On September 15, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and El Salvador celebrated their independence from Spain, while Panama and Belize hold their own independence festivities on November 28 and September 21, respectively. It’s a time for reflection and pride in Central America, as the region uses the occasion to uplift the individual histories and rich, abundant cultures that have been born out of each of their communities.
While this is an opportunity to look back, it should also be a chance to revel in the traditions that are still being created today, particularly in music. In every corner of Central America, artists continue drawing inspiration from their home countries as they carve out new spaces for themselves. In Panama, a new generation of rappers churn out songs rooted in the country’s plena tradition, while in Belize, a cadre of DJs are hoisting up an innovative electronic scene. Remezcla explored the sounds being masterminded by Central Americans across the globe and rounded up some of the acts making splashes in underground scenes everywhere.
From trap mavericks to shoegaze luminaries, here’s who you need to know.
Easy Easy (Guatemala)
Slinky, supple R&B seems to sluice out effortlessly in the hands of this Guatemala City outfit, which was originally fronted by R&B darling Jesse Baez. Since Baez stalked out on his own a few years ago, Easy Easy found a stunning replacement in New York-based Guatemalan artist Sofia Insua, whose breathy vocals recall the fluid affectations of soulful newcomers like Sabrina Claudio and Girl Ultra. Insua charges the band’s latest release Lo Veo Todo with a slick sense of modernity, and the production gets updated accordingly, dripping with dark, moody atmospherics that serves as a testament to Easy Easy’s adaptability and creativity in the R&B space.
Primal Pulse (El Salvador)
Brooklyn’s Primal Pulse, an experimental project launched by Salvadoran-born brothers Manuel Merino and Aldo Merino, takes traditions and turns them on their head, infusing folk roots with layered synths and electronic flourishes. On one of the duo’s most recent releases, they borrow el xuc, a national dance and rhythm from their home country pioneered in the 1950s by composer and bandleader Paquito Palaviccini. This bit of culture transforms into a completely new creation as the guys drop in a tropical bass foundation and spin out a musical gem that’s so bright and crystalline it feels like it’s flown in from the future.
Night Quest (Belize)
Thanks to groups like the venerated Garifuna Collective, the melodies of Central America’s Garifuna people remain one of Belize’s most valuable cultural exports. But in Belize City, the music scene has also made room for an electronic wave that has inspired a strong core of hard-hitting DJs and newcomers jolting the club circuit. One of these artists is Belizean DJ and producer Leo Matura, who, under the name Night Quest, makes a blend of steely deep-tech that pulls in threads of house and ambient sensibilities. Matura maps out shadowy grooves that feel almost labyrinthine, and then expertly guides the dance floor through each entrancing twist and turn.
Menor Menor (Honduras)
Last year, Menor Menor became the first Honduran artist to rack up one million views on YouTube in 24 hours, thanks to “Ahora Se,” a lurching and laid-back collab with Puerto Rican rapper Lary Over. Since then, the blue-haired insurgent has continued to energize Honduras’ urbano scene, following up his viral feat with a syncopating trap banger called “Rola Cola” and a gloomier trap ballad called “Falsas Promesas,” two tracks that show off his ability to seesaw between rapid-fire rhymes and languid flows. With that kind of range, the 22-year-old is well-positioned to make a mark in the broader trap en español movement and bait in audiences far outside of his home country.
Easily one of Central America’s most enchanting examples of instrumental post-rock, Téléviser is a Managua-based trio that expertly jostles urgent thrashes of guitar between melodies as subtle as falling rain. Their greatest strength lies in putting together complex arrangements that never shy away from loud, erupting crescendos that then temper into sparse, twinkling notes, calling to mind, most obviously, the cinematic beauty of Explosions In The Sky. With a penchant for optimistic turns in the music and EP titles like El País De Por Qué No, Téléviser also wraps a tender sense of hope that’s both impressive and emotionally stirring into their releases.
Dylan Thomas. (Costa Rica)
Radiant shoegaze-y sounds might not be what you’d expect from a quartet named after a Welsh poet – especially one who is best known for brooding – but such an unexpected irony marks one of this Costa Rican band’s myriad charms. Their 2017 album Suceso en la Plaza is front-loaded with fuzzy guitar riffs and blissed-out arrangements that evoke the dreamy, lo-fi spirit of their peers in San Jose’s buzzy indie scene, and each soaring, swooping scintillation invites you to drift off into another planet. A bit of melancholy gets packed into the vocals and lyrics, adding some nostalgia and complexity to the luminous arrangements and perhaps also honoring the band’s literary namesake, whose dying words were rumored to have been, “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies…I think that’s the record.”
Panamanian rapper Boza is one of those people who seems endlessly carefree, most of all when he’s unleashing breezy verses over buoyant beats that take their cues from dancehall and reggae. Over the last few years, the young, brace-faced emcee has worked with other Panamanian favorites like Los Rakas and Akim, crafting a repertoire of unstoppably catchy urbano music. Even “Ratas y Ratones,” a defiant clap back designed for his haters, is built off of an addictive strain of deconstructed dembow riddim that will force even his critics to move.