It may be spring according to the astrophysicists who calculate the vernal equinox, but listeners across much of the United States are still hunkered down, waiting out winter. Lingering frosts, snow that refuses to melt, inescapable winds, and drizzle may be with us for a while yet.
But at least we can take a sonic vacation. The Southern Hemisphere is just seeing another summer draw to a close, and for the past three months, across three continents and as many oceans, a host of musicians below the equator have been making exactly the sort of energetic dance, sexy funk, shimmery pop, and nostalgic retro that has evoked golden days and warm nights for decades on both halves of Earth. Here are 12 songs from the subtropical South that had me, at least, looking forward to summer in the middle of a Midwestern winter.
1. Zuzuka Poderosa "Seda [Kush Arora, Jubilee & Burt Fox Edit]"
Brazil / Indonesia / USA
We begin with something of a cheat, as "Seda" was recorded in New York, produced in San Francisco, and remixed in Miami. But though she now lives in Brooklyn, performer Zuzuka Poderosa was born in Rio de Janeiro, of mixed Brazilian and Indonesian heritage. She calls her rhythm-heavy dance music "carioca bass," and it bears the distinctive sound of Rio's humanity-packed, beat-pulsing clubs and streets.
2. Scotty Raz ft. Lil'C "Pamela"
Madagascar / Italy
Aside from the language, there's not much of a particularly Malagasy flavor about "Pamela." DJ Raz take his cues from Swedish and American producers like RedOne and Dr. Luke, and singer Lil'C, though she grew up in Madagascar, now lives in Rome and uses AutoTune as heavily as any Europopper. The result is a jolt of energy instantly recognizable in clubs around the world.
3. Flume "Holdin' On"
Harley Streten, an electronic producer from Sydney who releases music as Flume, works in an idiom familiar worldwide: the dance song with a massive vocal sample to give it structure. "Holdin' On" clips Anthony White's 1977 B-side "I Can't Turn You Loose" in much the same way as Avicii's "Levels" used Etta James' "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and is on its way to becoming nearly as popular. Flume is already one of the top electronic acts in Australia, after having only released his debut album in November. The rest of the world is next.
4. Los Labios "Bailando en Otra Parte"
The cumbia rhythm—that distinctive sandpaper triplet—has accrued many meanings since it spread from coastal Colombia in the mid-20th century. From Peruvian chicha to U.S. tejano, it underpins much slyly funky Latin music of the past 50 years. In Argentina as elsewhere, cumbia has mostly been working-class dance-and-drinking music, but a new generation is revamping it in a lot of different directions. Los Labios are an indie-pop band working in the cumbia tradition, and frontwoman Lulú Jankilevich's thin voice is flexible enough to be expressive in a wide range of emotions.
5. Demor ft. Bucie, Black Coffee & Zakes Bantwini "The One"
South African deep house, or kwaito, notable for a beat that can project calm while remaining insistent, is one of the great treasures of the modern age. Singer and producer Demor Sikhosana assembles a who's who of modern kwaito for this single: He sings the first verse, Bucie sings the second, and Black Coffee does the chorus, while Zakes Bantwini co-produces. This video closes out early; the full song (available on Soundcloud) gives the outstanding singers more room to improvise, and lets the tight, superbly poised groove breathe as well.