We've got everything from Ricky "Just Because I Was A Menudo Babe Doesn't Mean I'm Gay" Martin duking it out for Billboard's No. 1 against Jennifer "Yeah, I Know the Song's Not That Good, But Have You Seen My Ass?" Lopez. We've got underground Latino compilations like Kool Arrow Records' Spanglish 101, which veers from modern funk to blazing punk rock to synth-pop to death metal in the blink of an eye. And in less than a week the Valley of the Sun will host the debut Watcha Tour, "The Ultimate Rock en Español Festival" (brought to you by the same folks who begat the Warped Tour).
And right here at home, joints like El Parador, 2744 E. Broadway, are packing 'em in on the weekends with dance parties featuring the likes of Cuban salsa stylists Ache Pa' Ti and the funky Tejano of Latino Sólido.
Tucson will be ground zero for la revolución -- which happens on Friday, August 6, it turns out -- as five Latino bands in various stages of their careers hit town for two separate shows at two (very) different venues.
If it's August in Tucson, that must mean Carlos Santana and his band are making their way toward the Pima County Fairgrounds. (To the delight of fans, they've played the Dust Bowl for eight out of the last nine years.) Maybe he just likes Tucson, or the en masse reception he inspires year after year; or maybe he's the only one with the balls to play an outdoor show in Tucson in August. Whatever the catalyst, this summer event has become a celebrated tradition, with good reason.
Though the majority of his albums since the mid-'70s have been uneven at best (let's not forget that the man who gave us "Black Magic Woman" and ""ye Como Va" is also responsible for "Winning"), he's always had a healthy catalog to draw upon.
And no matter what you think of his writing, there's nothing quite like the majestic beauty of that singing guitar. A Santana show, quite simply, will never disappoint.
And, his recorded output seems to be on the upswing of late: he's just released his most critically acclaimed album in years, with his first outing on a new contract with Arista Records. Supernatural scores guest appearances from Dave Matthews, Everlast, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Wyclef Jean, and--um--that singer guy from Matchbox 20.
Another collaborator on Supernatural is Mana, who punch in as co-headliners on the Santana tour wagon. In addition to winning a 1999 Grammy for their pop approach to those Latin roots, Mana is the only Latin rock band in history to sell six million albums worldwide.
Occupying the opening slot for the Fairgrounds show is one of the greatest success stories to come out of Southern California since maybe Jane's Addiction. Or, sticking to chronology, perhaps Rage Against the Machine.
Anyway, we're talking about SoCal's Ozomatli, the leaders of the burgeoning Latino underground who pack strong politics into their repertoire without weighing down the music for the message.
This 10-piece captures the sound of L.A. -- whether it's turntablist hip-hop, horn-laden, jazz-funk fusion, or dirty reggae. This chunky blend gets a swift, smooth whirl through Ozomatli's patented Latin blender, set on purÉe. Ozomatli is positive. Ozomatli is the leader of the new school. Ozomatli kicks ass!
At their last Tucson show a few months back, they finished up (as they always do) by falling into a conga line which penetrated a sold-out crowd at Club Congress to make its way into the Hotel lobby, where the band encountered two testosterone-burdened gents jockeying for position to the mobile party, butting heads in the process. It looked ugly, like trouble would surely ensue. That is, until the band realized what was going on, stepped between the two butt-heads and dissolved the conflict without missing a beat. Sigh--our heroes. Did I mention they completely kick ass? Okay -- just checking.
Speaking of ass-kicking feats, what if I told you that one of these Latino bands is actually playing two shows on Friday night? What if I told you that the first band you'll see at the Pima County Fairgrounds is the last band you'll see at Club Congress? I'm completely blowing the veil of secrecy for those of you who pick up your Weekly while it's still hot, but Ozomatli will reappear at the Congress for a late night on August 6. Just remember to act surprised, deal?
The highly recommendable Aztlan Underground, along with The Blues Experiment, share the Congress bill. After the last time I saw Aztlan U, I walked around for days mumbling, "My blood is red! MY BLOOD! IS! RED!" Go see 'em and you'll get it.
The Blues Experiment isn't quite as inspiring. Their debut CD EP is basically three second-rate funk songs sung by a guy who's listened to too many Iron Maiden albums. Worst lyrics I've heard in a while, too -- worse even than "Livin' La Vida Loca."
The fourth song on the disc, "Mars," is the sole redeemer -- a tug of war between catchy Latin pop and bizarre psychedelia. But then they gotta go and screw it up by including a four-minute bonus track of nature sounds, wooden flute, and a touch of percussion. It's not relaxing or meditative, but just plain annoying. Still, "Mars" gives me hope for the live show.
Here's the scoop on both August 6 shows: Santana, Mana and Ozomatli kick off at 7 p.m. at the Pima County Fairgrounds. Tickets are $42.50 for reserved seats, $20.50 for the lawn (50 cents of each ticket will go to a charity). Call Dillard's at 1-800-638-4253 for ticket info.
The big mystery show (OZOMATLI!) which features Aztlan Underground (OZOMATLI!) and The Blues Experiment kicks off at 8 p.m. (OZOMATLI!) at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are $10, available at the Hotel Congress and Zip's University. Call 622-8848 for info. Just don't mention (OZOMATLI!).
GOTTA PROBLEM: If you read this column regularly, you might remember me begging you to do yourself a favor many months back by going to see a really great band with a really awful name. If you didn't listen, there's still time to redeem yourself as L.A.'s The Negro Problem bring their skewed brand of pop back to town this week, hot on the heels of their brand-new release Joys & Concerns, on Aerial Flipout Records.
"Our label is a computer and a chair," admits lead singer Stew. The new record mines similar lyrical territory to the band's debut, Post Minstrel Syndrome (to clue you in to their typical subject matter, the title song of the latter is about how Ken feels forced to love Barbie, even though he's really gay). You be the judge of quirkiness on Friday, August 6, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. Call 670-9202 for more info.
NEGRO GOLD: Call it truth in advertising: The sticker on Sam Mangwana's most recent release, 1998's Galo Negro (Putumayo), claims the album is "guaranteed to make you feel good." It had me boogying around my room like a teenybopper with the new Backstreet Boys album in hand.
Mangwana is one of the primary innovators and practitioners of Congolese rumba, more commonly known as soukous, and his sound is completely infectious, to say the least. The singer's rich tenor floats above crisp arrangements highlighted by the gut-string guitar of two veteran Congolese guitarists, Papa Noel and Dizzy Mandjeku, and the result is a winning hybrid of African and Caribbean flavors that's smooooth. This show will disappoint no one.
Catch Mangwana at 8 p.m. Wednesday, August 11, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. Advance tickets are $12 at Hear's Music, Congress Street Store, Zip's University and Guitars, Etc. They'll be two bucks more at the door. Call 740-0126 for details.
And the Rialto resumes its intermittent schedule of Swingin' Saturday Nights this week with a performance by The Magnum Brutes, featuring Miss Connie Champagne (former lead singer of The New Morty Show). Throw on your best sharkskin and head down to the theater at 8 p.m. Saturday, August 7, at 318 E. Congress St. The all-ages show is only $5 at the door.
LAST NOTES: How to Build a Rocketship celebrates the launching of Thank You Easter Bunny with a CD release party on Saturday, August 7, at the Velvet Tea Garden, 450 N. Sixth Ave. Call 388-9922 for details.