Jeanine Prado: Ida España 2022

Spanish influence on music

Copla by M.C.Esteban / Getty Images


By Jeanine Prado of FIU

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an American poet, calls music  “the universal language of mankind.” As long as it grabs the attention and has a good rhythm it will reach worldwide. One of the most listened to and played genres of music in the whole world is the Latin music genre. The only issue that comes with people who enjoy Latin music is that they are often ignorant of its origin and just how it has affected the music industry. Without the deep history, it would be impossible to know why the music sounds the way it does and why there are so many emotions, rhythms and dances tied to it.

The Rise of Latin Music

Currulao de Mulalo by Diego Pombo / Getty Images

Latin music is made from many differing rhythms, beats and vocals. This certain type of music is the product of many different cultures dating all the way back to Columbus and his time exploring the Americas and the Caribbean. It has its roots in Moorish culture. Through the Moorish culture, drums became a huge part of the beats and rhythms. As it spread throughout Caribbean countries it became a staple instrument. The Moorish culture is what molded the beginning of Latin music and allows it to be what it is today (CultureOwl).  

Benny More in the 1950’s / Getty Images
Perez Prado in 1950s / Photo by Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

 As the times went by the music was adapted to what it is known as today. In the early 20th century, America welcomed the new sound that was very different and latin centric. One country that really brought attention to their music was Cuba, especially after the Cuban Emancipation in the late 1890’s. Their fast paced and upbeat rhythms inspired a lot of early 1900’s artists like Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy and Rudy Vallee. The inspiration from latin music went on to the mid 1900’s when artists from Cuba and Mexico started becoming famous in and out of their homelands. Benny Moré, a famous Afro Cuban from Cienfuegos, dedicated himself to performing fluid and electrifying songs that were fit for post-war clubbing. From Mexico, Perez Prado was also very influential with his mambo beats reaching the ears of many different people in the 1950’s.  The most influential cities for these sounds were Miami (Cubans), New York (Puerto Ricans and Dominicans) and Los Angeles (Mexicans). After the 1950’s Latin music was higher on the charts and started to appear on mainstream radio stations . Later on The latin music would inspire rock n’ roll beats like “Black Magic Woman” by Santana and hip hop music like “Funky Drummer” by James Brown (PopMatters).

Genres in Latin Music

The genres of Latin music today all differ from place to place. Depending on its historical background there will be a different sound; it is established by the same culture. There are many diverse styles that can be seen all through Latin America. One thing they should have in common is that the genres should pull people to their feet and start dancing to the rhythm even if it is an intimidating one.

Genres that are most popular in Latin music are:

  • Latin pop
  • Salsa
  • Bachata
  • Tango
  • Reggaeton
Ricky Martin and Shakira during UNICEF Goodwill Gala / Photo by J. Vespa / Getty Images

Latin pop is a mix of latin music with contemporary pop. It became popular in the 1970’s and is still popular today with artists like Ricky Martin and Shakira. Commercially this genre does best because it evolves as pop evolves and it best caters to what other cultures are familiar with (Audio Network). 

Marc Anthony at the 2019 Latin American Music Awards / Photo by JC Olivera / Getty Images

Salsa is one of the most popular genres and it comes primarily from Cuba and Puerto Rico but has reached all over Latin America. Cubans brought their Afro-Cuban music to the U.S.A. and started a trend. The songs would start with a traditional timba sound and would build up into a fast tempo with strong Afro-Cuban beats in the background. When a salsa song started, someone from the band would yell ‘salsa’ to really start the party. Modernly, Marc Anthony continues making salsa inspired songs to get people up and dancing (Audio Network). 

Romeo Santos during TIDAL X Sprint / Photo by John Sciulli / Getty Images

Bachata comes from the Caribbean island Dominican Republic. In the 1960’s, bachata was formed by combining son and bolero with troubadour singing. It really saw a rise in the 1990’s with more commercially successful bands incorporated bachata beats into their music using steel electric guitar and guira. Romeo Santos, previously in the boy band  Aventura, is one of the most popular bachata singers till this day (Audio Network).

A portrait of Carlos Gardel / Photo by Roger Viollet Collection / Getty Images

Tango is the genre most used in dance as it has appeared in movies and has been adapted by many cultures. Tango combines the traditional moves of flamenco, polka and hanabera to form a more sensual and slow dance. The song itself uses traditional instruments like guitar, piano, flute and violin to create the intense melancholy sound that is so familiar. “The King of Tango”, Carlos Gardel, drove the tango genre to its commercial success (Audio Network). 

Daddy Yankee at the 2018 Latin American Music Awards / Photo by Rich Fury / Getty Images

In 2022, the most popular genre of Latin music is reggaeton. Even with its origins dating back to the 1970’s it was not until the 1990’s that a big intro of reggaeton into the mainstream world was seen. Reggaeton is a mix of Jamaican reggae and salsa or bomba. With reggaeton, the song is usually sung in spanish and often includes rapping. 2004 was the year that reggaeton really hit the top charts with Daddy Yankee’s single “Gasolina” from his breakout album Barrio Fino (Audio Network).

These are not the only genres in Latin music. There are a majority of genres which are not as popular and are not often represented outside of their respective countries. Many artists do often try to include these lesser loved beats and rhythms in their songs.

Influential Artists in Latin Music

Many Latin artists have been able to reach international attention. Some have done it by mixing genres and cultures while others have stayed true to their preferred genre and culture. A lot of them have had an impactful career and continue to be some of the most listened to artists. As times change some artists adapt while others decide to continue with what they were already doing before.

Gloria Estefan at Wembley Stadium / Photo by Michael Putland / Getty Images

Gloria Estefan perfectly executed the crossover between 1980’s pop with traditional Cuban music. Alongside the Miami Sound Machine, the Cuban artist reached mainstream stardom with the hit “Conga”. It was a musical revolution as this new sound that was not pop nor was it latin played in nightclubs and parties. She paved the way for many artists like her to play a part in the Latin music revolution that was to follow. Now she, alongside her also famous husband Emilio Estefan, continue to include their roots in big projects like movies, music and television (Billboard).

Selena at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards / Photo by Arlene Richie / Getty Images

Selena Quintanilla, also known as “Mexican Madonna” and “Queen of Tejano”, had great success in the 1990’s espacially as a chicana in music. She made history by being the first Latin artist to gain success from the Tejano (a fusion of Mexican and Texan music) genre. In her short career she has five singles that reached number one on the billboard charts. Her hits like, “Como la Flor” and “Amor Prohibido”, are still classic hits that every latino knows. Her dancing, beautiful voice and intricate outfits left her to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century (Billboard).

Ricky Martin / Photo by Brian Rasic / Getty Images

Ricky Martin, high profile Puerto Rican gay artist, was big as a solo artist in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Prior to his solo career, in the mid to late 80’s, he was in the latin Puerto Rican based boy band called Menudo. With big international hits like “Livin’ La Vida Loca” and “She Bangs”, both with spanish and english versions, he was able to reach stardom. His songs have been included in lots of pieces of pop culture like Shrek 2 and Sex and the City. He has slowed down in his music career but that has not stopped him from touring and working on other projects especially with other artists like Enrique Iglesias.

Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin at Penthouse at the London West Hollywood / Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Enrique Iglesias performs on NBC’s “Today” / Photo by Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Following in on the latin explosion, Enrique Iglesias, the son of classic Latin music star Julio Iglesias, is a prime example of the merging of cultures. On his website and on his Spotify it says: “recognized for his musical versatility across pop and urban genres in Spanish and English.” Similarly to Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias has recorded many songs and has released them in both Spanish and English or combined them in one song. His music, even in English, has heavy influence from traditional Spanish sounds like flamenco and tango. From the early 2000’s and far into the 2010’s Enrique Iglesias has messed with almost every genre under the Latin music umbrella. His collaborations has ranged from artists like Pitbull to Lionel Richie to Sebastian Yatra. Hits like Subeme La Radio, Hero and Bailando are all great examples of how diverse Enrique Iglesias’ discography is.

Bad Bunny on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / Photo by Andrew Lipovsky / Getty Images

Latin music saw a small decrease in popularity around the mid 2010’s until Despacitio by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee was released in 2017. After getting a small feature from Justin Bieber and a spot at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, Latin music was back in. With its popularity back, Latin artists were back to releasing chart toppers. A lot of new artists appeared with this new wave and the leader of the second latin explosion was Bad Bunny also known as “El Conejo Malo” or by fans as “Benito”. Bad Bunny is one the biggest artists right now in the world. His status is proof that Spanish music is just as influential now as it was in the 1900’s. Bad Bunny comes from Puerto Rico, a place with highly ‘americano’ influences but ancestry rooted all the way back to the Spanish rule and indigenous races. Bad Bunny ignores the “American sound” for his own mix of the highly popular reggaeton. He reopens the door for latin(x) artists like Rosalia, CNCO and Mariah Angeliq. Bad Bunny’s sound is nothing like anyone else’s. He is not scared to blur gender norms, try new looks or attempt a new sound. His music ranges from insanely deep and personal to superficial and racy; it is the mix of emotions and mindset that really resonates with his fans. He is able to grasp the beats and vibes people like and makes it into something completely new. His success is evidence of how Latin music can have big effects all over the world especially in the United States (Billboard).  


Venezuelan singer Danny Ocean said “music is something that transcends beyond any language or nationality.” Latin music is undeniably one of the biggest genres in the world. Generations upon generations of people are able to come together and enjoy this music no matter where they are from. The purpose of latin music is to express identity, pride and struggle. Through lyrics and beats, latinos are able to show their pride for their complicated history. Even if its beginning came from a horrible side of the Voyages of Christopher Columbus, latinos have been able to evolve it and make it what it is today. 

All in all, Latin music is made to be enjoyed and bring in a new sound that is sexy, loud and fun. As time goes on, latin music will go along with it. Latin music has never stayed as it was originally presented and that is the beauty of it. The rhythms, beats and instruments will always be there; it is just the times and the artists that change. There is a great comfort in knowing that Latin music will always be influential and have a steady place in the international charts. 

The perfect thing to do now is turn on the radio, listen to latin top hits and enjoy life. Spotify has amazing latin centered playlists (Latin Hit Mix, Latin Party Anthems, Pop Latino, etc.) that has all kinds of different types of genres. They will make anyone who listens want to get up and dance around. They will have people saying: “Súbeme la radio que esta es mi canción” and  “Dale” (just like Enrique Iglsias and Pitbull).

Pitbull during the Mega 96.3 Calibash / Photo by Michael Tran/ Getty Images

Works Cited

“The 30 Most Influential Latin Artists of All Time.” Billboard, 11 Mar. 2022,

“Different Types of Latin Music Genres You Need to Know: Audio Network UK.” Audio Network,

“Fascinating History and Origins of Latin Music.” CultureOwl,

“Home.” Enrique Iglesias, 7 Feb. 2022,

Kjorness, Chris. “Latin Music Is American Music, PopMatters.” PopMatters, 28 July 2013,

“Royalty Free Stock Photos, Illustrations, Vector Art, and Video Clips.” Getty Images,

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