Culturally speaking, what qualifies as “carnival” music means many different things around the Americas, and is not always linked with the pre-Lent ecclesiastical calendar and bacchanals of Catholic Europe or New Orleans. Indeed, the term is interpreted on these three compilations as just another word for “party,” and is meant to embrace just about any popular music heard anywhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Invoking terms like “multicultural,” “vibrant,” and “danceable,” the compilers cast a wide—if uninformed and essentially hedonistic—net. These tracks are danceable, certainly, but they don’t quite make the “carnival” cut.
So what’s on tap? From Brazil, you have batucada drummers (Grupo Batuque, Par Ney de Castro, and from across the pond, the London School of Samba), then there’s Bebel Gilberto, Seu Jorge and Gilberto Gil covering Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” along with varying tastes of reggaetón, samba funk, drum ’n’ bass, Música Popular Brasileira (also known as MPB)—you name it. Under the salsa banner, you get an equally wide scope—from Colombia (Yuri Buenaventura, Dorancé Lorza, Orquesta La 33), Puerto Rico (Tito Puente, Ray Santiago, Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Son Boricua, Bobby Rodríguez, Estrellas Caiman), Cuba (Celia Cruz, Issac Delgado, Orlando Valle “Maraca”) and even the U.K. (Alex Wilson doing Chaka Khan) and Algeria (Faudel’s “Salsa Rai”). And from Cuba? Post-1959, carnival became a political celebration, but there’s no revolución going on here—just good dance music, ranging from Ibrahim Ferrer’s classic “En Que Parte De Cuba Nacio El Son” to Sur Caribe’s “La Pelota De La Suerte.”