and unsettling direction of his previous releases, Dinamarca crafted a set of wonderful tracks that can only be described using adjectives that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with his previous output: the sound is subtle, soothing and balsamic, and besides being one of the most innovative records of the year, Sol De Mi Vida with its warm bass lines and catchy synths was definitely the best soundtrack for the hot summer nights of 2018. Mikolaj Kierski

#17. Edson Velandia – Montañero (Colombia)

Chosen by Russ and Juan Pablo

Almost certainly this is the first children’s album that we’ve ever had in our Best Of lists. That description though is something of a misnomer as this is a children’s album in the same way that Labyrinth or Howl’s Moving Castle are children’s films, this is music for everyone. And, it continues a style which Velandia – one of Colombia’s most interesting singer-songwriters – perfected on his last solo album El Karateka, that of adding to his vocals just guitar, the odd additional singer and a spot of percussion. With such a commanding voice and rhythmic style of playing guitar, this is all his music needs, even when his songs are about witches, elephants, birds and rats. The fact that this album is also trying to revert stereotypes about Colombia’s often-denigrated montañeros (mountain-dwelling population) gives it even more kudos. Russ Slater

#16. Samba de Coco Raízes de Arcoverde – Maga Bo Apresenta Samba de Coco Raízes de Arcoverde (Brazil)

Chosen by Adailton and Carolina

The rich musicality of Brazil needs to be better shared, even amongst Brazilians, as there are so many rhythmic varieties. Varieties, that even in Brazil, are little explored. Noting the urgency of disseminating little-known sonorities, the producer Maga Bo decided to take one of the rhythms that portrays, in a poetic way, the culture of the Brazilian north-east: samba de coco. To produce the project, Maga Bo spent time in Arcoverde, in the semi-arid region of Pernambuco, in the company of Samba de Coco Raízes de Arcoverde, one of the oldest coco groups in Brazil, formed in 1992 by Lula Calixto and the sisters Lopes. The partnership resulted in this LP, Maga Bo Apresenta Samba de Coco Raízes de Arcoverde. Adailton Moura

#15. Trending Topics – Trending Topics (Puerto Rico)

Chosen by David and Juan Pablo

It’s testament to the quality of Calle 13 that both Residente and now Eduardo ‘Visitante’ Cabra have such visionary projects. This album was put together by Cabra along with Dominican singer/songwriter Vicente García and has as its motto: “music without a face in the age of the selfie.” Which kinds of sums it up nicely. It’s an album that crosses the Americas, with lots of rhythms and production flourishes that reference the Afro-Caribbean, but even with touches of Asian melodies and global pop too. It’s faceless nature is also exemplified by the rotating cast of collaborators including Ziggy Marley, Bomba Estéreo’s Li Saumet, Nidia Góngora and iLe. The end result is akin to a Caribbean take on The Bug, mid-career Prodigy or UNKLE, riffing on the role of technology and globalisation while also making sure that pop melodies, rawkus riffs and dancefloor heft are all in tact; it’s that miraculous album that is able to combine pop, rock and electronic unashamedly and succeed. The fact that we can add Latin to that mix is what makes it so unique. Russ Slater

#14. Malphino – Visit Malphino (UK)

Chosen by Russ and Pablo

Malphino’s debut, Visit Malphino, takes us around the shores and jungles of their mythical fantasy island. The album offers 17 tracks with titles in both English (“The Sleep Tree”) and Spanish (“Mono Borracho”). Interludes guide us from coast to coast, the tracks stepping stones across the different elements that make up Malphino. Soothing electric guitar and warming bass lines guide the ear on a dreamlike journey, reinterpreting traditional Colombian banda with organ, accordion and tuba. A satisfyingly fluid use of electronic sequencing, rapturous reverb and futuristic echo effects lace together vintage, often psychedelic vocals, progressive melodic lines and tropical animal calls. The percussion is varied: the wood and metal of marimba and guacharaca accent subtle digital warblings, familiar accordion textures, voodoo vapours and woodblock charm. It is hard to resist the fun and intrigue of this tranquil yet energetic odyssey. Rebecca Wilson

#13. Mitú – Los Ángeles (Colombia)

Chosen by Frank, Miko and Juan Pablo

Los Ángeles, the fourth album by Colombian duo Mitú, was a release that arrived as an utter surprise. Published less than a year after 2017’s well-received Cosmus and just two weeks after announcing the first single, the LP brings yet another turn in this project’s sound. Aside from the mysterious Asian male sampled on the final seconds of the intro “Hawaii”, there are completely no vocals on the record and, for the first time we don’t hear Franklin Tejedor’s drumming. Instead, it’s Julian Salazar at the fore, using skillful production to take the marriage of Afro-Colombian drumming traditions and modern electronic music to the next level. Primarily though enriching the sound of Mitú with elements of jazz to complete the captivating and hypnotizing listen that is Los Ángeles. Mikolaj Kierski

#12. J Balvin – Vibras (Colombia)

Chosen by Gina, David and Juan Pablo

Being the first Latin artist to reach 1 billion views on YouTube with mega-track “Ay Vamos”, J. Balvin was already a reigning reggaeton king pre-2018. Yet the genre itself was still isolated, generally confined to Latin audiences, or known for the odd party track to everyone else. It took Balvin’s fifth album, Vibras, to show the rest of us just what reggaeton is to those who live by it, while pushing the boundaries of what it could be. Suave, seductive, and fully danceable, Vibras redefines the genre, proving that reggaeton has a lot more complexity and potential than what the naysayers dismiss it for. Charis McGowan

#11. Elza Soares – Deus É Mulher (Brazil)

Chosen by Amaya, Adailton and Andy

Elza Soares is the voice of resistance. She does not stop. With the album Deus é Mulher, her voice is even more emphatic. Elza does not lose the ginga, keeps the cadence with the same vigor of the youth and dares to use a variety of styles to transmit her powerful message of valorization of the women. Adailton Moura

#10. Chancha Via Circuito – Bienaventuranza (Argentina)

Chosen by David, Carolina and Gabriel

The Latin downtempo scene, which is often defined by the use of rhythms, ideas and symbology from Andean and Amazonian culture, has in recent years seen a number of artists research deep into Latin American folklore to the point where the lines between electronic and folk music are becoming blurred. This is certainly the case on Chancha Via Circuito’s latest album where tracks like “Sierra Nevada” or “Indios Tilcara” could easily reside on folk albums. The best though are the ones where indigenous melodies or native instruments meld with just enough electronic production to be elevated to a new form with dynamics that would simply not be possible when at their most stripped-back. Russ Slater

#9. Mabiland – 1995 (Colombia)

Chosen by Marco, Juan and Juan Pablo

Potentially one of the revelations of the year was Mabiland, a new rapper from Quibdó via Medellín who has caused a stir in Colombia with her debut album and captivating live performances. It’s a personal offering, which vacillates between gritty hip-hop and emotive r&b-inflected soul in the vein of Lauryn Hill. It’s the confident and densely-packed lyrics that really mark her out as a special talent (though the music isn’t bad either), they show an artist with plenty to express and a raw songwriting ability that hopefully will see her stick around for years to come. Russ Slater

#8. Sonido Gallo Negro – Mambo Cósmico (Mexico)

Chosen by Russ, Pablo and  Marco

Hailing from Mexico City, this weird and wonderful nine-piece combo released on Glitterbeat their third album back in the spring. Inspired by ancient civilisations and sounds, it’s still largely instrumental, but vocal choruses are added for the first time to a pulsating mix coloured by fuzz guitar, Farfisa organ and diverse percussion. The result is a fabulous and bizarre creation that sounds as if Dick Dale and the boys swapped surfboards for space suits and recorded the album in some galactic pod with Joe Meek at the controls. “Mambo Egipcio”, for example, is what happens when “Telstar” goes Latin. Loping cumbia shuffle-beats dominate the 11 tracks, but mambos, cha-cha-cha’s and even a little cosmic danzón pepper an album that’s quite deranged but triumphantly original. Mark Sampson

#7. Bixiga 70 – Quebra Cabeça (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ, Pablo and Mark

It’s big, brassy and Brazilian. It’s Bixiga 70, back in the socket for their fourth album and their second for Glitterbeat. If the formula remains largely the same, there’s no denying the potency. Like other little big bands of their ilk– Femi Kuti’s Positive Force, Ottawa’s Souljazz Orchestra, the KutiMangoes from Copenhagen, to name but three – this 9-piece collective from São Paulo mix enough elements of jazz, Afrobeat and urban dance-floor music to knock you for six. As baritone sax player, Cuca Ferreira explains, “The whole idea of the band has been to take all these different elements that form us, from Africa and Brazil, and create a hybrid from them”. Mark Sampson

#6. Uji – Alborada (Argentina)

Chosen by Russ, Amaya and Marco

It’s on tracks such as “Gondonga” and “Maloka” that the truly magical happen. “Gondonga” begins with a footprint of recognised sound in the shape of a hand drum and clapping that gradually transforms as the electronic elements grow heavier and heavier, before eventually flowering into a gorgeous bouncing beat. “Maloka” begins with a killer beat already up-front, instead playing with textures, sounds and effects as that beat – which is capable of reeling in the most melancholy soul – plays on rotate. Alborada is a courageously bold and creative album that exists within the current Latin America folktronica boom but dares to raise its head above the parapet. Russ Slater

#5. Baco Exu do Blues – Bluesman (Brazil)

Chosen by Russ, Adailton and Andy

Baco Exu do Blues has filtered trap through his own experiences as an urban Afro-Brazilian, albeit one with ridiculously good music taste. Songs reference Jay Z and Kanye West, finding connections between blues, samba, funk, rap, trap and rock. The material veers from stirring ballads (“Flamingos”) to in-your-face rough-hewn trap (“Preto e Prata”) with race, poverty, violence and identity being the raw material from which the lyrics draw. It’s an astonishing listen, full of invention (many songs change structure mid-song and each is vastly different from the last) and passion, a landmark release in Brazilian hip-hop. Russ Slater

#4. Alex Anwandter – Latinoamericana (Chile)

Chosen by Adailton, Marco, Juan Pablo and Carolina

“Because (the songs) are for South America as a whole I felt I needed to include songs in Portuguese,” says Anwandter. Nascimento and Jobim sang folk songs in the 1960s, often in Spanish, “They were embracing of their roots, connecting to their social issues at the time, and looking to each other throughout South America.” Latinoamericana is notably more sombre in both style and tone than his previous releases, but Anwandter manages to keep tracks characteristically danceable and disco-heavy. There are also tender moments of hope that shine through the album’s misery, such as “Finalmente”. Anwandter’s songwriting plays with personas and narratives—he often writes under the perspectives of other people—but with this track he admits to being “more personal”, allowing himself to “tear out (my) heart a little”. Charis McGowan

#3. Orquesta Akokán – Orquesta Akokán (Cuba)

Chosen by Russ, Pablo, Juan and Carolina

Probably the most unique and amazing thing about the album is not how it was made, which is incredible enough given the many hurdles encountered along the way (tight budget, delays and absences due to visa issues, questionable political climate, and many more), but rather the seemingly natural and effortless way the music holds together and just feels right. And this, despite it being a modern creation that, in the words of pianist Michael Eckroth, juxtaposes “different time periods,” genres, and “styles of record production”, not to mention that it has a wealth of experimentation, and is defiantly analog and live to tape, purposefully “leaving some mistakes and inferior leveling of instruments in favor of the huge one-room sound” which “is kind of a strong statement today” when most modern Latin dance music “is ever-more computerized and, in terms of production, innately curated.” Pablo Yglesias

#2. Kali Uchis – Isolation (Colombia/USA)

Chosen by Gina, David, Juan, Marco and Gabriel

After a sparkling debut album, Colombian-born American-raised Kali Uchis, seems to have truly opened up the doors to her world with Isolation. It’s an album that has fulfilled a lot of our expectations, blending Erykah Badu style neo soul with the spirit of the late great Selena, especially when exploring her Latin roots through genres like reggaeton. It’s an artistic manifesto saying that Kali Uchis is more than a beautiful voice, her musical message goes beyond, expanding what seems to have become an homogeneous mainstream with an expansive and colourful sonic palette. David Bugueño

#1. Novalima – Ch’usay (Peru)

Chosen by Gina, Amaya, Juan, Marco, Pablo, Gabriel and Carolina

After five albums in which it’s fair to say that Novalima did as much for reinvigorating Afro-Peruvian music than any other artist, they switched focus drastically on their latest album, Ch’usay. The title is Quechua for “internal voyage” and that’s exactly what they did here, venturing away from the Afro-Peruvian rhythms and instruments of the coast to discover Peru’s Andean and Amazonian roots. This ground is proving fertile for many artists, but Novalima were able to put their own spin on it, with their heavily dub and groove-orientated sound able to interplay with electronics, raw instruments and a fascinating selection of collaborators to create a vision of Andean Peru that felt less like an archaeological dig, and more like a 21st Century discovery of what’s living and breathing in much of Peru. Russ Slater

Listen to tracks from our entire Best Albums of 2018 list via Spotify below:

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