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Wednesday October 25, 2000

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Los Amigos Invisibles Review

Headline Photo

By Phil Leckman

Los Amigos Invisibles

Arepa 3000

(Luaka Bop)

Grade: B+

Mention Latin music and most people immediately think of Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez or another of the high-gloss, big-budget pop acts usually credited for last year's "Latin music explosion." Or they will recall traditional music, like the classic Cuban rhythms of Buena Vista Social Club. Either way, chances are that Venezuelan funk bands do not rank high on their lists.

But there is more to the story, a less publicized subculture that is often obscured by acts that more closely fit North American conceptions of how Latin music should sound. Like any other part of the world, Latin America is home to anomalies and obscurities that are often overlooked by the mainstream.

Since 1989, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne's Luaka Bop label has worked to expose the Latin underground to American audiences. Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisibles, which translates into "Invisible Friends," are a prime example of the kind of quirky and unorthodox talent Byrne has unearthed.

Arepa 3000 is Los Amigos Invisibles' second Luaka Bop release, and it ably celebrates the band's high-energy bump-and-grind. The best numbers, like the title track, are party-music masterpieces, fusing funky, danceable melodies with 60s style space-pop vocals and persistent, infectious Caribbean percussion. A few tracks that sound too much like George Clinton keep Arepa 3000 from attaining dance-floor perfection, but these are of little consequence to the album's success as a juicy, danceable whole. It may not be "Shake Your Bon-Bon," but Arepa 3000 will keep the listener moving just the same.

-Phil Leckman