Full of life, emotion, drama, and mystery, Latin music is an extremely popular genre around the world. The rhythms will draw you to the dance floor while the soulful vocals will make you weep. Latin music draws from an enormous wealth of different countries, cultures, and landscapes, from Spain to Brazil, Los Angeles to La Paz, deserts to jungles, and beaches to mountains. The lands that make up Latin culture are some of the most diverse on the planet. This diversity is the spark that lights the fire of Latin music and it can brings lots of life and color to your next creative project.
What is the Latin music genre?
Latin American music comprises the musical traditions of Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, lands colonized by the Spanish and the Portuguese. These traditions reflect the unique assortment of Native American, African, and European influences. Over time, Latin music has largely been defined by its mix of African rhythms, European song forms, and indigenous instruments. Representing many proud cultures and traditions, Latin American music has symbolized freedom and embraced experimentation.
Latin music encompasses an expansive range of styles, including the Dominican Republic's fast-paced merengue, Brazilian samba, Argentine Tango, and more. There are seven key genres of Latin music, including:
Prevalent in Cuba, New York, and Puerto Rico, salsa (meaning "the sauce") was developed by Afro-Cuban musicians. It features a specific beat called the clave and various drums, such as bongos, congas, and timbales. Typically, salsa lyrics tell short stories. Key salsa artists include Frank “Machito” Grillo, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, and Celia Cruz.
A genre from the Dominican Republic, merengue is defined by upbeat lyrics and a repeating five-beat rhythmic pattern known as quintillo. Merengue features three prominent instruments: a diatonic accordion, two-headed drum called tambora, and scraper called charrasca.
Its origins lie in Spanish ballroom dance and African and indigenous Caribbean instruments. Key merengue artists include Francisco “Ñico” Lora and Luis Alberti.
A mariachi ensemble typically plays this regional Mexican genre. Ranchera features stringed instruments like the vihuela and deep-bodied guitarrón.
The deep, passionate lyrics often tell stories of love for the country and honor. Its origins are in the European waltz and polka and Cuban bolero. Some famous ranchera artists include José Alfredo Jiménez, Felipe Valdés Leal, and Vicente Fernández.
This genre was born in the 19th century when enslaved Africans combined native instruments and percussion-based dance forms. The Colombian genre is defined by a double beat played on maracas or drums. Flutes carry the melody, and the lyrics talk of love, life, and patriotism. Key cumbia musicians include Celso Piña, La Sonora Dinamita, and Aniceto Molina.
Think of this smooth genre as Brazilian jazz. It incorporates classical guitar with soft vocals and subtle, romantic lyrics. Bossa nova branched out of samba, the rhythmic Afro-Brazilian genre. Some influential bossa nova artists include João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, and Antônio Carlos Jobim.
A gift from the Río de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay, tango is dramatic and danceable. Typically instrumental, tango is often led by the sound of an accordion, called bandoneón. When there are lyrics, they may be philosophical, romantic, or critical of social ills. It originated as an American mix of ballroom music brought over by European immigrants and the African rhythms carried through the slave trade. Some famous tango artists are Rosendo Mendizábal, Vicente Greco, Carlos Gardel, and Astor Piazzola.
This drum-machine-led music features repeating syncopated patterns. It originated in Panama and Puerto Rico, evolving from Jamaican reggae and dancehall music. Puerto Rican musicians customized the sound by bringing in elements of hip-hop, bomba, and plena. Famous reggaeton artists include El General, Vico C, Daddy Yankee, and Don Omar. In fact, the latter two were the reason for reggaeton’s meteoric rise on the U.S. charts in 2004.
The newest, and arguably most popular, form of Latin music today is the fusion of traditional Latin genres and American pop. While Puerto Rican boy band Menudo was one of the first Latin pop acts, the genre took off in the United States thanks to the evolving production techniques and presence of different styles of music. Synthesizers and drum machines are the two key instruments.
Many influential artists have made the genre their own, including icons such as Ricky Martin, Shakira, and the father-son duo of Julio Iglesias and Enrique Iglesias. Julio is considered the most commercially successful Spanish singer in the world, while Enrique remains the undoubted King of Latin Pop.
What is the target audience for Latin music?
According to a 2018 Nielsen report, a typical Latin music fan is a millennial or Gen-X, speaks Spanish, takes pride in their cultural heritage, and is a prolific music streamer.
Adding royalty-free Latin music is optimal for tapping into the U.S. Latin market. A StatSocial report noted that the key demographic of 25 to 34-year-old Latin music fans accounts for 28% of the American online audience.
What makes Latin American music unique?
By welcoming musical traditions and instruments from around the globe, Latin American music is incredibly diverse. It represents the sounds of all Latin American countries and cultures. The beauty of Latin music is its fluidity and the interweaving of its signature instruments.
This vibrant mix is why Puerto Rico's Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, Colombia's J Balvin, and France's Willy Williams hit number one on Spotify’s global lists with "Despacito" and "Mi Gente."
Latin music is not always about upbeat, pulsating beats, though. There are mellower styles and subgenres, such as Latin American harp music, Latin violin music, and Catholic Latin music.
Percussion is a predominant feature of the music. Indigenous cultures from Central America use instruments such as slit drums, cup-shaped ceramic drums, single-headed small drums, and double-headed drums like the bombos and tamboras. Along with the drums, the sticks typically used to beat the clave rhythm play a significant role. There is also a variety of shaken rattles (maracas), tambourines, stamping tubes, and scrapers. Guitars often help round out the music with melody and harmony, alongside a powerful brass section of trumpets and tubas.
Native American cultures use wind instruments, primarily flutes, whistles, ocarinas, and panpipes. Meanwhile, tango music is highlighted by the bandoneón accordion of Buenos Aires, and merengue stands out for its two-headed drums from the Dominican Republic.
How has Latin music influenced American culture?
Latin music’s influence on American culture is more than a century old. Just take a look at 1914’s "St. Louis Blues." The song, considered a fundamental entry in American jazz, features a bridge with a distinct habanera beat. The ragtime and jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton correctly summed up the beat when he said, “You’ve got to have that Spanish tinge.” Later, the cha-cha-cha was the first of the 20th-century Latin dance fads to take the United States by storm.
Mexican immigrants were instrumental in developing rock music, as illustrated by Richie Valens' 1959 hit song “La Bamba,” which adopts a folk tune from Veracruz. The evolution led to the music of Carlos Santana, Los Lobos, Gloria Estefan, and many others.
Today, thanks to a strong and growing Latin cultural presence, Latin music can be heard across the U.S., from New Orleans’ salsa clubs to New York's Latin jazz lounges to Los Angeles' dance clubs to the American pop charts. Take Cardi B, a chart-topping rapper born to a Dominican father and Trinidadian mother of African and Spanish descent. Honoring her Afro-Latino heritage, she has rapped in Spanish and collaborated with Latin superstars such as Bad Bunny and J Balvin.
Elsewhere, artists are incorporating Latin influences into a wide range of styles. New York band Combo Chimbita, whose members all have roots in Colombia, incorporate African, Caribbean, and Latin rhythms into their self-described "tropical futurism" sound. Afro-Venezuelan singer Betsayda Machado plays a soul genre called tambor, and California-based bilingual group Los Rakas combines reggae, reggaeton, and dancehall music with hip-hop.
When asked about the significance of Latin influence on American music, DJ "Lil G" told Savannah Morning News, “You can tell when there’s a background of Latin music in it. It’s the percussion they use, the wind instruments, even the rhythm… it’s definitely a diverse culture with a little bit of everything in it.”
Feeling inspired? Listen to this Latin-influenced pop track featuring groovy drums and percussion with funky bass lines, lively horns, and piano on stockmusic.net.
Why is Latin music so popular?
Latin American music continues to grow in popularity. A 2020 Billboard report noted that Latin music was the third largest genre on its overall Top 200 chart at 13%, only behind rap/hip-hop and pop.
According to the Recording Industry Association of America ( RIAA), Latin music generated $886.1 million retail in the United States in 2021, an increase of more than 35% from 2020. In 2022, RIAA reported that Latin music sales grew by 23% in the first half of the year compared to just 9% for all U.S.-recorded music. Reaching $510 million in six months, Latin music is on track to cross a whopping $1 billion in the year's sales.
One of the reasons behind the rapid growth of Latin music in recent years is the fast-changing media landscape. Latin music lovers are streamers and discoverers. Billboard indicates that 39% of Latin music fans are the first in their social circles to discover new music. And, according to RIAA, streaming contributed to 97% of Latin music revenues.
Streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube have democratized the music-listening experience. This game-changing technology has made Latin music more accessible to listeners worldwide. Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok have become great marketing tools to tap into the Latin fanbase.
This is why the 37-year-old Prince of Reggaeton, J Balvin, has 33 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Latin Airplay Chart. And why you may find that a Latin music song — like this fun Cuban track — could hbring your project to life.
Find the best royalty-free Latin music for your project
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