various artists,
Latin Playground
(Putumayo, 2002)

Putumayo Records has done an excellent job once again with Latin Playground, a compilation CD designed for children with fun songs and well written liner notes telling them a bit about the country the music comes from, the artist, the song and the style of music. The lyrics are also provided in English and Spanish, with most of the songs sung in Spanish.

The CD starts off with "Guantanamera" by Omara Portuondo, a strong and proud song that soars during the verses with children joining in on the chorus. Los 50 de Joselito follows this up with "La Arana Picua," a fun song about a spider. "Lluvia De Estrellas" is a quiet, passionate song by Terri Hendrix that leads you in a gentle dance.

The tempo kicks right back up with Cubanismo's "Mardi Gras Mambo," which is also one of the few songs in English on the CD. The violin adds to the light-hearted feel of "Hanal Weech" by Lila Downs. This is followed up by the intensity of "Rodopiou," a high-tempo song by Nazare Pereira that remains quiet. This is contrasted by the flair of Jose Gonzalez y Banda Criolla's "Bomba Le Le" as it welcomes you into the music.

"Chocolate" (Carmen Gonzalez & Koral Y Esmeralda) is a simple song about making chocolate. The song starts slowly and then picks up as it progresses. Flaco Jimenez's "De Bolon Pin Pon" starts off full of energy and then fluxes, slowing down for the verses and then building in the chorus and back to the high speeds for the instrumentals. The next song is a change from the rest, "Yo Quiero" by Ruben Rada touches on some of the things children need. The CD closes off with a celebration of music with Rudy Regalado & Chevere's "America Baila."

Latin Playground is a delightful sample of Latin American music by Putumayo. While it is designed for children, it will provide pleasure for people of all ages.

- Rambles
written by Paul de Bruijn
published 20 September 2003

The diversity of Latin American cultural music is staggering. Ranging from the simple Brazilian bossa novas to the complex cumbia beats that speak of indiginous peoples, the blending of customs, religion and cultures that makes up the vast heading of "Latino music" is rich and full. In Latin Playground, Putumayo attempts to give representative samples of that range, and succeeds fairly well. More importantly, though, they've put together a collection that ranges from uptempo to soulful, and is quite nice to listen to.

The first song in the collection, Omara Portuondo's "Guantanamera," opens the CD with a toe-tapping Cuban traditional song that's popular in Cuba for its patriotic overtones. (Portuondo's father was a Cuban baseball star, and her deep love of her country is quite evident in this track.) It's also a great representative sample of a style of regional music called guajira (gwa-HEE-rah) that's roughly equivelent to America's country music -- very popular among the farmers and rural peoples.

Song three also has cultural roots, though this time we travel to Mexico for them. Terri Hendrix sings "Lluvia De Estrellas," a song she conceived while driving through Boquillas, a small town in Mexico near the Texas border. Using the popular accordion and sung in English, it's a testament to the way cultures have blended along the border to create a Tex-Mex hybrid that reflects in music as well as day-to-day life. (And it's a toe-tapper of a song, no less.)

Track six transports the listener to Brazil and the famed Carnival atmosphere. "Rodopiou" by Nazare Pereira is done in a style called forro, a very popular dance music that has its roots in northeastern Brazilian music -- which is characterized by the uptempo "party" feel, and the use of an accordion, drums and a triangle. Fabulous stuff.

While there are similarities between Cuban and Puerto Rican music (some say they are "two wings of the same bird," in fact.), the inclusion of a traditional bomba-style Puerto Rican song by Jose Gonzalez y Banda Criolla, "Bomba Le Le," shows this fairly well. Bomba music features a call-and-response style, with a single voice sounding a call and the band responding, much like traditional Afro-Cuban music. Listen for the use of barriles in this one -- traditional kettle-style drums that add a deep note to this track.

The whole CD is steeped in this honor of traditional instruments and musical styles. It's definitely worth the purchase price, since in an hour, you can travel across the whole of Latin America's past and present with one listen.

- Rambles
written by Elizabeth Badurina
published 20 September 2003

Buy it from