With a few notable exceptions, there was little new this year from commercial Latin music, which seems stuck in replay. World music continued expanding to new parts of the globe and more adventurous kinds of fusion, with electronica often a common denominator. Jazz continues to struggle in South Florida, with a few strong institutions and series keeping it alive. Here are 2012 highlights:
• Café Tacuba’s first album in five years proved that good things come to artists and listeners who wait. El objeto antes llamado disco ( The Object Previously Known as an Album) seals this endlessly original, resolutely untrendy Mexican group’s position as a rock band for the ages.
• Colombian pop-rock star Juanes made a major life and career shift with his first acoustic album, produced live at the New World Symphony’s New World Center. With its rich musical fabric and emotional expressiveness, the multi-Latin Grammy winning Juanes MTV Unplugged marks a new stage for one of Latin music’s most influential artists.
• Dominican-American heartthrobs ruled, from former Aventura frontman Romeo Santos, whose Formula Vol. 1 was the top-selling Latin album of the year and yielded a blockbuster tour capped by three sold-out nights at Madison Square Garden, to teen dream balladeer Prince Royce. Melding English and Spanish, bachata and R&B, they’re Latin music’s crossover stars.
• The tragic death of Mexican-American banda singer Jenni Rivera in December airplane crash robbed the Latin music world, and Latina women in particular, of a gutsy, powerful artist and role model.
• From Brazilian Michel Telo’s bubbly hit Ai si eu te pego (more than 500 million YouTube views) to South Korean PSY’s juggernaut Gangnam Style (a billion views and rising), this was the year that music from formerly obscure cultures conquered the world, viral style.
• November’s concert by Yemen Blues, an Israeli group with a dizzying range of influences, was not only an invigoratingly original night of music, but, like the Miami Art Week launch of the Israeli record label Vega in December, heralded growing interest in world music from the Middle East.
• Cuban rocker X Alfonso’s Miami debut concert in November was a potent, visually sophisticated display of virtuoso musicianship and rhythmic verve that showcased a new generation of Cuban music.
• The Rhythm Foundation’s Big Night in Little Haiti series at the Little Haiti Cultural Center continues to showcase to the larger community the richness of one of Miami’s most significant but often unsung cultures.
• The Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert at the Coral Gables Congregational Church in June was a delightful, practical lesson in the joys of jazz. Playing with down-home brilliance and a wicked sense of humor, the PHJB brought out the smarts and generous soul of jazz and it made it fun.
• Selling jazz, be it in a club, concert hall or festival setting, is not for the unimaginative or faint of heart, especially in South Florida, which makes Larry Rosen’s Jazz Roots series, now in its fifth successful season at the Arsht Center, all the more noteworthy.
Miami jazz writer Fernando Gonzalez contributed to this report.