One of the most important parts of the Latino culture is the music. It is about more than just dancing at a club or at a wedding. It is the core of who we are; before it was a way to keep our culture alive and tell stories about the hardships we’ve had to endure; however, Latin American music has evolved into a form of celebration and self-expression.
Let’s take a deeper look at where the music of Latin America came from and how it became what it is today.
Where did it come from?
Latin American music goes back centuries, more specifically the 16th century. As Latin American countries were colonized and under the control of Europeans for decades prior to gaining widespread independence, musicians took inspiration to mesh cultures with countries such as Spanish and Portuguese, African, and Indigenous peoples.
An article posted on the website Sounds and Colours states that “It was commonly used in war as well to improve the morale of the forces. The instruments that the Americans used were mainly those related to percussion instruments, such as drums and rattles. On the other hand, the Mayan and Inca societies managed to develop more complex instruments that utilized wind as well.”
It is because of these influences that many genres in Latin American music were created.
To start off this list we’re going to discuss one of the most well-known genres of music in the Latino community, Mariachi. This genre of music originated from a small city in Mexico in 1898.
According to the website WestMusic mariachi music came from, “Central western Mexico were commonly associated with the rural fiesta or fandango, and with the tarima or wooden platform upon which couples would dance sones and jarabes, the two most important genres of the early mariachi repertory.”
Since its creation the music of Mariachi has become popular in various states outside of Mexico. There is even a music festival dedicated specifically to the genre in Los Angeles entitled Mariachi USA.
Around the time that the Mariachi musical genre was being developed. Another type of Latin American style of music was being created in Argentina, it was the Tango.
If you didn’t know the history of how the Tango genre was created, EliteDanceStudio states that, “It was a popular dance among European immigrants, former slaves and the working and lower classes. It came about through the nostalgia and melancholy felt by those who were far from home.”
At one point in history tango was banned from being played at clubs because it was considered to be too “sexual”. Now, tango is one of the most popular styles of dance and it has been featured in various entertainment industries like films and television. Tango even has its own category in dance competitions across the country.
History shows that Salsa originated from Cuba and became popular amongst Latinos living in New York during the 60’s, and the 70’s.
HISTORY.com shares that, “Cuban music was the core of the salsa style, ethnomusicologist Peter Manuel states, but the music “became reborn as a symbol of Newyorican (sic), and by extension, pan-Latino ethnic identity.”
My first introduction to Latin American music was Salsa. I always remember hearing it play over the radio at family baraques or in my grandmother’s kitchen. It was so lively and no matter how I was feeling it always made me want to get up and dance.
Although this genre emerged later than some of the others on this list, Bachata is still one of the most popular and important types of music to come from Latin America.
History reveals that, “The music industry, at the time, was monopolized by the [Dominican Republic] dictator Rafael Trujillo and his family. [Due to] this, the local media did not support bachata, so it was hidden from the mainstream and was looked down upon by the elite and those in the cities.”
Once the dictatorship ended and locals were allowed to listen to Bachata in public, artists like El Torito, Romeo Santos and Aridia Ventura were able to create music that will remain with listeners for generations.
Like many genres on this list, reggaetòn comes from various parts of the world.
Looking back on the history of reggaeton it is said that, “reggaetón integrates the influences of Black culture from a variety of Latin American countries. As the name suggests, reggaetón blends reggae music with Latin American dance hall music as well as hip-hop influences.”
In the decades that followed many of the music industry’s famous reggaetòn artists used the sound to create their own style thus, creating many of the songs that we hear on the radio and across streaming platforms.
The last genre I will be discussing on this list of Latin American Music is one genre that we all know very well; Latin Pop. Many artists like Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Shakira, and Selena shaped Latino music into what it is today.
Each of these musicians shared the beauty of the Latino culture through their own unique voices. For example, Selena was the first female Tejano artist in a category dominated by male musicians. Gloria Estefan was the first Latina artist to be welcomed into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2023.
An article written by Cristina Riggs documents that Ricky Martin “was the first Latino artist to gain such a large worldwide recognition while still using Spanish lyrics in his music.” Shakira was named the First Latina Women of the Year.
Latin American music has evolved since its creation centuries ago. Music is another form of storytelling, regardless of the genre that you use to orchestrate the song. What I found to be the most interesting about the evolution of Latin American Music is how each style takes inspiration from different cultures, and how artists collaborate with each other to create something that is so powerful and moving.