The other day my friend Jorge González invited a few friends over to his house for a traditional, home-cooked Mexican meal. I, in turn, showed up with some traditional Argentine food I prepared. We soon realized we had something else in common (besides our love for music and DJ’ing): we were both the default chefs of our respective homes, defying the historical precedent of Latin American women solely occupying the kitchen.
Then Jorge—a.k.a. DJ Mafondo—mentioned he was working on a mixtape of gastronomically themed songs to play while cooking. I started suggesting songs to include and minutes later it became evident that what we had was a musical menu to share on Remezcla. So I invited Jorge to help me put it together, since, well, it was his idea.
As always, this list doesn’t pretend to be the ultimate, definitive, all-time, top 10 greatest food-centric songs in the whole Latin Alternative universe. They’re simply our favorites or the ones we just came up with. And, as always, you’re welcome to contribute yours in the comments section below. ¡Buen Provecho!
1) KEVIN JOHANSEN + THE NADA – “GUACAMOLE” [ARG/AK]
In this Buenos-Aires-set video, Alaskan-born Kevin Johansen invites his friends over for lunch and promises to whip up some guacamole. A modern-day odyssey ensues when he sets out to find some decent paltas (as avocados are commonly called in many South American countries). All this while continuously running into a beautiful porteña who eventually ends up delivering the ripe paltas (don’t you just love it when that happens?). The song, meanwhile, runs through (in contrived Spanglish and a bit of portuñol) a long list of traditional dishes from pan-Latin-American cuisine. “Guacamole” was Kevin Johansen’s first solo hit in 2000. No other song had ever made his listeners so hungry or eager to cook. (JD)
2) ONDATROPICA – “TIENE SABOR, TIENE SAZON” [COL/UK]
Tiene Sabor, Tiene Sazón” (“It has flavor, It has seasoning”) was the first time we heard Ondatrópica fuse some of our most beloved tropical genres. The men behind Ondatrópica are some of Latin America’s best musical chefs (Frente Cumbiero, Quantic, and their band, Los Irreales de Ondatropica). However, the recipe behind this danceable, cocina-inspiring jam session was written by Nidia Gongora, an Afro-Colombian singer from the currulao tradition. Although the track doesn’t give you a specific dish to make, it does name some fundamental ingredients to get any Latin American dish started. (JG)
3) MALA RODRIGUEZ – “LA COCINERA” [ESP]
If María Rodríguez, a.k.a. La Mala, wants to come over and cook me some estofado, I gotta try it. Damn, I gotta eat the whole thing and lick the paellera clean. Included in her 2000 debut album, Lujo Ibérico, “La Cocinera” doesn’t really say much about cooking, but uses cooking as an analogy for her ego-tripping rhymes. Still, who wouldn’t like to sit at her table and try one of her gourmet creations? (JD)
4) NOVALIMA – “CAMOTE” [PER]
Camote (sweet potato) grows all year round near Peru and has for more than 10,000 years. Novalima, the electro-Afro-Peruvian music group, included this track in their 2008 album, Coba Coba, as an ode to the high-protein potato, a key ingredient in many local dishes. In Peruvian ceviche, camote—boiled and cut into chunks—is served as a side dish, adding flavor to the lime-citrus-marinated fish. It also cools off the ají (spicy sauce). Unfortunately for us, this song doesn’t reference any specific recipes. Instead it uses camote to stand in for Afro-Peruvian dance. (JG)
5) LOS CALIGARIS – “ASADO Y FERNET” [ARG]
Few things are as típico to Argentine cuisine as asado and Fernet. Asado is obviously barbequed beef, but with no additives, no marinade, no spices other than salt. Just plain, slow-cooked, thick chunks of cow. “I don’t care for anything vegetarian,” yells out the singer in a statement that’s pretty much a nationalist declaration of carnivorous principles.
Fernet is more of a mystery. A sort of “Argentina’s best-kept secret” type of thing. It’s an old Italian liquor that’s popular in two places outside of Italy: Argentina and San Francisco. The rest of the world says it tastes like medicine. And nowhere in Argentina is Fernet as popular as it is in Córdoba, where Los Caligaris are from, and where this blend of cuartetero rhythm and ska is also characteristic. (JD)
6) B-SIDE PLAYERS – “EL COMAL” [SAN DIEGO]
The mix of musical influences you hear in “El Comal” is a similar sensation to the ecstasy of having a Northern Mexican spicy caldito de camarón. It’s full of flavor (mostly the spicy kind) and there’s so much going on that it’s hard to distinguish what’s what if you’re not a music or soup buff. Singer Karlos Páez describes it as “a perfect blend of son jarocho, gypsy Afro-Latin rhytms with rumba folkloric sex inspired lyrics.” The title “El Comal,” which refers to the flat pan where tortillas are cooked/heated up or chiles are roasted, alludes to the sizzling beats present in the group’s 2007 album, Fire In The Youth. (JG)
7) MOLOTOV – “CERDO” [MEX]
You may have noticed that many of the food-centric songs listed here were included in the artists’ debut albums. This one also falls into that camp. Maybe this trend has something to do with the starving artist syndrome. They were so figuratively and literally hungry before they hit it big, so they unconsciously invoked food in their songs.
I don’t know. That’s probably not the case for Molotov, who impressively lists a ton of fatty Mexican platillos on this funky track, only to point out that the guy eating them is a disgusting pig. (JD)
8) I-MOSA – “ITAL FOOD” [CHL]
“No blood, no chicken in my kitchen, no one puts poison in my kitchen, no cow, no pig in my kitchen, vegetables are what feed my life,” is the chorus in I Mosa’s track “Ital Food.” Considering meat is the core of most Latin American diets, you can either choose to embrace his meat-free chants or tell him to go fuck his hippie self. At any rate, I Mosa, a.k.a. Moisés Pérez, celebrates the veggie diet that fuels his soul as a rasta man living in the Babylonian meat-packing world. Like many other rappers (Morodo from Spain, I-Nesta from Panama, Alika from Argentina, etc.) who came up in the late ’80s/early ’90s hip-hop scene, I Mosa moved on to experiment with dancehall-ragamuffin styles. Ragamuffin…that’s kind of food related, right? (JG)
9) MARTIN LOPEZ Y SUS ESTRELLAS – “COCINANDO” [PER]
Peruvian cuisine is internationally popular nowadays. That’s understandable since Peruvians take their food very seriously. They even have a whole music genre, chicha, named after a local drink. I have no idea what Martín López y Sus Estrellas were trying to cook up with this instrumental one, but my guess is that it had some psychedelic side effects (although nothing as heavy as ayahuasca). This long-forgotten gem of old-school Peruvian tropidelia was recently reissued (on vinyl only) for the international market by Massachusetts-based indie label, Masstropicas. (JD)
10) EL TULE – “LA BOTANA” [AUSTIN]
This one is a mariachi-inspired salsa track that perfectly showcases the multicultural sound El Tule brings to the table on its most recent album, Volume II (2011). The title means “the appetizer,” which can take many forms: tortas, plátanos maduros, pozole (meat and hominy-based stew), nopalitos cocinados en la penca (traditionally steamed stuffed cactus), cocktail de camarón pulpo y ceviche, etc. El Tule, an Austin-based eight-piece, should be included in every asado playlist, at least to get the appetizers going. (JG)