Kaleema, Nicola Cruz and More: Electronic Musicians of South America to Know
Think of Latin American electronic music, and what springs to mind? Very possibly some kind of party groove that samples salsa or samba.
After all, there’s a lot of it in the global club mainstream, most of it reaching listeners either via Latin diaspora musicians in the US or the many US, European and Japanese DJs, as well as “crate diggers”, who revere predominantly Cuban and Brazilian sounds.
Or maybe you would think of more modern, gritty sounds like Brazilian funk carioca (also known as baile funk) from Rio’s favelas that’s been a staple for hipster DJs for the past two decades.
Perhaps even a variation of the slower dance hall lope of Panamanian/Puerto Rican reggaeton? It has wormed its way into international club sounds, from the most garish EDM to ultra-leftfield deconstructed club.
But… there is so, so much more to Latin American electronic music than these familiar sounds.
Just consider the vastness of the Latin American region.
Even taking away Central America and the Caribbean, just South America has very nearly half a billion people across a vast area. Geographically, Brazil alone is eight times the size of Western Europe.
And within that are huge ranges of cultures from modern mega-cities to traditional indigenous life, not to mention large Afro-Latin populations with traditions of their own – and all kinds of commingling too.
On top of that, European and North American culture have been absorbed for decades, which means that local twists on disco, house, techno, hip-hop, drum-n-bass, grime and more are everywhere.
Therefore, to try to sum up a continent in an article would be a fool’s errand – so what we’ve decided to do is give a whistle stop tour of some individualists making unique twists on electronic music, again sticking to just South America.
These for the most part are not that obviously “Latin”, either.
For sure there are a lot of fascinating modern twists on funk carioca, cumbia, bachata, salsa, merengue and the rest out there – more than enough for many more playlists – but we wanted to highlight the less obvious.
So here is some jazz house, some ultra-advanced indigenous-influenced electronica, some sleazy electro-disco, some straight-up rave and more.
There are “Latin” twists in some of them, less so in others, but really, we wanted to deconstruct expectations.
We couldn’t pretend to be representative – let alone comprehensive. Think of this less as a primer, and more as a pointer. Each of these artistes or labels is indicative of a whole scene or area of music to explore, but be aware that this is just a snowflake on top of the iceberg’s tip.
If it whets your appetite, there’s a whole lot more at the Instagram page of Latitudes Latam – whose help has been invaluable in compiling this list. And if you want to go deep into modern Afro-Latin diasporic styles, the Beat Diaspora series of videos, also from Brazil, is absolutely compelling.
Both of these point to one reason it’s much easier to explore these styles now. Instant translation on Instagram or YouTube captions makes these information sources instantly usable worldwide.
So, without further ado, here are ten artistes and labels from across seven countries, all from the 2020s. Hopefully, they will completely confound your idea of what “Latin music” even is...
Credit: Tomas Pintos
Buenos Ares’s Heidi Lewandowski, aka Kaleema, is a true renaissance woman – writing, producing, singing and playing multiple instruments on her records, including the violin – and one of the most emotionally affecting and intellectually intriguing artistes around at the moment.
From her avant-garde styling, through her sleeve artwork to her choice of local and international collaborators, everything about her is a total artwork.
LILA TIRANDO A VIOLETA (URUGUAY)
Credit: Bruno Noguera
Camila Domínguez, aka Lila Tirando A Violeta, is one of Latin America’s most prolific – and most mind-bending – electronic musicians.
Taking strong influences from the darker and more experimental side of electronic music history, from Throbbing Gristle to Autechre, she produces a dizzying array of sounds from harsh deconstructed club to ambient collaborations with poets, plus music exploring Uruguay’s own local and indigenous traditions.
Never less than haunting, her music can take you to some very strange places indeed.
NICOLA CRUZ (ECUADOR)
Credit: Hannah Quevedo
One of the better-known of these artistes internationally – several of his release have been on the UK’s Rhythm Section International imprint – Ecuadorian producer Nicola Cruz is fascinated by indigenous folk traditions, and has even recorded in a cave in a volcano to get closer to ancient traditions.
But his productions are also ultra-high tech and honed for those global dance floors; the fusion of past and future makes for a heady brew.
U’RE GUAY RECORDS (URUGUAY)
The small nation of Uruguay is not without its problems but is generally considered one of the most liberal nations in South America – and seems to have really taken outside club/electronic influences to its heart too.
The extremely prolific, and cheekily named, U’re Guay label has a lot of European style electro-disco, experimental house and other alternative dance grooves – though they do manage to bring in plenty of both Afro-Latin and indigenous rhythm into that space too, as on this compilation that brings in artistes from Brazil and Argentina too.
Credit: Maurício Kessler
Marianna Viscaino started going to the notorious 24-hour raves of her home city Porto Alegre from the age of 12, and has been immersed in the culture ever since.
It shows in the relentless energy of her high velocity fusions of trance, drum-n-bass, funk carioca and other adrenalised forms.
She has been part of a politicisation of dance culture – see also feminist rave movements like Mamba Negra in Sao Paulo – pushing for more diverse representation in the scene and fighting deep-rooted patriarchal forces.
Subcultures cross over and influence one another in Brazil, just as they always have in Europe and North America.
This is the case with Naiche from Belo Horizonte in the south of the country. The artiste has deep roots in the skateboard, punk and rap cultures of his home city, which all contribute to the toughness and attitude he brings to dance music, even as he builds extraordinarily sophisticated fusions of jazz, soul, house and breakbeat.
Credit: Paloma Palomino
Chilean DJ and producer Gustavo Yanez Rojas, aka Narval, is highly prolific. He is a member of a couple of nightlife collectives, and runs his own Navegante Records.
His normal style is a super-trippy take on tech house, subtle and seductive, often with his own slightly arch narration – but he’s not afraid to branch into heavy rave or deeply weird breakbeat experiments, as here.
DEMENTIRA/DISCOS PEGAOS (CHILE)
Credit: Paloma Palomino
Santiago’s Discos Pegaos is a great example of how modern and traditional identities can crowd around one another and learn to operate together in underground music.
The label’s output – even on a single-artiste album – spans house, hip-hop, reggaeton, cumbia, electronica and more. And on this record by the label founder, it also digs deep into politics both social and personal, which are never far from the surface in a country full of deep inequalities, corruption and frequent riots.
DENGUE DENGUE DENGUE (PERU)
Credit: Hendrik Kussin
One of the most established electronic acts of South America is Dengue Dengue Dengue (or sometimes DNGDNGDNG), a masked duo of shamanic explorers who like to make mind frazzlingly complex rhythms and eerie dub spaces.
They are somehow a joy to listen to and easy to move to. Since 2010, they’ve become known on the international festival circuit for delivering psychedelic audio visual experiences.
CANELA PALACIOS (BOLIVIA)
Credit: Canela Palacios
This is the furthest from nightclubs of all our picks… Canela Palacios is a serious electro acoustic composer from La Paz, Boliva, and also runs folk performance workshops.
Her recorded output comes from a fusion of these with her own singer-songwriter performance. It can be discordant, haunting, and sometimes, very beautiful.
Cover: ERAM, Susobrino, Henrik Kussin, Shuli Dura, Dementira
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Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.