"Latin Music" is formed from traditional Latin American music influenced by American popular music, jazz, and rhythm and blues.
Although Latin music should refer to the music of Latin American countries, it is basically a general term that includes music Hispanics can relate to and identify with as part of a cultural process across South America, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States.
Edited By: Jose Luis Mercado
Traduction: J.L. Mercado, L. Pimienta, B. E. Méndez
Last Updated: 2010-07-15
Latin Contemporary Music Timeline
Afro-Caribbean music comes from the beginnings of the 20th century but its evolution and development through the years was fundamental in the history of Latin contemporary music. The most popular styles were bolero and son cubano. In the 40s, main acts were La Sonora Matancera and Trio Matamoros. In the 50s, Caribbean music boomed and certain styles such as cha-cha-cha and mambo conquered North America, especially because of Perez Prado. Havana became the capital of Latin music for the entertainment world.
After the Cuban Revolution, many of the musicians initiated a mass exodus toward other countries. Most of them became part of the Latino community of the U.S. east coast, where they met musicians from other places, especially Puerto Rico. In those years, Cuban Celia Cruz, who had been part of La Sonora Matancera for some years, started to stand out. Musicians experimented with fusions and created new rhythms such as boogaloo. A new generation headed by a nuyorican called Willie Colón took Afro-Caribbean roots and joined them with influences of rock 'n' roll and rhythm & blues.
Willie Colón joined with the Puerto Rican Héctor Lavoe and they formed one of the most important teams in the history of Latin music. His music connected with the people in Spanish Harlem and acquired popularity in the Caribbean and also in places like Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. Salsa was born. His music label, Fania Records, decided to call the biggest artists of the Afro-Caribbean music those days and created Fania All-Stars. By the middle of the decade, salsa had conquered dance floors, and Lavoe initiated a solo career but personal problems ended his best years. Colón convoked to Panamanian composer Rubén Blades, a conscious Latin Americanist writer, who fused his influences to take salsa music to the next level. The result was the album "Siembra" -one of the best selling albums of Latin Music- that contains the classic "Pedro Navaja" which became an anthem in a very short time.
Grandiloquent elements of salsa started to lose strength, and new elements in lyrics such as eroticism and pop songs 3-minute structure were incorporated. Artists like Frankie Ruiz or Eddie Santiago were the major acts, and Lalo Rodriguez's "Ven, Devorame Otra Vez" became the classic song of salsa romántica. At the end of the decade, Dominican Juan Luis Guerra sought to recover the music of his country, and led the internationalization of merengue and bachata, which were performed locally by artists like Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas.
Salsa romantica was led by acts such as Gilberto Santa Rosa and Victor Manuelle. Marc Anthony, a young salsero, turned into a best-selling phenomenon and years later started a "crossover" to the English-speaking market. By the other side, the revival of son cubano can be traced to the release of Buena Vista Social Club in '97 and their impact on popularity and critics around the world.
Afro-caribbean music loses space in Latin pop media, and reggaetón, a Hispanic Caribbean form of raggamuffin-hip hop style, gets a boom with artists like Daddy Yankee, Don Omar and Tego Calderón. Many reggaeton artists had collaborations with salsa performers.
Rubén Blades & Willie Colón
Juan Luis Guerra
Unlike pop and rock music, singer-songwriter music held a folk music tradition of many decades back.
Began with a new generation, inspired by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, especially with university students, whose parents came from the country and were interested in political changes around Latin America. In every country, it took its own characteristics. In Chile, led by Violeta Parra, who was the beginner of "Nueva Canción Chilena" with great influences in Andean music. In Spain, the most important acts were Oscar Ibañez and Joan Manuel Serrat. In this decade "canción protesta" or protest songs were born.
Singer-songwriters tried to get massive public exposure. Serrat released "Mediterraneo", a crossover album of singer-songwriter music to pop. The murder of Chilean songwriter Victor Jara and the abuses of the military dictatorship of Chile made an enormous impact on the scene. From Cuba, "Nueva Trova Cubana" started an international recognition with acts like Silvio Rodriguez and Pablo Milanés, becoming the most influential artists of nueva canción.
Protest songs lost certain captivation and popularity, though artists such as Serrat, Silvio Rodriguez, León Gieco and Mercedes Sosa, were part of several multitudinous recitals of those times. The big revelation was Joaquin Sabina, a singer who wrote his own songs with rock influence. In Argentina, the song acquired more influence because of rock acts like Charly García and Spinetta which new generation was followed by Fito Páez.
Joaquin Sabina and Fito Páez turned into very popular artists ending on the irregular album "Enemigos Intimos". In spite of a loss of the interest for the new generation of singers who write their own songs, many artists of pop music (especially, baladistas) recognized the influence of this kind in his music, especially Alejandro Sanz.
Songwriters were strongly influenced by alt-rock music. A new generation of singers who write their own songs did not turn pale on having been recognized between Latin rock and key artists of the singer-songwriter tradition. The Uruguayan Jorge Drexler was the most important artist of this decade.
Joan M Serrat
After "La Bamba", Ritchie Valens success, Mexico became the country with the first wave of Latin American rocker acts such as Teen Tops and their lead singer Enrique Guzmán. During this decade bands like Los Brincos (Spain) and Los Gatos (Argentina) with Beatle-esque influences appeared. At the end of the decade, rock acquired a counter-cultural form and youth groups were inspired by what was happening in the U.S. and Europe.
Santana became the ambassador of Latin rock with his album "Abraxas" (fusing Latin jazz and blues with psychedelic influences) and opened a door for the "Chicano rock movement" in California. But in Latin America things were different. Rock music was censored by some governments backed by an important part of the society because they found some "immoral" attitudes in music festivals like Avándaro, in Mexico. Bands had few opportunities to record albums and gain success. In Argentina, Charly García (Sui Generis, Serú Girán, etc) and Spinetta (Almendra, Pescado Rabioso, etc) were able to build a tradition that laid the foundations of "Rock en Español" movement in the next years.
From Spain, a new generation of groups started popping seemingly out of nowhere as an answer to the comeback of democracy. In Argentina, the nationalism due to the Falklands War created the opportunity of exposure for countless underground bands. Rock 'n' roll and new wave music became profitable for the Spanish-speaking market and many bands conquered the different countries of the region. The boom acquired identity of movement called "Rock en Español". Artists such as Alaska, Hombres G, Radio Futura, Soda Stereo, Enanitos Verdes and Los Prisioneros were some of the most important. Punk, metal and other styles were part of the underground urban scenes in places like Buenos Aires, Bogotá, Mexico City and Lima.
Albums gained more relevance for rock bands. Some artists such as Soda Stereo and Heroes del Slencio acquired the level of epic bands. Several bands influenced by rock started mixing their music with tradtional Latin American music as an alternative to Latin pop music. The Latin Alternative movement was born with starring bands such as Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Café Tacuba. At the end of the decade, Molotov broke the mold selling 1 million copies of their debut album full of political incorrectness and obscenities against a conservative mainstream scene.
Rock music attains indie music level. Between the most succesful bands were Babasónicos (Argentina), Zoé (Mexico) and Los Planetas (Spain). The reunion of some disbanded artists helped to created new Latin American rock legends, and many pop acts considered as influences (Cerati by Shakira, Calamaro by Juanes, etc). Alternative music was the scene for experimental bands that use electronica for creating new sounds of traditional genres as tango or cumbia.
Pop music was introduced in Latin America through rock and roll music oriented to teenagers. Rapidly, their lead singers became icons and started as soloists (as Enrique Guzmán and Sandro). In the mid-60s, from Spain, appeared a generation of crooners launchad in European music festivals (San Remo, Benidorm, etc). One of the most famous was Julio Iglesias.
Ballads and adult contemporary music from radio and the music festivals were the best places to find new talent. Major acts came from Spain (Camilo Sesto, Nino Bravo, etc) and Mexico (Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel, etc), and in many cases they became national icons. The most important composer was Manuel Alejandro.
Media and major music labels went for the youth market promoting manufactured bands. Bands like Parchis (from Spain, for children), Timbiriche (from Mexico) and Menudo (from Puerto Rico, for teenagers) were part of that generation. Rock music conquered massive audiences and became a music phenomenon with string of bands as Mecano or Soda Stereo, most of them influenced by New Wave music.
Pop music took different paths and new talents started to recognize the importance of artists from folk or rock music (Alejandro Sanz or Arjona mention Serrat as influence, and Shakira admits that Soda Stereo is one of her essential bands). Caribbean influences acquired a simplified dance pop format for international audiences and Ricky Martin became the visible figure of that sound. At the end of the decade, Latin pop explosion conquered the English-speaking market.
There wasn't a dominating influence. Artists from the rock scene started a croosover to pop audiences such as Juanes and Julieta Venegas. Shakira became a worldwide pop music (and sex) icon. A new generation of artists was born (Reik, Belanova, Belinda, Kudai) oriented to teen pop rock. Manufactured bands lost popularity, except for RBD, who sold more than 10 million albums around the world.