4th December, 1999

Wiki | Video

Three number-one hits in two years: why have I not been including Carlos Ponce along with Iglesias, Martin, Anthony, Fernández, Lopez, and Shakira as the new generation shaking up Latin pop in the late 90s? Well, because he hasn't been anywhere near as good as any of them, for one -- his gruff-voiced power ballads are well below the standard of their sleek pop variety. And for two, this is his last appearance; barring unforeseen comebacks, he will not trouble us again.

So it's something of a pity that his last outing is his best yet. His second album, Todo Lo Que Soy, was produced by Emilio Estefan, for whom it was a banner year: he was involved in nearly all of the 1999 songs I've loved. And "Escúchame" is no power ballad, but an airy folk-pop song, the first pop-flamenco (and not just flamenco-inspired guitar runs) we've heard since Gipsy Kings all the way back in 1990. Ponce is by no means a traditional cantaor, but his husky tones can manage a pop approximation of gitano singing, and he plays off against the handclap rhythms in the last chorus like a pro.

But even though it's a sweet song, and I appreciate the tonal variety of the flamenco sound, it's still not on the level that the new generation is, more like (to reach for contemporary Anglophone comparisons) Everlast's pop-blues-hop than what Britney Spears or Destiny's Child were doing the same year: nice enough, but they're building the future.

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