Cabas | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

The moony-eyed heartthrob known as Juanes gets more attention in the U.S., but for my money his countryman Andres Cabas is Colombia's best contemporary pop artist. On his second album, Contacto (EMI Latin, 2003), the soulful, charismatic singer demonstrates stunning versatility, tackling tough funk, hard rock, and reggae with equal aplomb. Fascinated though he is by crunchy guitar riffs, sunny pop melodies, electronic beats, and other borrowed resources, Cabas always retains an essential Colombian flavor. A Hammond B-3 appropriates the loping accordion groove of cumbia in "Declaracion del bizco," the ebullient polyphony of Colombian brass-band music rises to the surface of "Patasarriba," and "Puerco jabali" pays homage to the Afro-Latin chant-and-percussion traditions still alive on Colombia's Pacific coast. Other tracks incorporate musical elements gleaned from all over Latin America, from merengue to salsa. Unlike a lot of Latin genre hoppers, Cabas isn't just retailing slick pastiches; because he puts the melodies first, the stylistic conceits come across as perfectly natural and sincere. El Guapo opens. Wednesday, March 17, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

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