Celia Cruz revamps "I Will Survive."

Songs you've got to hear.
Sept. 1 2004 12:40 PM

Latin 101

Celia Cruz's "I Will Survive," Mexico's Liz Phair, and other highlights from the Latin Grammys.

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Julieta Venegas
(RCA International)
Click here to listen to "Andar Conmigo," and here to listen to "Lo Que Pidas."The unusually strong and eclectic field of nominees for this evening's Latin Grammy Awards offers a glimpse of a parallel pop universe. Case in point: Julieta Venegas, the gifted Mexican singer-songwriter-accordionist who is nominated for three major awards. On her latest album, , Venegas has pulled a Liz Phair. Having established herself over the past several years as the hippest, artiest chick in rock en Espa ñ ol, she has taken aim at hit radio with an album that blends lilting Mexican folk, disco beats, and pure pop melodies. The genre-blurring results are irresistible: The hit ballad "Andar Conmigo" moves from a vaguely ranchera-like lope into reggae; "Lo Que Pidas" has a dancey hook that would make Madonna jealous and a delicious call-and-response between Venegas' accordion and a DJ's turntable scratches.

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Carlinhos Brown Carlinhos Brown Es Carlito Marrón (BMG)
Click here to listen to "Carlito Marrón," and here to listen to "Talavera."On paper the Grammy-nominated album by Brazilian percussionist, guitarist, and self-styled shaman Carlinhos Brown sounds like one of those abominable "world fusion" records that get piped into free-trade coffee shops from Seattle to Brooklyn: a mishmash of Bahian carnival rhythms, mambo, flamenco, and several other styles, with lyrics in Portuguese, Spanish, English, and Yoruba. But Brown is one of Brazil's great musical eccentrics, an irrepressible weirdo who makes Andre 3000 seem as staid as André Previn; he turns a potentially dodgy experiment into an exercise in recording-studio bravura and plain loopy fun. It's a hoot hearing Brown impersonate a Cuban sonero on "Carlito Marrón." But the best tracks transcend pastiche and offer strange new sounds: "Talavera" boosts Brown's acoustic guitar to a dull roar and digitally alters his vocal, creating a spooky 21st-century yodel.

Jody Rosen is a Slate contributor.