Americans who still think of Latin music as mariachi bands and gyrating Ricky Martins and Shakiras might want to lend a closer ear to the genre. This country's Hispanic population isn't just growing, it's growing more diverse. More and more unique musical styles are being gobbled up, and that should come as good news to alternative gringos hoping to spruce up their castellano. This year's Latin-music highlights come from all over the Spanish-speaking map. We'll start in the farthest geographic corner: an island in the Mediterranean.
Niña de Fuego
Afro-Spanish artist Buika epitomizes cultural and ethnic diversity. Over three decades ago, her parents fled political turmoil in the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea and made a new life for themselves in a gypsy neighborhood on the island of Mallorca. After stints as a Tina Turner impersonator in Vegas and as the vocalist on some chic house and funk albums made for the European clubs, Buika has found her niche in flamenco and Latin jazz. This year's Niña de Fuego contains many of the same gitano elements found on her successful LP Mi Niña Lola, and pushes the boundaries further by adding Mexican ranchera. Only someone as strangely bohemian as Buika could pull together these emotive styles with just the right amount of melodrama.