Very often when we think about Latin music, we probably think about music in Spanish language, a night of dancing, romantic songs or the hits of popular stars like Shakira and Daddy Yankee. However, Latin music is more than that.
Latin music is, in fact, a reflection on a whole culture and the environment where it has evolved. Because of this, there are many Latin music songs that deal with important social issues in the region. The following is an overview of the way Latin music connects with issues of identity, race, and poverty.
Culture and Identity
Since the arrival of Columbus, Latin America has been struggling with its own identity. From the very beginning, the imposition of European standards affected millions of people in the region mostly through social and racial discrimination. There is one element though, that has played an important role in the construction of culture and identity in the Americas: Latin music.
The main reason why Latin music has played this role relies in the fact that it has been an inclusive experience. In other words, Latin music has never been touched by the imposition of particular standards. It has been a popular phenomenon that has been defined by people of all races and social backgrounds.
Latin music is by itself a defining element of culture and identity. It has reinforced identities among people in Latin America as well as Latino communities in the US. This is why a classic Tango song touches the soul of an Argentinian person in the same way the notes of a Ranchera melody touches the heart of a Mexican person.
National and Regional Identities
Latin music has also played a significant role in the construction of national identities. By exalting the natural treasures of Brazil, the song "Aquarela Do Brasil" by Ary Barroso, is one example of the way music has entered into the realm of national identities. Something similar happens with songs like "Guantanamera" in Cuba and "La Pollera Colora'" in Colombia.
Very often, however, Latin music has moved beyond the national sphere to embrace a regional cause. There are many songs that deal with the identity of Latin America as a whole. For instance, the song "Por Que No Se Van" by the Chilean Rock band Los Prisioneros, is a strong call to be proud of Latin American culture.
More recently, the famous Urban/Hip-Hop band Calle 13 has enjoyed enormous popularity thanks to the song "Latinoamerica," which offers amazing lyrics about big and small things that are unique to the culture, history and people of the Americas. In this sense, Latin music has become a channel that is constantly reinforcing national and regional pride.
For many centuries, racism has remained a taboo topic in Latin America. This is in part because of the cultural mix that occurred during the colonial times. With so many skin tones resulting from that mix, color became less important than class in terms of assigning individual social status.
This assumption became even bigger during the independence period when a new flow of democratic ideals promoted the value of mixed societies. In spite of this, race remained an important element of discrimination in the region neglected by the fake victory of those ideals over the real world.
Latin music has produced many songs dealing with this kind of discrimination. This is, in fact, particularly strong when dealing with Afro-Latin music such as Salsa, Merengue or Samba. One of my favorite tracks in this field is "Etnia" by the Colombian Salsa band Grupo Niche. This is a powerful song that reminds us of the fact that we all share the same blood and origin.
Another song dealing with racism is "Ligia Elena," a single written by Ruben Blades that describes the social scandal produced by a rich, white girl who falls in love with a poor, black trumpet player.
New Latin music artists continue to touch racial issues in their songs. One of the most outspoken bands in this field is Colombia's Urban sensation ChocQuibTown. Their song "De Donde Vengo Yo" describes the struggles of black people in that country.
Besides racial inequality, poverty represents the economic side of the same coin. Because of its impact, poverty and the struggles of all of those who suffered from this social imbalance have become a recurring issue in Latin music. One of the best singles dealing with this topic is "El Costo De La Vida" by the Dominican superstar Juan Luis Guerra. This track denounces the never ending increase of the cost of living in economies that have been always in trouble.
Poverty, racism and the construction of identities are some of the social issues that Latin music has confronted. There are many more topics Latin music has touched including politics, criminality, human rights, gender, and environmental issues. This article is just a brief introduction to the relation that exists between Latin music and society. If you listen to it carefully, Latin Music can tell you many things about Latin America and its people.
The Richmond-based Salsa band Bio Ritmo has just released the new album La Verdad. This musical production preserves the innovative style that has defined the music of this band for over twenty years. The album's hit song "La Verdad" is one of the best Salsa songs I have listened to this year.
Bio Ritmo is quite active in these days. Besides the new album, the band is getting ready to promote its music with a new tour around the country. The following are the cities and venues included in the band's upcoming series of concerts.
I recently had the pleasure to exchange some words with Bobby Marin, a legendary Latin music producer who was behind the Latin Boogaloo craze that took by storm New York during the 1960s. From our conversation, it became clear that Boogaloo has never gone away. Moreover, Bobby Marin is making his own contribution to the resurrection of this vibrant rhythm.
Back in the 1960s, Bobby Marin had the opportunity to work with the big names of Latin Boogaloo including artists like Joe Cuba, Louie Ramirez and Tito Puente, among others. Now, this experienced producer is actively involved in different project aimed at preserving the memory of Latin Boogaloo and old good Salsa.
Among his current projects, Bobby Marin has built a website where he is bringing music that has never been released before. Lots of Salsa, Mambo, and of course, Boogaloo. He is also working on a new book for Fania Records where he shares his life experience with the music he helped to define. Finally, Bobby Marin is collaborating with the upcoming Boogaloo movie We Like It Like That.
According to Bobby Marin, Latin Boogaloo is recently enjoying an increasing popularity in different places. Whether the resurrection takes place or not, Latin Boogaloo will always keep a special place in Latin music history. If you want to find out more about Latin Boogaloo, I invite you to read Bobby Marin's exclusive interview for About's Latin Music site.
Traditional Latin American music is often overlooked because of the attention people give to main rhythms and styles such as Salsa, Merengue, Tango and Latin Pop.
However, there are hundreds of traditional styles that are worth to get familiar with if one wants to get a better understanding of Latin American music. Let's take a look at some of the most important rhythms and styles that define Traditional Latin music.
Zamba and Murga from The South
Besides Tango, the southern part of South America is home to very interesting traditional music. Zamba is, in fact, the national dance in Argentina and Chile.
The sounds of Zamba are produced by a combination of guitars playing along the beats of a prominent drum named bombo leguero. By contrast, Murga is more of a popular musical theater played in Uruguay and Argentina during the Carnival.
As its name says it, Andean music was born in the extensive region crossed by the Andes. Because of this, Andean music is very popular in countries like Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. This type of indigenous music is usually played with a set of different panpipes, charango (a small string instrument) and bombo (drums).
Choro and Sertaneja Music from Brazil
Choro and Sertaneja music are only two of the most popular forms of Traditional Latin American music coming from Brazil. Choro developed in Rio de Janeiro during the 19th century. It became popular in the 1930s but it lost its appeal during the Bossa Nova boom. Choro is usually played with guitars, flute and cavaquinho, a combination that makes this style quite pleasant to the ear.
Sertaneja music is a traditional style equivalent to Country music in the US. It is, indeed, quite popular in Brazil but not outside the country. Sertaneja has its origins in the sertao and caipira music, two traditional Brazilian music styles. In addition to Choro and Sertaneja, Brazil has many more traditional rhythms that include Maracatu, Afoxe, Frevo and Forro, among others.
Cumbia from Colombia
Cumbia is Colombia's most well known contribution to Traditional Latin American music. This rhythm was born in the Atlantic coast of the country during the 19th century. Cumbia offers a heavy percussion which is nicely combined with large gaita flutes. Despite being a Colombian rhythm, Cumbia has been extensively adopted as a musical expression in modern Mexican popular music.
Llanera Music from Colombia and Venezuela
Outside Colombia and Venezuela, very few are familiar with Musica Llanera, the music from the enormous area that includes the Colombian and Venezuelan plains above the Amazon. Llanera music takes inspiration from the country life in the plains and its rich sounds are produced by a standard combination of harp, string instruments (cuatro or bandola) and maracas.
Son and Danzon from Cuba
Cuba is by far one of the most influential countries in the making of Latin American music. It is also a land where we can find some of the most popular expressions of Traditional Latin music. Cuban Son, which was born in the Cuban country side, was originally played with guitars and percussion instruments such as clave and maracas. Cuban Son is, in fact, an essential ingredient of that musical mix we refer to as Salsa.
Danzon is one of those rhythms from which you can perceive a perfect combination of European sounds and African influences. It evolved from previous styles that included contradanza and habanera. This is definitely one of the most pleasant rhythms of Cuban music.
Plena and Bomba from Puerto Rico
Similarly to Cuban Son, the origins or Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena are also linked to country life. Both rhythms are heavily charged with African influences. Because of this, drums play a major role in the sounds of Bomba and Plena. While Bomba surged in northern Puerto Rico, Plena evolved in the southern, coastal part of the country.
Ranchera and Sones from Mexico
Overall, Ranchera is one of the most popular styles of Traditional Latin American music. It was originally played by a single guitar player but later became closely related to a full Mariachi band. During the troubling times of the Mexican Revolution, Ranchera music became a way to promote Mexican culture.
Nevertheless, two centuries before Ranchera, Mexico had developed its own Son, which was influenced by indigenous elements as well as African and Spanish traditions. Mexican Son was not a fixed rhythm but rather a flexible musical style whose sounds were heavily shaped by the different regions where it used to be played.
Besides Mexican Son and all the musical forms mentioned in this article, there is an amazing range of Traditional Latin music styles throughout Latin America. Each individual country in the region has nurtured Latin American music with its own contribution. This article is just an introduction for all of those who want to venture further in the rich universe of Traditional Latin music.
Forty years ago, the Cheetah Club in New York hosted one of its most special nights. On August 26, 1971 the legendary Salsa band Fania All Stars played at this venue delivering one of the most outstanding Salsa gigs in Latin music history.
Among the crowd, there was a film crew, led by Leon Gast, that captured the best moments of the show. That recording was the base for an experimental documentary dealing with Salsa and Latin culture: Our Latin Thing.
What started as an experiment ended up to be one of the most important visual documents ever produced in Latin music. Nuestra Cosa Latina, as it was known in Spanish, became the Woodstock of Salsa music.
The magic of the Cheetah celebrates its 40th anniversary. That concert not only gave birth to Our Latin Thing but also became a music production embraced by Salsa fans all over the world.
From that memorable concert, the songs "Descarga Fania" and "Quitate Tu" became anthems in the Salsa realm. Thanks to its amazing brass sections, percussion, and outstanding singers like Cheo Feliciano, Hector Lavoe and Ismael Miranda, The Fania All Stars changed the history of Salsa in one night.
Trying to define a Latin music artist can be as complex as trying to define Latin music itself. Considering today's popularity of crossover styles and Latin music awards given to artists who simply have some Latin background, this definition becomes even more complicated. In spite of this, there are three basic elements that can help us to define a Latin music artist.
The Meaning of Latin
As an adjective, Latin is commonly used to make a reference to people coming from Latin America. The reason why Latin America is named like this has much to do with the European powers that dominated the region after Columbus. Spain and Portugal were, in fact, considered Latin because of their languages, which developed from the original Latin language of the Roman Empire. Because of this, the concept of Latin music extends to artists with Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds. Recently, an Italian background is sometimes treated as an element that relates to Latin music.
Defining A Latin Music Artist
To be considered a Latin music artist, an individual or group must have at least one of the following three features:
Most Latin music artists fall into this category. However, the problem arises with the increasing crossover trends and the confusion created by recent award nominations to artists who barely meet any of the elements previously discussed.
Recently, there is so much buzz about crossover artists who combine different rhythms into their music. However, from a historical perspective, Latin music is the result of a never ending crossover style that reflects the cultural diversity of the region.
Let's look at someone like Shakira, a crossover artist whose only fixed Latin music feature is her cultural background. If you think about a song like "She Wolf," the only feature she meets is her cultural background because the rhythm of the melody does not belong to Latin music and the language is English. However, if we take her song "Loca," she meets all the features: A Colombian artist (background) singing in Spanish (language) a song, which is based on a Merengue beat (rhythm).
Latin Music Awards
Lately, the most famous Latin music awards have created some sort of confusion about the concept behind a Latin music artist. How do you explain, for example, that Lady Gaga has been nominated to a Billboard Latin Music Award? The reason is because of Gaga's Italian origins. The same situation happens to Italian singer Laura Pausini who, unlike Gaga, has built a significant portion of her career singing in Spanish.
Something similar happens with other artists like Nelly Furtado and Christina Aguilera. In a way, the inclusion of these artists within the Latin music world is good because it brings attention to Latin music. However, it would not be good for Latin music to increase the amount of awards given to artists whose only relation to Latin music is a distant ancestry related to the Latin world. A good balance in this way will surely help to define in a better way the concept that surrounds a Latin music artist. In the meantime, we could use the elements exposed in this article to make more sense of a definition dealing with a Latin music artist.
El Gran Combo or La Sonora Poncena? This has been an eternal dilemma in Salsa music. These two orchestras are probably the best Salsa bands Puerto Rico has ever produced.
Considering the popularity of both bands, choosing one over the other is a very challenging task. Nevertheless, here we have a poll to measure the popularity of these two Salsa legends today. El Gran Combo or La Sonora Poncena? You decide!
El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico and La Sonora Poncena are probably the best Salsa bands from Puerto Rico. Choosing one or the other is a though choice. These two bands share striking similarities including years of experience in the field, strong leaders, outstanding singers, unique brass sections, and a broad compilation of hits. The following is the ultimate face off between two of the best Salsa bands in history.
Long Salsa Experience
El Gran Combo and La Sonora Poncena were born almost at the same time. Although La Sonora Poncena was formed a bit earlier (1954), both bands recorded their first albums at the beginning of the 1960s. This means, the two bands lived through the whole period that shaped Salsa music during the 1960s and 1970s.
They were, in fact, top players of the boom of artists and bands that consolidated the sounds of Salsa back in that time. This also means that these two orchestras have been around for more than half of a century, something that few bands can claim today.
Something else these two bands share is a strong leadership. Both of them have been able to survive throughout the years thanks to their respective pianists. On the one hand, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico has found in the legendary Rafael Ithier not only a good pianist but also a good manager who has always taken care of the band's distinctive sound.
On the other hand, La Sonora Poncena has been led by one of the best pianists in the history of Salsa: Papo Lucca, son of the original founder of the band. Thanks to Papo Lucca, La Sonora Poncena has created that unique Jazzy sound that has marked the band's music.
The music of both bands have been sung by some of the most talented singers in Salsa. For several years, El Gran Combo has been able to keep together three faces on stage: Papo Rosario, Charlie Aponte and Jerry Rivas. This stability has allowed El Gran Combo to reinforce its own musical sound.
Although la Sonora Poncena has changed a bit more its singers, the band has been always good at choosing the right voices. In this way, La Sonora Poncena has been able to create some sort of flexibility around its own image. In other words, La Sonora Poncena has relied less on its singers compared to El Gran Combo. Whether that is good or bad, that is just a fact.
Unique Brass Sections
These two Salsa bands have developed most of their amazing sound thanks to their brass sections. Although both bands have unique brass sections, they are also different. On the one hand, El Gran Combo has combined in a clever way two trumpets, two saxophones, and one trombone. On the other hand, La Sonora Poncena has based its brass sections on four trumpets.
If you want to better understand El Gran Combo's brass sections, the beginning part of the song "Con Eso" is definitely a good track to listen to. In the same way, if you want to understand how La Sonora Poncena uses its brass sections, I would like to suggest the middle part of the song "Te Vas De Mi" from the album Back To Work.
Compilation of Hits
Everything is measured by the number of hits. Considering the amazing repertoire produced by both bands for the past decades, it is almost impossible to choose one band over the other. The two bands have produced some of the greatest Salsa songs in history. Let's compare, for example, El Gran Combo's "Mujer Celosa," "Azuquita P'al Cafe" and "Y No Hago Mas Na'" against La Sonora's "Yambeque," "Canto Al Amor" and "Prende El Fogon." Which band would you pick? I know it is almost impossible to make up your mind.
Probably, the only way out of this dilemma is by favoring one kind of sound over the other. My impression is that hard Salsa fans tend to embrace a little bit more La Sonora Poncena's music while mainstream fans find El Gran Combo more appealing.
In the end, most people (at least that has been my own perception) tend to say they like them both. That is probably the best way to deal with this face off. This is ultimately what happens when you compare two of the best Salsa bands in the world. I guess, we can say we have a tie here, unless you want to express your preference in the poll about El Gran Combo and La Sonora Poncena.
Joe Arroyo, one of the most influential Colombian artists, left this world on July 26, 2011. Although Joe Arroyo built his career moving around different rhythms and styles, he earned a big chunk of his popularity through Salsa music. The following is the list of the top 10 Salsa songs Joe Arroyo produced throughout his successful career.
10. "La Guerra De Los Callados"
This is serious Salsa. This song not only provides great music but also powerful lyrics offering a reflection on the violence that has affected Colombia for so long. The powerful brass sessions create a sort of anxious sound that fits the lyrics in a perfect way.
9. "Bam Bam"
This song gained lots of popularity thank to its fast Salsa beat and catchy chorus. However, if you listen the story carefully, you realize the "Bam Bam" chorus refers to the sound of a gun (bang). The story is basically about a man who is threatening someone because that person is trying to steal his girlfriend from him.
8 "Por Ti No Morire"
Offering a classy piano and powerful brass sessions throughout the whole melody, "Por Ti No Morire" is still a top Salsa song among hard Salsa lovers. Look out for the solo piano session that incorporates the notes of the famous bolero song "Historia De Un Amor."
7. "Fuego En Mi Mente"
"Fuego En Mi Mente" offers a nice flute playing that inserts a delicate touch into this tune. The piano sort of divides the melody in different parts preparing the field for a nice chorus where the sounds of percussion captured the essence of this song. Great Salsa song by Joe Arroyo.
This is song is dedicated to a woman. As mentioned by Joe Arroyo in the middle of the piano solo, this tune is a tropical serenade. The elegant sound of the trumpets on this song is fantastic.
Although "Tania" is not your classic Salsa song, this single is one of the most important tracks Joe Arroyo recorded during the time he spent with the legendary Colombian band Fruko y sus Tesos. The Fruko sound was a very experimental one. This band played with Salsa, traditional Colombian music and foreign sounds like Swing and Rock n' Roll.
Besides being one of the greatest hits recorded by Joe, "Tania" is a good sample of the creative ways Fruko y sus Tesos brought to Salsa music in Colombia. "Tania" is also a good song to appreciate Joe Arroyo's versatility.
This song was originally produced by the Senegalese Salsa singer Laba Sosseh, who was also friends with Joe Arroyo. "Yamulemau" means boy of blue water and Joe added to this melody some words in English to create a worldwide appeal for it. This is another song that shows the great interest Joe Arroyo always had for Africa.
3. "En Barranquilla Me Quedo"
Joe Arroyo was always proud of his Caribbean roots. On his music, he constantly brought references to cities like Cartagena and Barranquilla. This Salsa is probably one of the best singles that have been dedicated to Barranquilla. I have always thought this song offers one of the best intro parts of any Salsa song. The first 30 seconds of this track are just plain fantastic. Look out for the special touch incorporated by the saxophone playing.
2. "P'al Bailador"
Personally speaking, I have to say this is my favorite Salsa song from Joe Arroyo. This is an ideal track for a night of Salsa dancing. "P'al Bailador" offers fantastic percussion and brass sessions. Chelito De Castro's piano playing is also great.
1. "La Rebelion"
"La Rebelion" is probably the most popular Salsa song Joe Arroyo ever produced. Joe Arroyo explored various issues dealing with the Afro-Colombian culture. This song brings history into Salsa. It tells the story of a black slave who defies his owner's authority. The famous chorus "No le pegue a la negra" (Don't hit the black woman) captures the essence of that rebellion.
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