Album: Los de Abajo

Cybertropic Chilango Power, Luaka Bop
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Formed as a Latin/ska band in 1992 by a quartet of Mexican students, Los de Abajo (literally, "Those from Below", the title of a classic novel about the Mexican revolution) have broadened both their musical range and their line-up over the past decade, to the point where the current octet appears able to turn its collective hand to virtually any style. This second album for David Byrne's Luaka Bop label includes tough Mexican hip hop ("Que Mala Suerte"), effervescent salsa ("Matame Amor"), infectious samba ("Nada") and several crossover blends whose influences span continents. There's "St Judas", with its alternating passages of galumphing Arabic/ dub reggae and more melodic Latino rock; "Anda Levanta", a sprightly Latino-Balkan polka of louche horns and accordion; and the rather more berserk fun of "Joder", which brings Moscow a little closer to Mexico City. The group's "tropipunk" music is rooted in a mixture of leftist political activism, native folklore and the urban chaos of their hometown, and the album tracks are interspersed with short field recordings of the vendors, dancers, ambulances, musicians and trapeze artists that contribute to the vitality of Mexico City. It makes for a vivid, many-hued portrait of a fast-changing society, captured in songs that combine the passion and eclecticism of Los Lobos with the sophistication of Sergio Mendes. Recommended.