Traditional Music of Latin America

by Jack Guy

Jan 23, 2016

Cumbia Band, La Yegros © Cultura Argentina | Flickr


When Latin American music comes to mind, many people think of salsa. While the traditional dance remains popular, there are plenty of other musical styles worth listening to.


One such style is cumbia, which is subject to rival claims from various nations as to who invented it. Perhaps the most convincing comes from Colombia, but the distinctive beat of cumbia can now be heard from Mexico to Chile. Alongside traditional acoustic forms, a new wave of artists such as La Yegros is mixing electronic sounds into cumbia.


Sticking with South America, vallenato is exceedingly popular in coastal areas of Colombia and breeds international stars. A night in a Colombian bar will almost certainly feature vallenato at some point, perhaps by the sadly deceased Diomedes Diaz.


Up in Central America and Mexico, ranchera music is popular. Bands can stretch to 20 members and are heavy on brass instruments, and while the slow, ponderous rhythms aren’t for everyone the music has taken on an almost folkloric quality. Jorge Negrete and Lucia Mendez are two classic artists still listened to by an adoring public.


Reggaeton is a fairly new style of music that has spread like a virus throughout the continent, attracting legions of younger fans. Some of the bigger artists such as Daddy Yankee have also seen success in the U.S. charts, and Puerto Rico is a reggaeton powerhouse that pumps out hit after hit. The music is not without its controversy; however, with multiple countries banning or considering banning it due to misogynistic, violent lyrics.



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