Latin Disco Strikes Back

By: Marcelo Báez

Last winter, José Luis Pardo (Los Amigos Invisibles, Los Crema Paraiso), aka DJ Afro, asked me to co-DJ a gig with him. While doing sound check, he looked my way and said “I’ve got a song just for you. It’s not done, but the idea is there and I know you’re going to love it.” José, who had been a guest at my old Nacotheque parties, is fully aware of my predilection for vintage Latin pop, and thus proceeded to confidently play a funky, disco-flavored cover of Miguel Mateos’s “Obsesión.” I loved it. “It’s a little something I’m working on,” he commented rather mysteriously, “but it’s still missing a string section.” Almost a year later, the mystery is over: his finished “Obsesión,” along with seven other covers of Latin pop staples with the same funky/disco treatment, have been released under the name Orquesta Discotheque—a groovy imaginary orchestra if there ever was one.

Yes, the concept has been done before: Nouvelle Vague did the same thing just a few years back, just like Señor Coconut with his tropical covers of... everyone, or even Café Tacvba. The problem with cover records is that, if not done right, they come off as gimmicky. Orquesta’s Música Moderna, released by Nacional Records here in the US, avoids that potential pitfall thanks to its clever use of genres and styles.

Let’s work our way backward: “Lamento Boliviano,” the sad bastard song written by Enanitos Verdes, which is also the last track on Música Moderna, has been turned into an exquisite bolero—the kind an old, drunken man might queue up on a busted jukebox somewhere inside an equally busted cantina. (All kinds of dance floors are game on this record, not just the fancy ones.)

José wrote, played and toured with Los Amigos Invisibles for over two decades, and the disco-flavored style of his old band is mostly evident on the faster numbers such as “¿Cómo Es Posible Que a Mi Lado?” (yep, Luis Miguel), the aforementioned “Obsesión,” and the old Shakira favorite “Buscando Un Poco de Amor.” But don’t pigeonhole this record: “Hay Que Venir al Sur,” the Italo-disco firecracker immortalized by queen of kitsch Raffaella Carra, comes out as a Brazilian chic over anything else.

There is one song I can do without, and that’s “De los Pies a la Cabeza”—but it’s not because of the way it’s performed or anything (singer Linda Briceño does a god job with her faux-Brazilian delivery), but simply because I can’t shake off the fact that it’s still a song by Maná, possibly the most offensive band ever. Still, José’s use of a different singer for every track (including Federico Aubele, Natalia Clavier and Monsieur Periné’s Catalina García) is a brilliant idea—it keeps the track list fresh and interesting in spite of the formula, and the idea of an imaginary orchestra rolling.

In a time when most dance music by popular artists is nothing but rehashed EDM, Orquesta Discotheque, and by extension DJ Afro, is here to remind us—in a campy, fresh, and fun way—that the old Latin American pop songbook had great, commendable moments. Also, that Shakira’s music wasn’t always horrific.

LOGISTICS: Música Moderna by Orquesta Discotheque, available here

Marcelo Baéz is a writer, DJ, and musician based in NYC. When he's not producing "Rico Suave" parties, he releases music under P3CULIAR.