Ani Cordero is a Puerto Rican-American singer, songwriter and musician (and a Latin American music researcher) living in New York. I became a fan of her eponymous alt-Latin indie-rock band in the early 2000s, which led me to the Mexican rock band Pistolera on whose debut album she played drums and sang backup. Since then she’s struck out on her own, with a critically acclaimed 2014 album Recordar, which reimagined songs by influential Latin American songwriters such as Victor Jara.
Querido Mundo (“Dear World”) is the follow-up to that effort. It’s an album full of political and love songs she wrote, addressing both current affairs and affairs of the heart. In addition to Cordero’s clarion vocals and distinctive guitar style, what drew me to her music is her no-nonsense political statements. She hits that button right off the bat with the opening track “Corrupción.” It’s a ringing denunciation of the kind of politics that are becoming all too common even in the U.S. today:
Como te da la vergüenza, donde anda tu consciencia?
Justificas que le robes a los niños y a los pobres
Te encierras en mansiones mientras llenas las prisiones
Or, as the English translation in the liner notes puts it:
Where is your shame?
Where has your conscience gone?
You justify stealing from the children and the poor
You lock yourself away in mansions while you fill the prisons
It’s a driving rocker with pulsing bass, deep percussive beats, and a howling horn section, all of which drive home the words of the chorus: “Corruption, it’s killing the people.” Here’s a pointed animated video for the song.
“Me Tumba” is a loping, danceable cumbia that addresses the Black Lives Matter movement and killing of civilians by police. Her vocals compete with the Calexico-like twang of Cordero’s strident electric guitar as she sings (translated):
The injustice – it floors me
The racism – it floors me
The denial – it floors me
The complicity – it floors me
The suffering keeps increasing
The tears and blood keep spilling
Don’t tell me that we are imagining it
Because it floors me
“Sacalo,” or “throw him out” is political but in a more personal vein, addressing domestic violence. It also happens to be a thrilling acoustic salsa with more from that soaring horn section of Omar Akil Little on trumpet and Troy Simms on saxophone. “El Pueblo Esta Harto,” or “The people are fed up,” addresses government corruption again, Cordero singing a litany of victims, from poets to ordinary families.
It’s not all politics, though. “Culebra” is a delightful romping homage to the Puerto Rican beach resort island of that name, complete with snatches of surf guitar. This one reminds me most of her old rock band. And “Piensas en Me” or “Think about me” is a lovely, lilting love song with layers of acoustic guitars and beguiling tropical percussion. “Voy Caminando” might be another homage to her Puerto Rican parents’ homeland; it’s an accordion-filled folk-rocker that’s partly about starting over independently and partly a recitation of places of natural beauty, from mountains to beaches. “Dominas Mis Sueños” is a lusty love song to someone who is dominating her dreams, in a loping Afro-Cuban rhythm with lots of slithery percussion. And the album ends with the prettiest of the 11 songs, a tragic love song called “Luto Por Nuestro Amor,” or mourning for our love. Cordero sings it with little emotion in her voice, over a simple arrangement of strummed, flamenco-like acoustic guitar, sighing accordion and stabbing, twangy electric guitar.
Every one of these songs has an arrangement that is similarly appropriate to its content, from the strident “Corrupción” with its guitar and saxophone solos, to the poignant, sing-song “Piensas en Mi,” with its deep drumbeat and bass line echoing the beat of a heart, to the jaunty calypso of “Vida Atrevida,” her declaration that she enjoys her “adventurous life.” Cordero herself wrote, produced and arranged it all, with the assistance of a big cast of musicians, including Eileen Willis, another former Pistolera member, on accordion and backing vocals, plus Erich Hubner on guitar and bass, and Lisette Santiago on percussion. It’s a fabulous record, one that continues to grow on me with each listen.