In December of last year, Billboard reported that Latin music was the fourth most-streamed genre in the US on DSPs such as Spotify – and third for video streaming on YouTube. But if your Latin music go-to is ‘Despacito’ on repeat, then there’s a huge number of different Latin music genres and styles to discover.
From vibrant salsa to romantic bachata, reggaeton to Regional Mexican, Brazilian samba and chilled out bossa nova to Argentina’s passionate tango, it’s time to explore the history of Latin music – and who are today’s most influential stars.
For an introduction to the music, dive in with the Latin America playlist.
Latin Music Genres List
- Latin pop
- Modern Latin Music: Raggaeton
- Brazilian Music:
- Bossa Nova
- Latin Rock & Alternative Music:
- Rock enEspañol
- Regional Mexican Music:
Latin Music Styles
The Miami Super Bowl halftime concert this year featured Colombian superstar Shakira and Jennifer Lopez sporting a Puerto Rican flag, performing a set full of English and Spanish hits and deftly illustrating how thoroughly Latin music has taken centre stage around the world.
Latin pop is constantly evolving, and takes in everything from salsa to rock en Español. And as Rolling Stone notes, ‘some of the most famous Latin pop songs have survived military dictatorships, war, famine and natural disasters – and they still hold up in spite of passing trends.’
Get an overview of modern Latin Pop with this playlist, or check out Andrea Rocha's album,Mi Barriofor reggaeton-infused latin pop.
Salsa is one of the best known and most popular Latin music genres worldwide.
The first salsa bands were predominantly from Cuba and Puerto Rico – the music then spread through Colombia and the rest of the Americas until it became a global phenomenon.
New York had been a centre of Cuban-style dance music since the 1940s, when Cuban artists brought Afro-Cuban son music into the USA.
Son combined with traditions from African American jazz to create a Caribbean jazz sound, which was embraced by Salsa artists across the Caribbean and the United States, especially among Puerto Ricans in New York.
When Cuban musicians could no longer go to New York after Fidel Castro had claimed control in 1959, the city’s Puerto Rican musicians quickly filled the vacuum – taking the Cuban-inspired Latin jazz sound and bringing in their own sounds, together with mambo and Latin boogaloo, to create a new style: salsa.
When a song started, apparently the bandleader would shout ‘Salsa!’ to get the crowd going, hence the name.
Salsa artists like Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, Ruben Blades, Fania All Stars, Marc Antony and Celia Cruz – known as ‘The Queen of Salsa’ - helped to popularise the genre internationally.
The contemporary salsa sound coming out of Cuba is known as timba. It’s a fast-tempo salsa, with a strong Afro-Cuban influence whose songs often follow a more traditional rumba structure, with a slow start, then a core salsa rhythm with a call-and-response vocal.
Bachata originated in the Dominican Republic in the 1960s, with songs produced by José Manuel Calderón – the first was ‘Borracho de Amor’ in 1962.
Bachata mixed elements from son with the pan-Latin American style bolero and its troubadour singing tradition.
It wasn’t really until the 1990s, however, that this latin music genre became truly popular, as it changed from using nylon stringed Spanish guitars and maracas to electric steel string and guira used by bands such as Monchy y Alexandra and Aventura.
A typical bachata group has seven instruments – the requinto (lead guitar), segunda (rhythm guitar), electric guitar, guitar, bass guitar, bongos and guira.
Some of today’s most popular bachata artists include Romeo Santos (who was previously in Aventura), who has collaborated with Drake, Usher and Marc Anthony, Prince Royce and Luis Vargas.
Another genre to have emerged from the Dominican Republic is merengue, whose origins can be traced back to the 19th century.
With African and Spanish influences, it’s based on a repeating five-beat rhythmic pattern called a quintillo. It’s usually performed on a diatonic accordion, a tambura (a two-sided drum) and a güira, a metal scraper – merengue music often includes brass, such as horns and saxophone as well.
The merengue is also the Dominican Republic’s national dance, performed in ballroom dance competitions alongside the salsa. It became popular outside of the Dominican Republic following mass migration of Dominicans to New York City in the 1960s, and has inspired musicians such as Carlos Santana.
Other famous merengue artists include Sergio Vargas, Mala Fe, Elvis Crespo, Milly Quezada and Los Hermanos Rosario.
Listen to more bachata and merengue on the tropical Latin playlist.
Tango has become one of the most celebrated Latin music genres in dance, having evolved during the 19th century in Buenos Aires’ immigrant communities.
Tango brings together a myriad of other styles, including flamenco, polka, hanabera, and milonga.
It typically features guitar, bandoneon, piano, violin, flute and double bass and is marked out with its sudden changes of dynamics and staccato phrases - together, of course, with its usually intense and often melancholic mood.
Carlos Gardel, known as ‘the King of Tango’ propelled the genre into the mainstream at the beginning of the last century; other celebrated tango artists include Astor Piazzolla, and Argentine stars on the ‘neo tango’ scene, such as Tanghetto.
Explore tango tracks on theLatin Collection playlist, or listen to Latin Grammy nomineeGustavo Casenave’s dramatic, powerful‘A Don Hetore'.
Modern Latin Music: Reggaeton
Reggaeton has exploded into the mainstream, with artists such as Bad Bunny and J. Balvin killing it on streaming platforms and ‘Despacito’ becoming the most viewed YouTube video of all time – and the first to hit five billion views.
Originating with Panamanian El General (Edgardo A. Franco) in the late 1970s, and catching the imagination ofyouth in Puerto Rico in the 1990s, reggaeton fuses reggae and Jamaican dancehall with hip hop and Latin music such as salsa and bomba, together with dembow rhythms, rapping and singing, typically in Spanish.
Reggaeton captured a global audience in 2004, with the release of Daddy Yankee’s albumBarrio Finoand breakout single ‘Gasolina’.
Daddy Yankee also featured on Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’, which signalled another reggaeton revolution, and it now looks commercially unstoppable (you can even hear its influence in Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’).
Colombia’s Karol G’s collaboration with Nicki Minaj, ‘Tusa’, became the first song by two women to top Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, breaking the somewhat all-male stranglehold on reggaeton.
Samba originated in Africa as the music of former slaves and African religions, but has become an icon of Brazilian national identity.It developed in Brazil in the early 1900s, in Rio’s favelas.
A samba band consists mainly of percussion instruments playing syncopated rhythms, together with call-and-response.
The samba band leader uses an Apito (a whistle) to signal breaks and calls, with metal drums -Repinique(or the Reps) – leading introductions, played with a wooden stick and one hand; Surdo – the large bass drums which hold the beat, snare drums, shakers andagogô(double metal cow bells).
Bossa Nova literally means ‘new trend’ or ‘new wave’, and it became the music of choice for an emergingBrazilian middle class. It emerged in a period of Brazilian democracy between the early 1950s and the mid-60s, as the society left behind its colonial past and looked towards the rest of the world.
Bossa nova songs, in contrast with samba songs, focus on personal emotions, such as love, longing and nature. Samba’s themes concentrate more on politics and carnival.
Get a rundown on the current Brazilian music scene from rising star Sarah Roston.
Latin Rock & Alternative Music
Latin alternative music, or ‘alterlatino’ refers to Latin rock music that combines genres including alt rock, lo-fi, chillout, metal, electronica, hip hop, new wave, punk, reggae and ska with traditional Ibero-American sounds.
It’s a genre that as Billboard.com says, is ‘pushing boundaries in multiple, unexpected directions, with exciting results’.
Established alt-female collective LADAMA, whose members hail from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and the US are at the forefornt of the genre.
Strong Latin female voices are under-represented in rap, but Mexican Niña Dioz is a name to watch out for.
Dioz started rapping on stage at 18 and quickly gained attention for her experimental beats and combination ofelectronic, Caribbean and Latin elements in her music.
Types of Spanish Music: Rock en Español
One of the pioneers of Rock en Español was Ritchie Valens, whose ‘La Bamba’ adapted a Mexican folk song, fusing it with rock melodies, in 1958.
In the 1970s, the ‘Latin Rock’ genre was coined, while Argentine artists Charly Garcia and Luis Alberto Spinetta became two of the key members of the Rock en Español movement.
The genre was booming in the 1980s as Heroes del Silencio from Spain, Los Prisioneros from Chile and Mexico’s Caifanes emerged on the scene.
Today’s stars of Rock en Español include Shakira, Y La Bamba and Natalia Lafourcade.
Regional Mexican Music
Regional Mexican music is an umbrella term covering folk genres from mariachi to cumbia, norteño, banda and ranchera.
Explore the Regional Mexican playlist for an introduction to the music.
Mexican Music Genres
Joyful, passionate mariachi music is often a feature of important events and celebrations such as birthdays, baptisms and weddings.
Its stringed instruments and oldest rhythms date back to Mexico’s colonial history (1519-1810), with mariachi emerging from the small towns of western Mexico in the 1850s.
Radio stations and movie studios took mariachi to new audiences from the 1930s onwards, and now major annual mariachi festivals, such as the International Mariachi Festival of Guadalajara, staged every September, feature local and internationally renowned groups.
A mariachi band can consist of as many as eight violins, two trumpets and at least one guitar – the traditional guitar is the vihuela, a high-pitched, round-backed guitar that provides the rhythm and the guitarrón, a bass guitar. All of the band’s players take turns singing lead and doing backup vocals and wear highly embroidered charro outfits.
Norteño is named for its birthplace in northern Mexico, and has a rural and traditional sensibility. It’s usually played by an ensemble featuring an accordion, bajo sexto (a baritone-range twelve-string guitar), bass, drums and vocalists.
Its roots date back to the late 1800s when the Mexican population was introduced to a variety of European folk dances such as polkas, waltzes, mazurkas and redovas by German and Czech immigrants.
The genre exploded in popularity in the 1950s and by the 1970s, it was the most popular style of music amongst the working classes in Texas and northern Mexico.
Los Tucanes de Tijuana became the first norteño act at Coachella and think that, ‘with trap and reggaeton, the doors are opening for more styles within the genre of Latin music’. Listen to Los Bravos del Norte and Los Tigres del Norte for a deeper dive into norteño.
Los Tigres also perform the corrido – a narrative, poetic ballad illustrating socio-political tensions or historic events that relate to the immigrant or working class experience.
Cumbia is another hugely popular style of regional Mexican music which originated in Colombia, whose popularity has spread throughout Latin America, from Argentina to Chile, Peru and Venezuela.
Similar to salsa, it also features guitars, accordions, bass guitar and percussion.
Colombian singer Luis Carlos Meyer Castandet emigrated to Mexico in the 1940s – his album La Cumbia Cienaguera is considered to be the first cumbia record outside Colombia.
One of today’s biggest cumbia bands is Los Ángeles Azules, whose collaboration with Ximena Sarinana, ‘Mis Sentimientos’ became regional Mexican music’s most-watched video of all time and secured them a place in YouTube’s elite Billion View Club.
Streaming has also made superstars of regional Mexican music artistssuch as Banda MS, while the global reach of a Netflix series like Narcos has given Mexican music another boost through its soundtrack.
The importance of incorporating traditional elements into contemporary tracks is explained by Chilean singer Mon Laferte, who is now based in Mexico City.
She told Rolling Stone that, ‘I’m not a purist, and I don’t make traditional Mexican music, nor traditional salsa, But I try to take cues from it and bring it into the present, ’ as she wants to reflect the richness of the music.
Latinartists show no signs of slowing down, so whether you’re into reggaeton or Latin trap, boyband CNCO, acts such as Fuerza Regida bringing their experiences to traditional genres, or Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny collaborating with Cardi B and Balvin, you’re spoiled for choice.
Discover: Latin Series
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How many different styles of Latin music is there? ›
|Latin jazz||Latin pop||jazz, Spanish tinge|
|Tejano||Regional Mexican||Traditional Mexican (conjunto, musica nortena, corridos), American pop.|
|Reggaeton||Latin urban||Reggae, hip-hop, Spanish Caribbean music, disco|
|Mariachi||Regional Mexican||Waltz, polka, bolero|
Salsa. Salsa is one of the most popular Latin music genres in the entire world. This vibrant rhythm is the result of several musical influences, which include traditional beats from Cuba and Puerto Rico and other styles such as mambo and Latin boogaloo. Salsa owes its names to this amazing combination of sounds.What are the three most famous Latin music genres? ›
- Salsa. Salsa originated during the 1960s when Puerto Ricans living in New York combined elements of 1950's Cuban and Puerto Rican dance hall music with the music they heard at American Jazz dances. ...
- Merengue. ...
- Bachata. ...
- Tango. ...
- Modern Latin American pop music. ...
- Merengue. Merengue is to the Dominican Republic what salsa is to Cuba. ...
- Reggaeton. Today's most popular Latin dance genre also has interesting origins. ...
- Bachata. ...
- Tango. ...
- Samba. ...
- Bossa Nova. ...
- Ranchera. ...
In the 1940s and 1950s, Cuban artists brought their traditions and song music genre to New York City and a new up-beat style of music was created in the 1960s known as the iconic salsa. Salsa music is known for its percussion instruments and 'soneros' translated to vocals or salsa singers.
|Characteristic||Share of respondents|
Latin hip-hop (also known as latin rap) is hip-hop music that is recorded by artists in the United States of Hispanic and Latino descent along with Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean, North America, Central America, South America, and Spain.Why is Latin music popular? ›
It should come as no surprise that Latin music has become so popular over the decades and even more so in recent years. The musical style appeals to people of all ages and backgrounds because of its rhythmic beats and catchy upbeat vibe. It has never mattered if the lyrics were in English, Spanish or both.Why is it called Latin music? ›
Latin music (Portuguese and Spanish: música latina) is a term used by the music industry as a catch-all arbitrary category for various styles of music from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and the United States inspired by older Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese music genres, as well as music that is sung in the ...What is the Latin beat called? ›
Tresillo (/trɛˈsiːjoʊ/ tres-EE-yoh; Spanish pronunciation: [tɾeˈsiʎo]) is a rhythmic pattern (shown below) used in Latin American music. It is a more basic form of the rhythmic figure known as the habanera.
Is Latin music becoming popular? ›
The 5.91% US market share achieved by Latin music in 2021 was greater than that the category achieved in both 2020 (5.39%) and in 2019 (4.96%). Indeed, if we go back five years to 2017, Latin music claimed a mere 3.97% of a (then much smaller) US recorded music market, according to MBW's reading of RIAA data.What is salsa music called? ›
salsa, hybrid musical form based on Afro-Cuban music but incorporating elements from other Latin American styles.What is bossa nova music? ›
bossa nova, (Portuguese: “new trend”) Brazilian popular music that evolved in the late 1950s from a union of samba (a Brazilian dance and music) and cool jazz. The music is in syncopated 2/4 time.What is Spanish style music called? ›
Flamenco. Perhaps Spain's most famous musical style is flamenco, which has helped to make the southern region of Andalusia the cultural phenomenon it is today.What are the different vocal forms of Latin American music? ›
- Cumbia. It is a type of dance and music, similar to salsa and uses instruments like accordions, guitars, and percussions.
- Tango. This is a lively and spirited dance of two people. ...
- Chacha. ...
- Bossanova. ...
- Pasodoble. ...
- Reggae. ...
- Rumba. ...
Latin music is characterized first and foremost by the rhythm. This is not some background or subtle beat; the rhythm is in many ways the real focus of the music. But, it's not the only part of the music; melodies and harmonies are both important parts of this music as well.What is Latin pop called? ›
Latin pop (Spanish and Portuguese: Pop latino) is a pop music subgenre that is a fusion of US–style music production with Latin music genres from anywhere in Latin America and Spain.Who invented Latin music? ›
The origins of Latin American music can be traced back to the Spanish and Portuguese conquest of the Americas in the 16th century, when the European settlers brought their music from overseas. Latin American music is performed in Spanish, Portuguese, and to a lesser extent, French.Is Latin music more popular than rap? ›
Latin is mainstream across the board. On Billboard's overall Top 200 chart, Latin music is the third largest genre in the chart (13%), only behind rap/hip-hop and pop.What is Latin dancing called? ›
Salsa, Bachata, Tango, Cha Cha, and Rumba are all popular Latin American dance styles.
Is rap a Latino culture? ›
Today, hip-hop culture is American culture, and Crazy Legs was honored at the 2018 Hispanic Heritage Awards at the Kennedy Center for his trailblazing moves impacting the culture and his community. The Graffiti Artists: Graffiti is a staple of NYC and hip-hop that has a strong Latin-American influence.Who is the queen of Latin hip hop? ›
Born in the bosom of Baltimore Maryland, known as the Queen of Latin Hip-Hop, Crystal Sierra, is a powerful singer, songwriter, actress and music producer.Why is it called Latin trap? ›
Latin trap is a subgenre of trap music that originated in Puerto Rico. A direct descendant of southern hip hop, and influenced by reggaeton, it gained popularity after 2007, and has since spread throughout Latin America. The trap is slang for a place where drugs are sold.Who was the first Latina singer? ›
The first Mexican-Texan pop star was Lydia Mendoza, who began her music recording in 1934. It was not until the 1940s, however, that musica norteña became popularized by female duets like Carmen y Laura and Las Hermanas Mendoza, who had a string of regional hits.Why is reggaeton controversial? ›
Like hip hop, reggaeton has caused some controversy, albeit much less, due to a few of the songs' explicit lyrics and alleged exploitation of women ; supporters claim this criticism is misplaced due to most reggaeton songs having completely clean lyrics, as well as non-violent lyrics.Who listens reggaeton? ›
Reggaeton is regarded as one of the most popular music genres in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, in countries including Puerto Rico, Panama, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, and Venezuela.Is bossa nova Latin? ›
Latin Roots: Bossa Nova, Brazil's Answer To Jazz : World Cafe Latin-music critic Ernest Lechner discusses the origins of bossa nova as a fusion of American jazz and Latin samba.What time signature is Latin music? ›
6/8 Clave. The 6/8 clave is basically the African Bell Pattern without the eighth notes. It's not a particular common clave rhythm for Latin music, but it's important to fully conceptualize the rumba clave and how much of Latin music is phrased.How did Latin music start? ›
Latin American music, musical traditions of Mexico, Central America, and the portions of South America and the Caribbean colonized by the Spanish and the Portuguese. These traditions reflect the distinctive mixtures of Native American, African, and European influences that have shifted throughout the region over time.What is a Latin rhythm? ›
Latin rhythms include the music of all Latin American countries and cross all varieties: from the simple northern music of Mexico and the United States to the sophisticated habanera of Cuba, from the symphonies of Heitor Villa-Lobos to the simple sounds of the quena.
How do you play Latin rhythms? ›
Latin Guitar Lesson - Essential Rhythms: Learn & Practice - YouTubeHow can I learn Latin percussion? ›
Latin Percussion Online Class with Ron Powell (Congas) - YouTubeWhy is reggaeton so popular? ›
Reggaeton has actually become such a big genre, not only because of its catchy beats strong advertising and radio/club presence but also because of its freedom with lyrics.Is salsa music still popular? ›
In many Hispanic communities, it remains today the most popular style of dance music. Salsa represents a mix of Latin musical genres, but its primary component is Cuban dance music.How big is the Latin music market? ›
In its 2019 Year-End Latin Music Industry Revenue Report, made public this week (April 30), the RIAA reports that Latin music revenues in the U.S. grew 28 percent, to $554 million, last year, marking the highest figure the market has seen since 2006.What is a clave in music? ›
A clave is a set of repeating rhythmic accents that are emphasized on top of the groove of a song. This means that while the band grooves like it would on any other song, they continually accent certain beats above all others.Where is reggaeton from originally? ›
Reggaetón had its conception in the 1980s when Jamaican workers traveled to Panama to help build the Panama Canal and reggae was adapted to the Spanish-speaking culture. In the 1990s, the genre made its way to Puerto Rico via Jamaican immigrants.What country is merengue from? ›
merengue, French mérengue, couple dance originating in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, strongly influenced by Venezuelan and Afro-Cuban musical practices and by dances throughout Latin America.What is Brazilian jazz called? ›
Bossa nova is a Brazilian genre of music that literally translates to "new style" or "new trend." It emerged in the 1950s and '60s combining elements of samba—a popular music genre within Brazil—with American jazz traditions.How do you pronounce bossa? ›
How to pronounce bossa nova - YouTube
What is the difference between bossa nova and samba? ›
Bossa nova is played softer: it's a more intimate style, with gentler vocals, played on acoustic instruments, with the nylon acoustic guitar the main reference for the distinctive bossa “sound.” Samba is usually more uptempo, with upbeat lyrics, but there are slower sambas as well such as samba-canção a styles ...