Latin music in NYC is in stadiums, arenas, concert halls, clubs, restaurants and bars, parks and on the streets.
Swing (1935-1946), bebop modern jazz (1940s), Latin jazz (1943), disco (1970), salsa (1970s) and hip-hop (1970s) are musical forms of the City itself.
Jazz and reggaeton passed through and were forever changed by New York. House music (1980s) was started at the Warehouse Club in Chicago, but by New York DJ Frankie Knuckles.
The music publishers and Tin Pan Alley are New York. It all gets mixed up with Broadway too. As the world media capital, whatever happens in New York gets sent out into the world.
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Latin Music is as Diverse as Latins
These categories are based on the Latin Grammy categories.
“Urban” music isn’t only popular in cities. It’s the music of today’s youth of every heritage around the world. Everybody wants to get down. This is how the kids play today.
Latin Alternative is all the forms of Spanish-language soft rock that have emerged. An interesting Spanish-language rock ecosystem has developed. Nowadays, you can be a Latin Alternative superstar and never sing in English.
Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla is a key figure. His band Arco Iris where leaders of Rock Argentino in Buenos Aires. During the Argentine dictatorship years, Santaolalla moved to Los Angeles where he seeded Rock en Español in the United States. He took that as far as Academy Awards for Best Original Score for “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “Babel” (2006), and now scores telenovelas like “Jane the Virgin.” So Latin Alternative went all the way to Hollywood. That’s kind of cool.
Nacional Records in Los Angeles is a leading Latin Alternative label. The LAMC, Latin Alternative Music Conference, in New York during the summer brings stars of the genre to New York City, often in collaboration with SummerStage.
Tropical music is Caribbean music, but it’s not only from the islands. Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Central America, including Mexico and the United States (New Orleans), have Caribbean cultures on their coasts too.
The category includes the modern tropical forms: salsa, merengue/bachata (Dominican Republic), and cumbia/vallento (Colombia).
Traditional Tropical music includes son, danzón, bolero, chachachá, bomba, plena, danza, rumba, joropo and mambo. These are folk traditions, some of which have become very popular.
Son is the Cuban root of a lot of Latin music. It’s the first blend of Spanish flamenco guitar and African rhythm in the region around Santiago de Cuba. It has the feel of Spanish bolero, or troubadour lullabies. Buena Vista Social Club is the most famous son band.
Danzón is the national music and dance of Cuba. It’s influenced by the first international dance, the French contredanse. The Spanish version is the contradanza. Outside Havana, it’s called La Habanera (the way they dance in Havana.) The Habanera is the root of tango and salsa dancing.
These musics sound more Spanish until Arsenio Rodríguez re-Africanizes son montuno in the late 1930s and 1940s. In a way he brought the rumba of Havana and Matanzas in Eastern Cuba into the music. He adds congas and brings the rhythm forward. He adds piano so the guitar becomes a lead instrument instead of providing the rhythm. He adds more trumpets to create the modern Latin front line. Rodríguez was a tres player which is a lead instrument, but the rhythms in his songs become much more aggressive. This is the beginning of what becomes salsa in New York in the 1970s.
Contemporary – Tropical Fusion
This category includes merengue, bachata, tropical pop, cueca, candombe, ska, Haitian kompa, socca (soca), zouk, bomba, plena and their derivatives. Soca is the Trinidadian music that blends rhythms from India with calypso. It is the sound of the West Indian Day Parade, New York Labor Day Carnival.
Traditional music includes folk, flamenco and tango. All have also developed urban forms.
Portuguese Contemporary Pop
Portuguese Rock or Alternative
The Música Popular Brasileira (MPB) category includes the bossa nova (samba-jazz) of the 1960s and the popular music that followed in samba-rock, and samba-pop forms.
Sertaneja is Brazilian country music. In the same way that country music is popular in the United States, sertaneja is very popular in Brazil. It’s very folksy.
Portuguese-Language Roots Music
Latin Music Blends Many Traditions
Classical music and opera have Italian roots. Brazilian music is African and Portuguese. Caribbean music is Creole. It’s African mixed with French or Spanish.
Popular American music is Caribbean through New Orleans. So blues, jazz, gospel, country, swing, rock, salsa, hip hop, reggaeton and trap have African roots through the Caribbean. We also have French, English, and Irish traditions mixed in.
Latin music in New York City is mostly Urban and Tropical from the Caribbean, but the most popular Latin music across the United States is Regional Mexican.
We are taught to see places through the eyes of the last colonizer, but something unspoken ties the entire Caribbean together. Our common Indigenous (Taíno and Carib), then Spanish, African and French roots are still there underneath British and Dutch colonial influences. New Orleans is a Caribbean city.
The African influence on the music of the Americas is much bigger than we are led to believe. In the times of human enslavement and Jim Crow (institutional racism in the United States), promoters repackaged Black culture as White culture for marketing purposes. Even country music of the United States has African roots.
Urban: Hip-Hop, House, Reggaeton, Latin Trap
- Cuban: Rumba, Son, Salsa, Timba
- Dominican: Merengue, Bachata, Salsa
- Puerto Rican: Bomba, Plena, Salsa
- Colombian: Cumbia, Vallenato, Currulao, Salsa
- Venezuelan: Tambor, Salsa
Mexican: Regional (Banda, Norteño, Corridos, Mexican Cumbia), Ranchera/Mariachi
Brazilian: Choro, Samba, Bossa Nova, MPB, Forró, Sertaneja, Funk Carioca
USA: Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock, Alternative
European: Classical, Flamenco, Fado
Asian: Flamenco (Romani are from northern India), Soca (Calypso with East Indian influences)
The Caribbean Roots of Hip-Hop
This is a Jamaican sound system. It’s for a party in the neighborhood. Nowadays there is sound system culture in Brazilian favelas, Colombian comunas, and in cars in New York City, but it’s originally a Jamaican thing.
DJ Cool Herc (Clive Campbell) threw the first hip-hop parties. It all started at “His Back to School Jam” at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in Morris Heights, The Bronx.
Herc did several hip-hop firsts, but he is remembered for his giant speakers, his “herculords.” Campbell is a New Yorker, but he was born in Kingston, Jamaica. So these are some of the Caribbean roots of hip-hop.