Wherever you travel in the world, the local music will add colour to your trip. Nowhere is this more true than in Latin America where the music is distinctive, exciting and almost frustratingly catchy – as well as being impossible to avoid as it is played just about everywhere. The region’s music scene is one of the liveliest in the world, and alongside old classics, great new artists keep emerging.
Whether you are travelling there at the moment, want to mentally relive a previous adventure, or are looking for inspiration for an upcoming trip, these are some of the best musicians the region has to offer.
While this band have been around for a few years, they have recently started to make real waves – winning a Latin Grammy and bringing Will Smith out of musical retirement for a collaboration! Hailing from the Caribbean coast of Colombia and fronted by the charismatic and flamboyant Liliana Saumet, Bomba Estereo combine traditional local rhythms (such as cumbia and champeta) with electronic sounds and psychedelic synths. The result is a highly energetic sound that I bet would be awesome to see live.
Onda Vaga are another band to keep an eye on as their popularity grows. This Buenos Aires based group combine acoustic guitar chord progressions with percussion and brass to create a sound which will stick in your head for days. Their song Mambeando (see video below) is possibly the most catchy song ever recorded (in my humble opinion), and their latest album adds some traditional Andean sounds to the mix.
Possibly the most famous band in this article, Calle 13 have made a number for themselves by blending hip hop, reggaeton and electronics to create music that is both modern and distinctively Latin American. Originating in Puerto Rico, these two brothers are known for their outspoken politic stance and they recently recorded a song with Julian Assange while he was holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy. Residente is an excellent lyricist who delivers his lines with gusto and Visitante never fails to produce interesting productions that draw from a variety of influences. Their song Latinoamerica is a homage to the continent and perhaps sums up its plight better than any other.
Argentine folk music is at once beautiful and melancholic, and resembles that of Spain and Portugal but with a native Andean twist. It is based on the acoustic guitar and is usually accompanied by a powerful voice. Name is one of he best examples of this type of music and the haunting tone of his songs is the perfect accompaniment to long bus trips across the arid north of the country. His songs talk of the hard life of the campesino farmer and the plight of the indigenous people of Argentina and Bolivia.
Dengue Dengue Dengue!
Cumbia is a genre of music that can be found across Latin America. It has its origins in the drum patterns that African slaves brought over to Colombia and is one of my favourite musical styles. In the last few years a scene has known as electrocumbia has evolved in Peru and of its artists, Dengue Dengue Dengue! are one of the best. By using heavily syncopated Cumbria beats and droning electronic bass sounds they create music that is extremely hypnotic and a bit trippy.
Bachata is a type of music originating in The Dominican Republic, a popular in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. It has a distinctive beat and is much less energetic than other styles from the region such as Salsa and Merengue. The genre has developed in recent years to take on pop influences which some purists disprove of.New York born (but with Dominican and Puerto Rican parents) Romeo Santos is without a doubt the most popular bachata artist currently and his songs are catchy and easy to listen to.
Reggaeton is Latin Americas answer to American R&b and is often exceedingly cheesy. It does however have an interesting beat, and will grow on you as you are forced to listen to it on your trip through Central America. Due to its ubiquity in certain countries, it would be wrong not to include an artist from this genre. One of the most popular artists is Don Omar, the Puerto Rican who’s songs have featured in Hollywood films making him one of the few Latin American artists to break the into the American market.
Joe Arroyo is perhaps the most popular musician within Colombia and rightly so. Known as ‘el rey de salsa’ (the King of salsa), his music is arguably THE quintessential example of the genre. The whole country went into mourning when he died a few years ago and you are guaranteed to hear his music over and over again during any trip there (this is a good thing I assure you).
Brazil perhaps deserves its own article when it comes to music as thanks to their Portuguese heritage, their music is a bit different to that of the rest of the continent. They have also created several instruments that are unique to the country such as the cavaquinho and the cuica. It is hard then to choose an artist that represents this great musical nation but I’ve opted to go for Seu Jorge. His take on the Brazilian sound is at once accessible and musically rich. He is also known for writing the sound track to the film ‘The Life Aquatic’ and for playing a major role in Ciudade de Deus.
Ok these two aren’t actually Latin American, but are so heavily influenced by the region’s music (as well as being extremely good) that I have included them.
Quantic is the alias of British artist Will Holland. His early music was electronic trip-hop style stuff but as he developed he started to experiment with Latin, African and jazz sounds. He eventually moved to Colombia and formed a band known as the Combo Barbaro. Quantic is one of my favorite artists and is an extremely talented musician. Having seen him live, I can attest that his band know how to put on a live show as well.
Uproot Andy is part of the Que Bajo collective that produce and DJ electronic infused versions of Latin American songs. He has an extremely good ear for finding a good melody and knows how to subtly add the elements needed to make it sound good in a dance club. He has made several great remixes including this one of the Mexican band Los Cojolites.