Magazine article Newsweek International

'Subtropical' Paradise; A Latin Singer with an Anglo Name Crosses Borders

Magazine article Newsweek International

'Subtropical' Paradise; A Latin Singer with an Anglo Name Crosses Borders

Article excerpt

Byline: Brian Byrnes

Alaskans invariably have to venture far and wide to seek fame and fortune beyond the Great White North. In Kevin Johansen's case, he traveled nearly as far south as possible to make his musical dreams come true. The Alaskan-born singer-songwriter now makes his home in Argentina, where he has garnered serious air time and racked up record sales. His sly combination of Spanish and English lyrics has helped him wow crowds from Buenos Aires to Birmingham. Now the United States is taking note: Johansen's third album, "City Zen," was nominated for a best Latin pop album Grammy, losing out to Laura Pausini's "Escucha." "My name is totally Anglo, so it gave me a chuckle to be the first Alaskan nominated for a Latin-pop Grammy," he says.

Reminiscent of Manu Chao and David Byrne, Johansen blends styles from all over the globe. His lyrics are full of references and double entendres that both English and Spanish speakers will appreciate, and the music itself--which mixes guitars and glockenspiel, saxophone and strings--hits on every cylinder. "There is this new kind of audience that is open or educated enough to appreciate a cumbia flamenco, a milonga, a tango, a bossa nova and an American country or folk tune," says Johansen. "That is my excuse to dive into all sorts of different genres."

Johansen is at the forefront of the self-proclaimed "Subtropicalista" movement. Like the original "Tropicalistas"--Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, among others--who radicalized Brazilian music in the 1960s and '70s, the Subtropicalistas, including Brazilian musician Paulinho Moska and Uruguay's Jorge Drexler, aim to sway audiences away from "La Vida Loca"-style tunes and introduce more sophisticated Latino music to the masses. On "City Zen," Johansen pays tribute to the Brazilian masters on songs like "Milonga Subtropical" and "Tom Zen. …

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