If a pan-continental Latin American dance party were to have a soundtrack, chances are it'd be produced by Mexican DJs Camilo Lara and Toy Selectah. In fact, chances are they already have produced it.
"Compass," released late last month by the San Francisco-based Six Degrees Records, skips across continents to pull together pan-Latin dance grooves infused with dance hall, cumbia, hip-hop and Brazilian reggaeton — featuring a panoply of global musicians from New York rapper MC Lyte to Dominican chanteuse Maluca Mala to Toots Hibbert of the legendary Toots and the Maytals.
It offers plenty to move to. As well as a few surprises — such as the deadpan cameo by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, who channels his finest Serge Gainsbourg in the Latin jazz-tinged track "Before the Sunset."
"Compass" began as a simple collaboration between two fellow DJs: Lara, who heads up the electronica project Mexican Institute of Sound, and who conceived the Morrissey tribute band Mexrrissey, and Toy Selectah (born Antonio Hernandez), part of the '90s Mexican rap group Control Machete, who since has become known for his work as a mix-master and is affiliated with Diplo's Mad Decent label.
The two have teamed up in the past, on the Los Angeles Azules' greatest-hits compilation, "Como Te Voy A Olvidar" — giving an edge to traditional Mexican cumbia. And in 2014, the pair began sending beats to each other with the idea of collaborating on a song or two.
That initial point of contact turned into a whole album when they got Red Bull involved — and the company gave them access to its recording studios in New York, London, Mexico City, Sao Paulo and L.A., allowing the two to team up with singers and emcees from all over the globe. (Who said no good could come out of a beverage that tastes like bad cough syrup?)
"Compass," as a result, is a kitchen-sink kind of album.
The irresistibly catchy "Explotar," for example — with its horn-laden cumbia riffs — features Rob Birch of Stereo MC's, Kool A.D. of Das Racist, Brazilian rapper Emicida as well as Maluca. Lyrics are in Spanish, English and Portuguese. And that's just one song.
Naturally, an album with so many hands in the mix is less an album than a nice package of one-offs. But Lara and Toy Selectah nonetheless manage to deliver some joyous dance jams.
"Velcro" gets all moody-New Wave in a tune that channels an age of asymmetrical haircuts, but with added Mexican instrumentation. "La llama" gives us a bouncing, bilingual rocksteady beat that puts hands in the air. MC Lyte's contribution, "1986," channels the stripped-down sound of early rap — and adds wah-wah Mexican trumpets.
And though dance music is rarely known for its clever lyricism, the pair managed to sneak in some downright hilarious moments.
In "Explotar," Kool A.D. somehow manages to rhyme "Elantra" and "Honda" and "Anaconda" in his seemingly stream-of-consciousness rambles. An entire electronica number is devoted to the Latin American cure-all, Vicks VapoRub. (My father would have loved.)
And the García Bernal song has the actor talk-singing lines such as: "I am here / your Sagittarius has arrived." It's wink-wink ironic. It's also laugh-out-loud funny.
"Compass" is a Franken-album, with a bit of this and a bit of that. But at a time when the political classes seem intent on tearing each other apart, this playful collection shows that music can bring us together — at least on the dance floor.
Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.