American pop music is well known for its tendency to swallow up influences from all around the world. Even people who are trying to hear a little bit of something different can have trouble escaping the tropes and sounds of American radio. Yet, a spin of the dial over to your local Latin station can reveal just the opposite — a lot of folks who are taking American music and putting a Latin twist on.
So, here are a few artists out there who are incorporating Latin America’s rich musical history into mainstream sounds in such a way that it will definitely catch a listener’s ear. These five artists are just a few examples of musicians keeping their ancestral traditions alive by putting a modern spin on the classics.
If you regularly use the term “binge-watch,” then you’ve probably heard the music of Rodrigo Amarante. The Brazilian singer was part of the late and critically adored bossa nova-rock fusion supergroup Little Joy, but he’s best known for performing the theme to the Netflix series Narcos, “Tuyo.”
Outside of streaming, the multi-instrumentalist and composer bridges the gap between the bossa nova sway of Brazil with the psychedelic folk that’s currently beloved by U.S. indie types. That he comes from a country that’s been doing freaky folk tunes better than anyone since forever certainly doesn’t hurt.
The subject of our most recent Uncharted inherited a massive collection of cumbia classics. Rather than giving them the occasional spin and letting the platters collect dust, the Corpus Christi DJ samples the throwback sounds while he mixes them with sounds from popular dance music subgenres like Trap and House.
El Dusty’s nu-cumbia mixing helps to introduce a new generation to the history of cumbia through the sounds of your average teen’s favorite light-show-saturated festival.
The history of bachata music is all about perseverance. In spite of being outlawed under the brutal reign of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, the genre flourished in the poorest parts of the country. In spite of the association with the lower class in a thoroughly divided post-dictatorship nation, artists like Juan Luis Guerra helped make the genre massively popular throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s.
And in spite of the fact that the genre is well past the average expiration date of a musical offshoot, megastar purveyors of the romantic and heartsick style like Aventura and Prince Royce introduced slick new production techniques to make bachata one of the most popular musical styles in all of Latin America.
Royce doesn’t need the signal boost from us, he’s sold millions of albums with his modernized puppy love songs on his own. But to leave him out of a list of people moving Latin music forward would be egregious.
Buenos Aires’ own Mariana Yegros takes the traditional folk songs of Brazil (with all the accordions and horns that entails) and mashes them together with equally skronky synth sounds and drum machines patterns to make a sort of electro-cumbia.
The title track of her most recent album Magnetismo is a perfect example of how catchy her method can make the timeworn sounds she mines for her music.
Omega is another artist who doesn’t need to be talked up. His record of hits speaks for itself. Hell, the video up top has more than 10.5 million views already.
But perhaps no single artist has shaped the sound of modern merengue quite as much as this Dominican rapper and singer. He’s credited with helping popularize a blend of the much-loved Dominican style (even Trujillo was down with it) with hip-hop and R&B. The resulting “Merengue de Calle” is earworm-y as all hell and traces of it are still all over Latin radio.
Even though the urban merengue innovator has been silent for a few years, he’s owed his due.