Borderline Latin: Beck, Tengo Chicle en el Cerebro

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Borderline Latin is an exploration of the influence of Latin music in styles, places and rhythms beyond its traditional borders, and of different types of cross-pollination between Latin music and other musical creatures. Each week, we will feature the works of a ‘non-Latin’ artist via song or musical style whose rhythm, themes, melodic inflections or influences have earned it the name of Borderline Latin.


I could not think of a better way to kick off this column, than featuring Beck. Appropriating beats and pieces of music from across the globe, his style is a mixture of different genres, rhythms and influences, with an unmistakably personal touch –you can’t get more Latin than that. But that’s not the only reason to include Beck in our playlist of Borderline Latin tunes.

Beck’s more independent albums may have granted him the eternal respect of his hardcore fans – I think about Stereopathetic Soulmanure, the spirit of which can be compared to Syd Barrett’s Opel, or John Frusciante’s Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, mashed up with a little Tom Waits. However, when Beck adds an explicit Latin touch into the mix, the charts just can’t get enough of him. There is the obvious, like the use of Spanish slang in lyrics and titles. But that’s not all. It is the subtleties that matter — las sutilezas. Like those two measures of acordeón norteño in “Hotwax,” or his live cover of Caetano Veloso’s “María Bethania,” from their US tour during the 1990s –a song I personally like better than “Tropicália,” which Beck also covered, if only because of this line: “Everybody knows that our cities were built to be destroyed.”

Perhaps it is impossible to escape Latino influences when you grow up in LA, the largest Mexican city outside of Mexico? You be the judge. Here’s Beck, in fake-video form. See if you catch those two seconds of acordeón in “Hotwax.”

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For comments and suggestions, please contact me at: For more info on “Borderline” work, visit Borderline Projects.