9 Sensational Latin American Music Genres
Latin American music seems to be everywhere these days!
From the popular Reggaeton in all its forms to the joyful dance styles of salsa, merengue, and samba—Latin American music has something for everyone.
Keep reading to discover the most popular Latin American music genres, their history, instruments, famous artists, and videos showing the most iconic figures in Latin America music history.
Table of Content:
- Let’s Talk About Latin America’s Music
- Latin American Music Genres
- Listen to Latin America’s Music and Learn Spanish
Let’s Talk About Latin America’s Music
Latin America is a world in itself. It’s composed of 26 countries spread across two continents where two languages are spoken: Spanish and Portuguese. This kaleidoscopic universe of diverse histories and unique traditions produces a rich stream of colorful cultural expressions.
Music is one of the most impressive ones. Its many influences come from indigenous, African, and European sources. These roots produce extraordinary results when mixed, as reflected in the long list of music genres in Latin America.
Latin American Music Genres
I’ve put together this list of Latin American musical forms, which covers the most popular concepts in Latin America music, including a brief history of each genre, examples, and videos.
Salsa was created in Cuba in the early 20th century. Initially, it was a mixture of Cuban Son and Latin Rumba music, however modern salsa has evolved to include other genres such as mamba, cha cha cha and puerto rican rhythms like bomba and plena.
African music heavily influences this Latin American genre, which is reflected in the instruments its musicians use. Several of them have their roots in Africa (bongos, conga, and marimbula). It’s also telling that salsa’s most famous singer ever was African-Cuban legend Celia Cruz.
Learn about the 10 most popular Salsa songs for learning Spanish. See Celia Cruz at her best:
Merengue is to the Dominican Republic what salsa is to Cuba. Considered the Dominican national dance, merengue is another example of Afro-Latin American music, as it combines the African and the French Minuet to create something original and upbeat.
Salsa involves 3 steps over a 4 beat count, while merengue needs 4 steps. This means that merengue goes a step faster than salsa.
Johnny Ventura and Wilfrido Vargas rank among the best Merengue artists of all time.
Today’s most popular Latin dance genre also has interesting origins. When West Indian immigrants (mainly Jamaicans) went to Panama to build the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, they brought with them their famous reggae and blended it with dancehall music.
Panamanian artists then started singing these songs in Spanish, and a new Latin music genre that would eventually take over the world was born. Some of the first reggaetoneros were Nando Boom and El General. Nowadays, the list is long and includes big names such as Daddy Yankee, Luis Fonsi, and J. Balvin.
One more expression of Latin pop music, bachata was born in the Dominican Republic country back in the 1960s as a mix of Bolero, Merengue, and Son Cubano.
Bachata is played in 4/4 time by a band that includes bongos, güira, a main guitar, a rhythmic guitar, and an electric bass guitar as their main instruments.
Juan Luis Guerra is the artist who popularized bachata, when he won a Grammy Award for his song “Bachata Rosa” in 1992. Other famous Bachata singers include Zacarías Ferrera and Anthony Santos.
Among South American dance styles, tango is not only the most sophisticated, but also the saddest one.
Established in Argentina in the late 19th century, tango is the result of the diverse mix of immigrants arriving at the country at the time. These immigrants blended their own musical traditions including polkas, European minuet dances, and African rhythms.
For a thorough and comprehensive account of the interesting history of tango, read this post about Latin American Dance.
UNESCO has included Tango in its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Although Carlos Gardel is the undisputed greatest tango singer of all time, Astor Piazzolla is a close second.
This Brazilian dance genre is world-famous thanks to its exposure at the Carnival of Rio and its giant stadium known simply as the Sambodromo.
Samba is strongly influenced by African drumming music and originated in the favelas of Río in the 1950s.
Elis Regina and Diego Zangado are among the most famous artists in the history of Samba. However, when talking about Samba the true artists are the colorful dancers who take over the streets of Río during the largest carnival celebration in the world.
7. Bossa Nova
A mix of soft samba and American jazz, bossa nova earned a reputation as the classical cousin of samba.
Born in the 1950s on the beaches of Río de Janeiro, bossa nova gained world fame in 1964 with “The Girl of Ipanema.” This iconic song was a collaboration of Bossa Nova’s greatest artists, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, along with US saxophonist Stan Getz.
I leave you with a version of the song by none other than the great Frank Sinatra in a duet with Antonio Carlos Jobim.
Although people tend to think of mariachi as a musical style, the truth is that mariachi is just a group of musicians who play ranchera songs. Ranchera got its name from the place where most songs were sung at the time of its origins in the 19th century: a ranch.
This musical genre evolved to become a defining element of Mexican culture. Ranchera is an expression of the Mexican soul like none other. Ranchera songs are all about lost love, stoic suffering, and lots of machismo.
José Alfredo Jiménez, Pedro Infante, and Vicente Fernández are some of Ranchera most iconic singers
Norteño is a fast-paced Mexican music style that blends military brass band instrumentation, polka, waltz, and corridos. It originated in the northern Mexican states of Sonora, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Nuevo León. Norteño means “Northern.”
Norteño bands include one or two accordions, a bajo sexto (12-string guitar), a guitar, and a double bass. Among the biggest names in Norteño music are Los Tigres del Norte, Bronco, and Intocable.
Listen to Latin America’s Music and Learn Spanish
Latin American cultural production is extraordinary, and its music is rich, diverse, and fun. In this list, you have something specific for every taste and mood. Listen to your favorite Latin American music genre, and practice your Spanish.
One of the best things about learning Spanish is that you get exposed to this amazing Latin American culture and can learn a lot about it, besides its language. Speaking Spanish also makes visiting Latin America much easier.
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