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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top 10 Latin Albums of the Year
Alfredo Flores
Posted: December 19, 2007 Washington City Paper

1. La Radiolina, Manu Chao (Nacional)
2. Residente o Visitante, Calle 13 (Sony BMG Latin)
3. La Vida...Es un Ratico, Juanes (Universal Music Latino)
4. Sino, Café Tacuba (Universal Music Latino)
5. Papito, Miguel Bosé (Warner Music Latina)
6. Regreso el Jefe, Elvis Crespo(Machete Music)
7. Malamarismo, Mala Rodríguez (Machete Music)
8. Esta Es Mi Vida, Jesse & Joy (Warner Music Latina)
9. CéU, CéU (Six Degrees)
10. El Cartel: The Big Boss, Daddy Yankee (El Cartel/Interscope)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Shipshape Performance
By Alfredo Flores
Posted: December 5, 2007 Washington City Paper
The Boatlift

"I'm too Latin for hip-hop, and too hip-hop for Latin/Until y'all figure it out, I'm gonna keep rapping," Pitbull rhymes on "The Truth," an interlude on his latest album, The Boatlift. The formula works, even if it confuses a few listeners and music-industry types: His 2004 debut was the best-selling bilingual hip-hop album since Cypress Hill's debut in 1991, making the Cuban-American rapper a rare success among his Latino peers who've strived (and often failed) to crack the American market. So for the new album he sticks to his strategy of blending English and Spanish lyrics on a slew of club bangers, rhyming a blue streak over Miami bass and crunk tracks. That makes the album's title a bit misleading: There's not a single political message on The Boatlift about Cubans struggling to reach the M.I.A., just Pitbull polishing his lover-boy, go-get-her image with plenty of raps about models in bikinis, with assists from a plethora of guests including Trina, Jim Jones, and Twista. Revisiting the theme of his 2004 debut hit "Culo," he joins fellow Southerners Trick Daddy and Fabo on "Dukey Love," rapping, "I love the way you make the thing clap/Boy I gotta get me some of that," over a track built on sirens and bass-heavy synths. Pitbull has made a few tweaks to his style: The Boatlift has more hardcore lyrics and a gruffer sound than his previous two albums, and the disc features far fewer collaborations with reggaeton stars in favor of what people are dancing to now. "Fuego," for instance, wastes an opportunity to showcase the vocal chops of gospel-trained reggaeton star Don Omar, who gets only a brief verse on the track. But Pitbull hasn't entirely abandoned his roots, and the tropical sound of his previous albums is there on the techno-flavored "The Anthem," which features early booster Lil Jon (who produced a handful of the album's tracks). Getting straight to the point, he raps, "I'm impatient/So do me a favor and let's skip conversation." There are also a few R&B ballads, like the slow-jam collaboration with Lloyd, "Secret Admirer," and a piano-driven remix of his 2006 track "Tell Me," featuring Toby Love. Between those songs and tracks like "Go Girl" and the weed-friendly "Sticky Icky," the new album is proof of just how determined Pitbull is to play to the mainstream. He's breaking little new ground, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if the tracks still sound just fine blasting out of a car stereo.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Jim Gaffigan: A Pale Force To Be Reckoned With
Comedian, Hot Pockets Hater

written by Alfredo Flores
On Tap Magazine November 2007
Photo credit: Andrew Eccles

You've probably seen Jim Gaffigan, but just haven't realized it. He's a ubiquitous pitchman (Sierra Mist, ESPN, Rolling Rock); TV star ("Pale Force" cartoon shorts with Conan O'Brien and leading role in TBS' "My Boys,") and stand up comedian star with six CDs to his credit. He's truly a Midwestern boy done good, and he's displaying his wholesome but incredibly funny act at the Warner Theater for four likely-to-be sold out shows starting Nov. 30. But after looking at his appearance and his general nice-guy persona — think pasty pale skin, thinning fair blond hair, tall but paunchy stature, and attire that usually consists of Khaki pants, dress shirt and sports coat — one doesn't necessarily think TV and movie star, nor a comic who could potentially sell out 7,200 seats at Warner at $40 a pop. But that's not what he's after. He would often start his shows with "Don't worry, I've never heard of me either." While many comedians go to the lowest common denominator, Gaffigan manages to find his material in just everyday things — mostly food. "I try to find universal topics that haven't been beaten to death," said Gaffigan in a recent interview with On Tap.Who else would find Hot Pockets so funny? "It takes two minutes to cook, exactly how long it stays in your system," he said. "I have nothing against Hot Pockets. (I think) they are a great laxative." But it's the simple things the Dune Acres, Indiana native loves to talk about most — grocery shopping, himself ("I'm blind, bald and pale. I'm one gigantic recessive gene"), Cinnabon, cake, pie, robes, fruitcake, diets and manatees ("The manatee is endangered, and I think it's because they're out of shape"). He paces up and down stage, squints a lot, and most of his impressions are of what he believes the audience thinks of his jokes, which is always in the form of a high-pitched, housewife character — usually commenting negatively to the show. "I have many voices in my head," he said. "The whisper is the 'inside voice' of the audience." It's the sort of deadpan humor not found too often in today's comics, especially those with half hour and full hour Comedy Central specials under their belt. He even has local ties — having graduated from Georgetown University's prestigious McDonough School of Business, after transferring from only one year at Indiana's Purdue University (a sign of Gaffigan's desire to be in a bigger city). "I love DC. I went to Georgetown and the DC Improv is one of my favorite clubs," he said about his time in Washington back in the late 1980s. "The Warner Theater is an amazing place to perform — but I don't really do any political jokes."Political jokes are not what his fans come to see. It's not that sort of discussion folks of small town Indiana would speak of either. Gaffigan grew up in a town with a steel mill and went to high school parties where he sat on haystacks. Big city dreams became easier with the Georgetown degree. After a brief stint in Tampa, a big city job in at New York City advertising firm followed (including a gig writing Hardee's fast-food commercials, perhaps the catalyst of his writing comedy about food that's obviously bad for us). And like many comics, he studied improv and worked diligently to move up the ranks in the New York comedy scene, working as many as a half-dozen clubs on a single evening. The rest is history.Now Gaffigan's a frequent guest on the "Late Show with David Letterman"—a fellow Indiana native who gave Jim his big break in 1999 by allowing him to perform a stand-up set after five years of effort. Gaffigan even has Conan O'Brien as HIS sidekick in the hilarious "Pale Force" animated shorts shown on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (available on Gaffigan's latest DVD, "Beyond the Pale" (65,000 DVDs and 100,000 CDs sold of the same show), also pokes fun of his lack of pigment, and has him in a white backdrop, wearing a white t-shirt, eating vanilla yogurt with a white spoon—Gaffigan's blue eyes, fair blond hair, and pale skin barely noticeable. Gaffigan is currently in the mist of the "Comedy Central Live! Starring Jim Gaffigan: Beyond The Pale Tour." No doubt his style of humor will be introduced to many new audience members, and his shows often feature many returning customers who know many of his famous one-liners by heart — but love it when Gaffigan says it since it's all in the delivery. "Comedy Central Live! Starring Jim Gaffigan: Beyond The Pale Tour" at the Warner Theater Friday, Nov. 30 at 8 and 10:30 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 and 10 p.m. Balcony and Orchestra tickets are $41.75 and available at

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dancing to Juanes' pain
October 23, 2007 Washington Times
Alfredo Flores
Juanes La Vida ... Es un Ratico
Universal Music Latino

Juanes has a lot going for him. He's one of the few Latin pop stars to achieve crossover status without singing in English. He has won 12 Latin Grammys; he was named one of People en Espanol's 10 Sexiest Men in Hispanic entertainment; his two previous albums went platinum; and he has two beautiful children with his model wife, Karen Martinez. Underneath the fame and adulation of millions in his native Colombia and around the world, there was a heavily publicized breakup with Miss Martinez earlier this year. However, Juanes is an eternal optimist, especially after receiving sage advice from his 78-year-old-mother that life's too short to waste time worrying about problems you cannot solve. In his fourth studio album, released today in 77 countries, "La Vida ... Es un Ratico" ("Life ... Is a Brief Moment"), Juanes, 35, sings about his troubles — not negatively, but in a way in which you can dance away the pain. This is most evident in the smash worldwide hit (No. 1 in 14 countries) "Me Enamora," a song about love, redemption and reconciliation with an upbeat acoustic guitar beat, electric guitar riffs and heavy background percussion. Juanes beautifully delivers an ode to his wife in Spanish with, "I don't know if I deserve you/I just know I still want you to give light to my life in the future days." "Clase de Amor" features beautifully melodic background humming and danceable electric guitar riffs in a song about scorned love that caused him pain. Other love songs include "La Vida ... Es Un Ratico" and "Gotas de Agua Dulce" (both focusing on looking ahead) and "La Mejor Parte de Mi," about remaining best friends with his wife. Juanes — a contraction of his given name, Juan Esteban — has always blended his pop rock with guasca, cumbia and other musical styles found in his native country. He does it again here with heavy accordion sounds in the vallenato and Colombian folk-music-infused "Tres" — which will give his fans flashbacks to the popular "La Camisa Negra" on his previous album. Juanes continues his previous efforts to help Colombian land-mine victims in "Banderas de Manos," a German and Spanish duet with German rock star Campino of the punk band Die Toten Hosen, and the barcarolle-rhythms-filled "Minas Piedras" with Argentine rocker Andres Calamaro.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Yes-and-No Answer
Reviewed: Cafe Tacuba's Sino

By Alfredo Flores
Photo Credit LuiSFher Gallo
Posted: October 17, 2007 Washington City Paper
Café Tacuba
Universal Music Latino

It's unlikely that one band is capable of encapsulating three decades of English-language rock, much less in Spanish. But for rock en español pioneers Café Tacuba, arguably the most critically acclaimed Latin rock band of recent memory, tackling such challenges is nothing new. On Sino ("yes/no" or "but instead"), its first studio album in four years, the Mexico City quartet combines odes to late-period Beatles, heavy synthesizer and cheesy sounds of '80s rock, and the pop-ish Latin rock they've helped establish soon after their formation in 1989. Encompassing all these instincts is "Volver a Comenzar" ("Starting Over"), the album's first single: A melodic deep bass strum sets up a light mood before heavy synthesizer riffs establish a spacier tone. A calming, Beatlesque "uuuhhh uuuhhh uuuhhh" chorus ensues, as lead guitarist-vocalist Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega sings in his trademark nasal voice: "Si volviera a comenzar/No tendría tiempo de reparar/El agua derramada está/La sed que siento/No saciará" ("I would start all over again/I wouldn't have time to repair/The water spilled/The thirst I feel/Will not be satisfied"). Café Tacuba (named after a coffee shop in downtown Mexico City) helped transform rock en español, shifting to pop, rock, grunge, and electronica, while taking cues from Mexico's folklore and indigenous population—as in the Mexico City "Chilango" slang used on "Chilanga Banda" and heavy use of norteño rhythms on "La Ingrata" ("The Ungrateful Girl"), two of the band's biggest hits prior to Sino. For the new album, though, they look back: On "53100" (a Mexico City postal code), Emmanuel "Meme" del Real Díaz channels his inner '80s keyboardist with a simple pop beat mixed in with synth blasts and lyrics that long for the good times the bandmates had that decade. Elsewhere, Ortega questions the divide between Mexico's rich and poor in "El Outsider" and shifts into a punkish mode on "Cierto o Falso" ("True or False"). Instead of trying to deliberately create a new sound or a nostalgia trip, the band uses Sino to look back at the music they loved and incorporate it into a remixed fusion.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Manu Chao
La Radiolina
On Tap Magazine September 2007

Manu Chao has always let his displeasure of U.S. foreign policy known, especially during his June DC-area show at Merriweather in front of 16,000. In "Tristeza Maleza" he speaks of infinite sadness due to the privacy-invading "Sr. Bush" and in "Rainin in Paradize" he thinks of Baghdad as non-democratic "because it's a U.S. country." These are songs of anti-globalization, peace and war, freedom and love, in English, Spanish, French and now Italian, using his trademark wondrous mix of global rhythms, with a new emphasis on rock. "Rainin" calls for calm and intelligence in a chaotic world with a fist-pumping, peppy upbeat catchy tune. In "Me llaman Calle" he hopes for love for streetwalkers in a beautifully melodic flamenco strum rhythm. "El Hoyo" is just plain fun, filled with sirens, screams, pulsating snare drums, rolling R's, chants of "hey, hey, hey," and "hoyoyo… oyoyo." CD release date is Sept. 4. — Alfredo Flores

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The "Fire Ant" This Time
Reviewed: Tego Calderón's El Abayarde Contra-Ataca

By Alfredo Flores
Posted: September 5, 2007 Washington City Paper
El Abayarde Contra-Ataca
Tego Calderón
Warner Musica Latina

Tegui Calderón Rosario, aka El Abayarde or simply Tego, has made inroads into American mainstream hip-hop and R&B in recent years, serving as the Spanish-language MC on remixed hits from the likes of Akon, Snoop Dogg, Usher, Fat Joe, 50 Cent, Cypress Hill, and Lil' Kim. So it was no surprise last fall when he tried his hand at releasing music he thought would appeal to an American audience—The Underdog/El Subestimado featured club-type dance hall, a heavy dose of synthesizers, and some English lyrics, particularly on tracks recorded with reggaeton hitmaker Don Omar and reggae star Buju Banton. He was the first reggaeton artist to sign with a major non-Latin label, and though the album didn't light up the charts, Rosario's still determined to crack the U.S. market. Last month he made his movie acting debut in Illegal Tender, and on the new El Abayarde Contra-Ataca ("The Fire Ant Strikes Back"), he's back to what got him international accl.. his unique mix of salsa, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, '60s slang, spoken word, socially conscious lyrics, and a great stage presence. Unlike the rough and lyrically dark The Underdog, Contra-Ataca kicks off with the happy-go-lucky "Alegría," which beautifully blends the chirps of birds and coquí frogs (the unofficial symbol of his native Puerto Rico), with sharp trumpets, a downtempo beat, and a message of spiritual tranquility. On the single "Tradicional a lo Bravo" ("Keep It Traditional but Cool"), he fuses Venezuelan merengue and Colombian vallenato rhythms, and Calderón's deep voice and smooth melodic flow (imagine a Spanish-speaking, octave-up Biggie Smalls) blends in perfectly. He uses a ton of Puerto Rican slang on the track, the better for him to spit a good game while trying to pick up a gal on the dance floor: "Calderón de nuevo a caballo/Déjate llevar por el bajo/Chula vámonos/Bien tradicional a lo bravo." ("Calderón once again on the move/Don't change a thing/Come on, beautiful, let's go/It's cool to be a traditional gal.") Undoubtedly influenced by his recent travels through the blood-diamond mines of Sierra Leone while filming the documentary Bling: A Planet Rock, "Ni Fu Ni Fa" ("Forget About It") makes great use of the tama, the "talking drum" often associated with the music of the Wolof and Mandingo tribes in West Africa. It's a fun, fast-paced song about what makes Tego happiest—women. Perhaps it took being away from his native country to make Calderón appreciate what made him such a sought-out artist in the first place. Whatever it was, he's reconnected with his roots without focusing on what Americans want to hear. His old but vibrant, universal sound connects, regardless of where listeners are from or what language they speak.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Neighborhood Focus: Adams Morgan
written by Alfredo Flores
Photo credit: Johnathan Quigley
On Tap magazine August 2007

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Adams Morgan's history is as vibrant and colorful as its building's murals, the diversity among its people and in the many ways one can spend time there. Shopping and lounging in the afternoon, or nighttime clubbing and bar hopping in the evening among the dozens of restaurants and drinking holes on and near the 18th Street strip are what makes this the District's liveliest nightlife. Adams Morgan — also called AdMo, The Morgan, The Morg, AM, and many, many other acronyms — has its diverse roots embedded in its title. It's named after the integration of the all-black, and now defunct, Thomas P. Morgan Elementary School and the all-white John Quincy Adams Elementary School in the 1950s. Oh, how times have changed. Once AM was a fashionable suburb of DC with elegant apartment buildings and row houses built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these same turn-of-the-last-century buildings are still in use today, as establishments that serve jumbo sliced pizza, host drag queen brunches, house cute boutique shops, and hold Jell-O wrestling matches and retro '80s dance-offs. I also hear that cheap beer and tasty martinis might be involved. So, let's get to it! Here's an Adams Morgan native's guide to his beloved neighborhood. TOP OF THE HILL: EAST SIDEColumbia Road from 18th Street toChamplain StreetPeople walking to AM from the Woodley Park-Zoo Adams Morgan Metro for the first time are usually looking for the first sign of nightlife. Welcome to the Adams Mill Bar and Grill — the first such sign before you reach the 18th Street strip. It's the home to many flip cup and beer pong tournaments upstairs, doggie happy hours on its large outdoor patio and lots of single young people looking to mingle indoors.Also, as you cross the bridge into Adam Morgan, you'll come across Mama Ayesha's, a family owned and operated restaurant on Calvert that features truly home-cooked Middle-Eastern food.Notable Columbia Road spots include Chief Ike's Mambo Room — a neighborhood haunt where DJs spin reggae, dancehall, soul and funk and patrons can gulp down $2 PBRs; and Churreria Madrid — tasty paella, churros and bistec. Pasta Mia has epic long lines, but well worth it for cheap but incredibly tasty Italian dishes, 25 in total, most notably green fettuccine with porcini-mushroom sauce and cheese tortellini with tomato-cream sauce. If you're into bicycles, City Bikes has a great selection of high-end bikes and their mechanics are among the city's best. TOP OF THE HILL: WEST SIDEColumbia Road from Belmont Road to18th StreetIf you were to hang a right at Columbia Road at the top of the strip you'll hit one of the longtime tenants of AdMo — Habana Village — arguably the best salsa joint within city limits. Walk inside and it's a blast from the past to ol' Habana: older guys in guayabera shirts, younger gals in short skirts and flashy tops twirling around the old wooden floor and tropical colored walls. While it might be intimidating for newcomers, fear not — just grab a mouth-watering mojito and arrive early for salsa lessons: Wednesdays through Fridays, starting with beginner's lesson at 7:30 p.m., intermediate at 8:30 p.m. One of the best daytime options after a night of salsa dancing (or however you choose to spend your night in AM), is to take part in Perrys' famous Sunday drag queen brunch. Drag queen divas — many of the same ones you would find at the 17th Street drag queen high heel race during Halloween week — serve you in some of the most outlandish outfits you'll ever see. As they sashay back and forth with food, they put on quite a show by shamelessly flirting with customers of all genders — male, female, and not-quite-sure. To top it off, their music selections are on full volume and over the top — think Donna Summer, Whitney Houston and the Eurythmics. Perrys also is home to one of the nicest rooftop decks in the area and is noted for its sushi selection. On the same side of the street is one of DC's best running shoe stores — Fleet Feet, owned by the proud parents of Mayor Adrian Fenty, Phil and Jan. It's been around since 1983, has a knowledgeable staff and allows you to 'test run' their shoes.For tasty Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken and delicious Lomo Saltado — the national dish of Peru (steak strips with specially seasoned French fries)— be sure to check out Granja de Oro. A few doors down is Grill From Ipanema, home to authentic Brazilian cuisine including Bahia-style stews, carne de sol (flank steak) and delicious caipirinhas to wash it all down. TOP OF THE 18TH STREET STRIP18th Street between Columbia andBelmont roadsA popular tourist destination — you've probably heard of this place from features on Playboy, Stuff and Wild On!, as well as DC locals who love blues, folk, jazz and bluegrass music and soul food — is Madam's Organ. It's hard to miss. A "Sorry, we're open" sign welcomes you, a busty "Madam" mural covers its outside wall and has the motto "Where the Beautiful People go to Get Ugly!" Madam is well-known for its redheads drink for half-off Rolling Rock special, and if you like mounted animals on the wall, mismatched furniture, local eclectic pieces of artwork and just a general crazy vibe that sets the Madam apart from most AdMo places, drop by. A very similar concept, but much more chill, can be found at Brazilian bistro Bossa — known for its massive sky-high candles, local photographer showcase, smooth Latin jazz, downtempo DJ sets, and live salsa bands. A sometimes overlooked, but good date place with its small patio, comfy couches, music set at a low enough volume to not interrupt conversation, and a pretty solid mojito to go along with moderately priced tapas and other Latin fair. Across the street is one of the most original concepts for a bar: aquariums with exotic fishes, and lots of them, hence appropriately titled The Reef. It's sort of an oceanography lesson come to life with its coral reef-like dark walls on the first level and the beautiful blue and green hues and spacious second level where the aquariums are impeccably kept with vibrant colored fish. It's Adams Morgan's largest bar, with a huge rooftop deck with a terrific view of Adams Morgan, and has one of its finest beer on tap selections — 16 total, and always rotating. Be sure to try The Reef's signature Belgium Sunrise — a deliciously tart mix of Allagash White layered on top with Kasteel St. Louis Framboise. Food-wise it's all free-range meats and poultry, organic produce and sustainable fish — all very good and at a fair price, particularly their bison burger hemp seed hummus. In the mood for something else? Try the Angry Inch, a bar full of energy. For great late-night nosh try Julia's Empanadas, a pretty good bang for the buck, and the notoriously famous Adams Morgan jumbo slice pizza; which is claimed to be sold at numerous locations through the strip (even as far south as U Street), but only one can boast it's the original and best — Pizza Mart. For higher-end late night bites there's The Diner and Tryst Coffeehouse and Bar — sister restaurants that share the same owner and are located two doors from each other. Tryst is a jewel of a coffeehouse/bar with some of the funkiest couches and best pastry and coffee selections in the city. The DINER has a similar menu and drink selection, with more chairs than couches, brunch-type food served 24/7 and a pretty good Bloody Mary. Around this area a couple of newer spots — 18th & Red and Grand Central. Both have a good reputation of being top places to go. Hungry for something different? How about Jyoti Indian Cuisine, decorated with carefully chosen items from India, the food is made with authentic spices from India kept warm served on a Kadai with a candle underneath.One of the cooler boutiques in the city also is on this block — Shake Your Booty. Booty has unique and rare footwear from David Aaron, Rampage and Hype. Another can't-miss mural while strolling down AM is the one that replicates Parisian artist Toulouse-Lautrec's portrait of singer Aristide Bruant — an unmistakable Adams Morgan landmark with its yellow backdrop and Bruant's signature black hat and vibrant red scarf. The mural envelopes the aptly named Cafe Toulouse, a quality French bistro that has blues and jazz music Thursday through Saturday. In contrast are the skulls hanging on the wall at DC's premier biker/Goth bar Asylum. For the past 10 years it's held the infamous Miller High Life Countdown on Saturdays, with High Life going for a quarter at 5 p.m. and going up 50 cents every hour. Also check their online calendar for their next apple sauce, pumpkin pie or Jell-O female wrestling contest; and bikini motorcycle washes. Speaking of Jell-O — another bargain is the $1 Jell-O shooters when the big light bulb lights up inside Millie and Al's. Another deal is the "when it rains, it pours" special at Toledo Lounge — i.e., rainy Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays get you $2 draft beers. Something more upscale? Try the quality martinis and dishes at sister restaurants Chloe and Saki — the first serving a delicious Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail and tasty mussels; the latter serving $1 negri and half-priced salmon teriyaki during happy hour. There's also the Left Bank, a fine French Restaurant. And to get a sports fix, visit Ventnor Sports Cafe.Another pair of sister establishments — Amsterdam Falafel Shop and M'Dawg Haute Dogs — sit right across the street from one another. Amsterdam is the best falafel in town because you make it. They give you a pita pocket, and it's up to you what 20 toppings you want: beets, cabbage, herb sauce, eggplant puree. M'Dawg boasts the $20 Kobe Bryant, the "Bentley" of all dogs, made with exquisite Wagyu beef, a Kobe-style beef known for its tenderness, marbling characteristics and juiciness (and hefty $150/pound price tag). Sister clubs Felix and Spy Lounge both have lines that stretch down 18th Street on weekends, and both feature sleek interiors reminiscent of Miami and New York nightclubs. Spy is a much smaller lounge, and somewhat more exclusive, while Felix has live funk or jazz music on the weekends. Be sure to try the Felix Breeze (Stoli Strasberi with strawberry puree), Mango Caipirinha, Felix Spring Punch (Grey Goose and berry liquor) and the Lotus (Absolut Vanilla and Lychee Puree). With a martini lineup like this, it's no wonder these two lounges host DC's best James Bond-themed parties. BOTTOM OF THE 18THSTREET STRIP18th Street between Belmont Road andFlorida Avenue While the top half of the strip can boast the vast majority of AM's restaurants and bars in a very compact space, there are some hidden treasures in the more spread out bottom portion. Before continuing down the strip, visit Stetson's, a nice neighborhood bar. Bourbon found a niche that previously had been missing in Adams Morgan: a hip bourbon and spirits bar. To no surprise, this bar has 70 kinds of bourbon in stock, including dozens of Kentucky bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys; as well as a dozen wines and a pretty good selection of draft and bottle beers, including Magic Hat and Blue Moon. An anchor of AM at 18th and Kalorama, Soussi has a homey, lived-in feel to it, even though it's been in existence for only five years. It has influences from North Africa, France and Belgium in its vibe, food, hookahs and drinks. Popular dishes include Mahi-Mahi, Lamb Couscous, Steak Pommes Frites, and Jamal's Penne served with white wine butter. Also be sure to check out L'Enfant, a European-style cafe/bar with a large patio. A different type of homey-feel is the authentic décor and cuisine of Casa Oaxaca — a new addition to AM and one of the very few authentic Mexican restaurants in the city. Be sure to try one of their seven moles, the cooked sauces that the Oaxaca Mexican region is best known for. Yet another place with a homey-feel, albeit because of the fact it's been there for a decade and not much has changed since, is the Common Share — home to $2 beers, pitchers for a few bucks more, and the best martini special you'll ever find — $2 on Saturdays before 10 p.m. Also in the area is Bobby Lew's, a new place that has drawn its own following for being a cool neieghborhood bar. If you're looking for an early start to the weekend, few places can match the fun that is the '80s Dance Party in the upstairs "Heaven" portion of Club Heaven and Hell on Thursdays. Get there early for the buckets of Corona and tequila shots combo, and to avoid what is usually a pretty long line to get in. Speaking of retro, albeit slightly earlier than the '80s, is Meeps & Aunt Neensie's Fashionette — one of DC's longest-running vintage shops, with particular focus on styling from the '40s through the 1970s. There also is a fair amount of "local specific" finds from local designers, such as a 'Debbie Does DC' T-shirt. Well there you have it, this has been one man's version of his AM. I'm sure I'll see you in AdMo soon! For more info on Club Heaven & Hell, see this month's bar of the month feature: For more info on Madams Organ, see this month's venue of the month feature:

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A street beyond reggaeton
Calle 13
Article published Jul 5, 2007 Washington Times

Calle 13's lead rapper-Rene Perez (aka Residente) and keyboardist-programmer and half-brother Eduardo Cabra (called Visitante) have given the burgeoning reggaeton genre a much-needed shot in the arm, winning the best urban artist award at last fall's Latin Grammy ceremony. Some have suggested that reggaeton (a popular urban mix of hip-hop, Latin beats, reggae and rap) was becoming stale, with predictable artists monotonously rapping about hooking up, getting paid, sex and food. But why stray from a winning formula? Because Calle 13 — so named because while growing up, Residente would often visit Mr. Perez on 13th Street in San Juan, Puerto Rico's middle class Alto Trujillo neighborhood — never considered itself a reggaeton band. "We don't have a particular genre to call our own, but we're definitely not a reggaeton band," Residente says in Spanish during a phone chat from Puerto Rico. "This is not hip-hop. We're rock, because that allows us to do what we want to do in our very own style." Residente holds a master's degree in fine arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, while Visitante has a bachelor's degree in accounting. In contrast to the bling-happy norm for reggaeton stars, Neither wears gold medallions, with Residente usually comfortable in a white wife-beater and jeans, and Visitante in a beret and funky indie rock shirts. Their musical idols include Whitesnake, Poison, Ruben Blades, Eminem and one of Puerto Rico's original reggaeton stars, Tego Calderon. The varied influences help explain Calle 13's genre-busting inventiveness, which includes, for example, a clarinet solo in their breakout smash hit "Atrevete-te-te" — which dares intellectual girls to "come out of the closet" and "go hyper," let loose. They also mix in rock, electronica, cumbia and rap with lyrics that are funny, political, even scandalous. "La Jirafa" uses heavy percussion in the group's search for the "one," while the sarcastic and overtly sexual "Se Vale To" uses '80s-style synthesizers. The group's newest hit, "Tango del Pescado," adds tango accordions to reggaeton beats, with a swaggering Residente rapping to a bride-to-be: "I'm coming straight from hell/Your daddy is more square than a notebook and he can't comprehend my modern language." Although not the devil himself, Residente does have a mischievous smile and a cocksure stage presence. He calls this song, "progressive tango — a super cool mix, a theme we really loved." Calle 13 performs Wednesday at the 9:30 Club ( Doors at 7:30 p.m. — Alfredo Flores

Friday, June 15, 2007

Daddy Yankee takes mainstream turn
By Alfredo Flores Published June 15, 2007 Washington Times
Daddy Yankee
El Cartel: The Big Boss
El Cartel Records/Interscope

King Daddy. El Jefe. The Big Boss. El Cangri. These are just some of the nicknames Raymond "Daddy Yankee" Ayala has given himself over his spectacular 13-year ascent from the underground Spanish hip-hop scene of Barrio Obrero, Puerto Rico, to undisputed leader of reggaeton — an infectious mix of dance-hall, reggae, Latin beats and rap that's sweeping across nightclubs and radio stations throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.With his latest effort, "El Cartel: The Big Boss," Daddy Yankee, 30, tries to claim yet one more title for himself — pop star.DY's "Impacto" remix with Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas is likely to become a summer club banging jam that will further propel Yankee (a Puerto Rican slang term used for someone big in what he does, a Big Daddy) into mainstream popularity. It doesn't hurt that the futuristic vocoder beat (think Dr. Dre/2Pac's "California Love") used by hit-making producer Scott Storch is just so darn catchy.For those who can't follow DY's trademark melange of rapid-fire Spanish, Tony Montana broken English and Spanglish slang, he slows it down in the chorus with "You like the way I do it?" And Fergie replies, mimicking Yankee's Spanish-accented emphasis on the word "do," with "I like the way you duuu it."DY has shed the gangsta image of a few years back when he had hits including "Gangsta Zone" with Snoop Dogg and remixes of "Gasolina" with Lil Jon, "Rompe" with Lloyd Banks, and "Machete" with Paul Wall. On "El Cartel" it's out with the rappers, in with another Black Eyed Pea (Will.I.Am, who raps "Blacks like Latins and Latins like blacks/Let's start (loving)/ What's happening," in the Caribbean-tinged party track "Plane to PR"); a Pussycat Doll (Nicole Scherzinger on the love song "Papi Lover," with its clever uses of flute and hand cymbals); and the fly R&B stylings of Akon on "Bring It On," on which Yankee's smooth rhymes and melodic keyboard hook and Akon's amazing singsongy flow, make for a killer combination.The lengthy album — 21 tracks clocking in at slightly less than 80 minutes — has a handful of songs that could have been left off — particularly the cheesy "Who's Your Daddy" and the extremely disappointing duet with reggaeton star Hector "El Father" on "Tension." Still, there are several standout tracks, most notably DY's salsa and mambo-based songs such as "Corazon Divina" and "Me Quedaria," his aggressive Jay-Z-esque world takeover "Mensaje del Estado" and his excellent English-language collaborations.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

By Alfredo Flores
Photo Credit Andrzej Liguz
On Tap Magazine June 2007

A unique musical friendship was formed last summer at Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park, where more than half of the 100,000 people in attendance rocked out to headliner, hometown hero and R&B superstar Kanye West. But based on the near-riot-like soccer match atmosphere and deafening decibel levels from Manu Chao's fans — a fourth the size of West's audience — at a nearby stage, you'd think that this third-billed global pop icon was headlining the festival. Washington, D.C.'s own internationally renowned downtempo electronica DJ duo of Eric Hilton and Rob Garza — better known as Thievery Corporation — performed right before Chao, and had the best view for his remarkable 90-minute set, filled with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole", mosh pitting, slam dancing, head bobbing, and just plain general chaos that has become a trademark for just about all of the 45-year-old Chao's live performances. "We've been longtime admirers of Manu's music and how he goes about it," said ESL Music label manager Mat Whittington, who manages Thievery. "At Lollapalooza, he was phenomenal. His live show is amazing." But little did they know that after seeing and then hanging out with Chao after their respective sets that Thievery would have the chance to help out one of their favorite musicians. Chao, now in the middle of his 22-city and most extensive U.S. and Canada tour to date, was having trouble securing a good D.C. area venue earlier this year, until I.M.P. Productions, ESL Music and Thievery Corporation came up with an interesting concept. Thievery is now hard at work on their new album and had no plans on touring this summer, but that changed when Whittington got a call from his friend Tom Chauncey — Chao's agent. "We knew he was touring this summer, and they were having a little difficulty finding a good space for Manu to play," Whittington said. "The people at I.M.P. then came to us about doing a co-headline with Manu. There was no way we could say no." ESL Music — named after Dupont Circle's famed Eighteenth Street Lounge, which was founded by Hilton and is where Thievery got their start —also is home to DJs Ursula 1000, Nickodemus and Thunderball. They — along with bossa nova star Bebel Gilberto, who has worked with Thievery in the past, most notably in the remix of her hit "Cada Beijo" — will be part of the house, reggae, and other international-tinged music in the "A Day in the World" festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion this month. For Thievery — known for spearheading the sophisticated "downbeat generation" and their mastery of the "outernational" sound that fuses a plethora of world music with electronica (think bossa nova, easy listening, Latin dub, roots reggae, rock, Middle Eastern beats, jazz, soul; guest performers on horns, percussion and sitar), and have worked with Madonna, Gus Gus, Stereolab and rock legends Perry Farrell, The Flaming Lips and David Byrne — this music festival provides a unique opportunity to play alongside musicians of somewhat variant styles. "I think it's a meeting of like minded musicians," Whittington said. "And while the music might be a little bit different, I think the bands have a similar outlook on the world. And this meeting makes a lot of sense, really." Both Chao and Thievery are lauded for their willingness to challenge themselves with new music genres. Chao is an interesting character, to say the least. He has been called somewhat of a pop musical messiah, but also is considered an activist artist who has not mellowed with age. Even though he is now middle-aged, gray haired, short and super slim, suffering from tendonitis on his ankles, one would be amazed at the sheer energy he and his crack raucous band Radio Bemba Sound System — named after a slang term meaning gossip or word of mouth — brings to their sold-out live shows of tens of thousands around the world. Chao — Paris-born and Barcelona-dweling, and whose first new studio album in six years comes out this September — also is the personification of a human pogo stick, tendonitis be damned. He sets the tone for many of his reggae-influenced songs with a downbeat to start, many in the audience swaying back and forth; and then, in an instant, he strikes that one cord on his guitar and all the house lights light up the stage, in a cue that lets everyone know go ahead, go nuts. As Chao jump kicks and hops on stage, and Radio Bemba — with its drums, timbales, backup guitars, keyboards and mega bass — go into pummel mode. His 2001 album "Proxima Estacion: Esperanza" topped the European charts and was named one of the best albums of the year by Rolling Stone. His solo debut "Clandestino" remains one of the best-selling albums in French music history, with more than 2.5 million copies sold to date. Garza is a huge Chao fan. He's has been listening to Chao since he was 18 — back when Chao was the frontman for the French rock group Mano Negra. Like Chao, he also often sports a beret, but shares a lot more in common than headwear.Along with Hilton, the duo has been "undisputed masters of cool" — as one fan called them — for 12 years now, is best known for their albums "The Richest Man in Babylon," "The Mirror Conspiracy" and "The Cosmic Game," and has sold over half a million albums. This is a staggering total for DJs, who make their reputations in clubs, not necessarily in studios — like the one in Adams Morgan that ESL Music studios calls home. Like Chao, they perform in front of packed crowds of thousands of people all throughout Europe, even playing one time for an unheard of 30,000 people in Portugal. So what's the best part of getting these "like-minded" musicians on one stage, for what's expected to be more than 15,000 people at Merriweather? "All of them are people that we would consider, you know, friends," Whittington said. "So, that really would be the push behind the show, putting people together that like each other and would be a good fit musically for a day-long type of festival."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Latin sounds

Published March 15, 2007 Washington Times

A lot has happened since 2003, the last time lead singer Andrea Echeverri and her Colombian rock band Aterciopelados came to the Washington area. She took time off to be with her newborn daughter, had a stellar debut solo album and is now back touring the U.S. to promote "Oye," the group's critically acclaimed new LP. She still fondly remembers the night at the Kennedy Center's packed Millennium Stage when the Latin Grammy winners (who have sold out numerous major venues throughout Latin America and Europe) performed free for several thousand lucky fans. "They were incredibly warm," Miss Echeverri said earlier this month in soft-spoken English during a phone interview from her home in Bogota. "A Puerto Rican couple invited me to their cafe," she recalls, adding that she still thinks about the funky crowd and all the "amazing hairstyles" in the audience. This is the sort of fuzzy, happy vibe that Aterciopelados (Spanish for Velvety Ones) has been putting out for years. Their music has gone from electronica to funk, to pop, to more traditional rock and roll. Through it all, the band has managed to blend traditional Latin rhythms such as bossa nova, vallenato, sambuco, cumbia and salsa while singing on range of topics from violence and corruption in Miss Echeverri's homeland to abusive relationships.
In the new album, she speaks about the "hypersexualization" of society in "Oye Mujer" ("Hey girl"), a song that makes women "forget how powerful and beautiful we really are." There are several songs with lighter moods in the new album as well. "Complemento" ("You complement me"), for example, is an upbeat love ballad about her husband, with a catchy hook and melodic use of South American panpipes.
"La Pipa de La Paz" ("The Pipe of Peace") the hit song from their 1996 debut album "El Dorado" features panpipes, heavy percussion and deep, sultry vocals from Miss Echeverri, who talks about people doing the rain dance in a paradisiacal setting while passing along a peace pipe — a perfect example of her sometimes spacey persona. Aterciopelados performs Monday at the State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church ( with D.C. Latin rock group Stone Gato as the opening act. Doors open at 7 p.m., with showtime at 8:30 p.m. — Alfredo Flores

Monday, March 19, 2007

Mana delivers some heat
Published March 19, 2007

What a great day to be from Guadalajara. Less than 24 hours after their beloved Chivas of Guadalajara faced D.C. United in a rare East Coast visit, proud natives of that city turned out Friday to see Mana, the biggest Mexican rock band of them all at the sold-out Patriot Center. It made 8,000 people forget about the frigid weather and sleet outside -- at least for two hours. Seeing Mana perform live was like being in a Latin music time capsule of sorts. One can instantly recognize the big-hair look and arena rock sound their genre made famous in the late 1980s with such ballads as "Rayando El Sol" ("Lining the Sun"). Lead singer Fher Olvera, wearing a black suit jacket and striped black and white pants, urged the swaying crowd to sing along, cigarette lighters in hand, with the chorus "O-e-ooo" as he paced the stage shaking his long, flowing curly brown hair. Their hit "Clavado En Un Bar" ("Stuck to a Barstool"), which set the standard for Latin pop-rock of the mid-1990s, features a singalong chorus and pulsating guitar riffs. As expected, it ignited the crowd, especially the women (a few brave souls wore only miniskirts and tank tops) holding on to their boyfriends as they screamed, shouted and danced in the aisles. Soon, however, the performance took a dark turn when the band lit candles on stage, changed into spooky cloaks and capes and donned Jason and Leatherface Halloween masks to sing the emotional environmental awareness song "Donde Jugaron Los Ninos?" ("Where Will the Children Play?"). The concert was filled with breathtaking special effects that included smoke machines, gigantic pyrotechnic fireballs during powerful guitar riffs, a spinning hydraulic mini-stage for drummer Alex Gonzalez and a cascading waterfall in front of the stage. In the song "Sigue Lloviendo el Corazon" ("The Heart Keeps Raining"), Mr. Olvera showed off his deep soulful voice as he reached out to wet his hand. Mana was the first major band to sing rock en Espanol in 1986 -- back when other Latin bands only did English-language rock covers -- and to make it commercially successful to the tune of three Grammy and four Latin Grammy awards, 22 million albums sold and more than 12 million in attendance at concerts leading up to their U.S. "Amar Es Combatir" tour. There seems no end in sight for the group's dominance in a genre it helped create.