Hot Latin sounds on the dance floor are hardly a new development. Artists like Gloria Estefan, Selena and, most recently, Jocelyn Enriquez and Angelina have proven that Latinos are just as good as or better than anyone else at providing music to work up a sweat amidst the smoky lights and crowded bodies on late weekend nights.
Influences of Latin sounds like cumbia, salsa and merengue can be found in practically every other house jam that appears on the dance charts, from the irresistible beats of Artie the One Man Party to the pulsing sounds of DJ Strobe, whose work often samples from Spanish-flavored songs or artists.
When it comes to actual Spanish-language music on the dance floor, though, the list is rather short. (If anyone mentions the "Macarena," I'm gonna hit them over the head with a pair of maracas.)
Former Menudo member and ex-General Hospital star Ricky Martin scored a big worldwide hit with "Maria," but that was a Spanglish song - a mixture of Spanish and English.
Estefan's Spanish albums have also generated sizable club hits, but aside from her, it seems people just don't wanna dance to something they don't understand.
That's a shame, 'cause a few recent female Latin artists have set their sights on the world of glitterballs and go-go boots to produce some prime examples of dance music in any language.
These gals have made plenty of waves on Latin charts and in Spanish clubs, but mainstream audiences don't seem to get the message just yet. If you've got an open mind and an extra couple of bucks, these discs are definitely worth picking up.
Originally released in 1996, teenage recording artist Fey's Tierna la Noche is typical of so many young female Latin artists in its approach - danceable, light and fun. The album is still going strong with the recently released single, "Las Lagrimas de Mi Almohada," a heartfelt tune that maintains a wistful, swaying beat.
Fey's vocals aren't diva-caliber just yet, but the girlishness she evokes in every song is infectious amid the keyboards and synthesizers.
House, electronica and pure pop all make appearances here, from the giddy high of the album's techno-groove debut single, "Azucar Amargo" to the casual sarcasm of "Popocatepetl."
The young songstress is hardly an innovator, but she definitely knows how to work a song and make use of her talent. Swelling choruses, furious keyboards and catchy melodies make many of the album's tracks simply fly, including "Muevelo," with its commands to move it, again and again.
Tight production is the real hero here, and it takes Fey's album to higher places than many young dance artists get to at such an early stage.
Another young artist, Jennifer Peña, thrives on catchy beats of a different sort on her second album, Jennifer.
Dancing is still important in the world of Tejano music, even if electronic instrumentation and remixes aren't the order of the day. Peña's second solo effort is firmly planted in the Tejano tradition, but still manages to feel fresh and inspired.
Peña, who many consider to be the next in line for superstardom in the world of Tejano music, also benefits from tight production, this time by Abraham Quintanilla, the father of the late Selena. He surrounds her with solid musicians and strong songwriters, creating a focused album that surpasses the quality of Peña's debut release, Dulzura.
Cumbias (polka-style songs meshed with traditional Mexican elements) seem to be the young star's forté, and she wisely showcases her skill on no less than five of them this time around. "Tu Castigo," "Cuando Despierte Mañana" (a remake of Carole King's "Will You Love Tomorrow?") and "Yo Te Vi" are three of the album's strongest.
Peña doesn't fare quite as well on the tepid do-wop stylings of "Fue Una Mañana de Agosto," but her surprisingly strong vocals make up for any missteps. Still, the song is a slight distraction at best.
She finally lets loose on a true dance track at the end of the album, "Corazoncito, Ven a Mi," a re-working of Rick James' "Superfreak." The song becomes an ode to a would-be lover instead of a tale of a "very freaky girl," and Peña's sly delivery amidst a keyboard and drum machine hints that she has the right stuff to make it big as a dance diva. Just thinking about what the wonders of a great remixer could do with this already sweltering track makes my head spin.
One singer who proves working with a new crew can work wonders is Thalia, whose previous outings were likable, if a bit unfocused, affairs. After hooking up with producers Emilio Estefan Jr. and Kike Santander, though, the Mexican soap-opera star has come up with an electrifying set of Spanish anthems on her strongest album to date, Amor a la Mexicana.
Songs like "Por Amor," "Mujer Latina" and the title cut are sizzling, inspired tracks, making the most of Thalia's newly nuanced delivery. Her newfound vocal prowess is nothing short of a revelation.
Elsewhere, tracks like "Ponle Remedio" and "Noches Sin Luna" turn up the heat. Cumbia, salsa, reggae and techno rhythms are all thrown into the mix in this tightly produced collection.
Estefan and Santander have taken bold chances with Thalia and have helped her learn the art of interpreting, not just singing, a song. The result is a truly amazing album that's a long way from the singer's outings with kiddie Spanish-pop group Timbiriche.
Another one of Thalia's Timbiriche allies, Paulina Rubio, has also made big strides in her solo career. The blonde, energetic singer's last album, Planeta Paulina, was an innovative mix of techno and pop beats.
Hoping to reach a broader audience, Rubio has recently released an English version of "Enamorada," one of the album's choice, and most controversial, cuts. Reshaped with a high-energy Euro-beat under the title "I'm So in Love," the song soars to new heights. Rubio's sometimes heavy Spanish accent adds a sense of urgency to the track.
The Spanish video version incited a big controversy on numerous music shows, which refused to play the clip. It told the story of a young woman whose heart is broken when she finds out the true love of her life is gay.
The theme is retained in the English version of the song, with desperate lyrics like "My friends all ask the question/I don't know what to say/I'm haunted everywhere I go by the mention of your name."
The thought of Spanish lyrics may be daunting to some of you music fans out there, but fear not. The groove is just as good under the colored lights of the dance floor as in any language.