An Introduction to Spanish and Latin American Music

While I can’t claim to be an authority on Spanish music, I’ve listened to a large amount of it over time and have heard enough to sort the wheat from the chaff (and there is a lot of chaff). I also won’t claim that this is in any way a definitive list (for all you purists out there!), but does provide genuinely decent music, and hopefully will act as a gateway, indeed an introduction, to Spanish and Latin American music. Here are some of my favourite bands and artists:

Starting with Spanish music:

D’callaos

Playing out of Barcelona, this band could be described as new flamenco and are a good, easy introduction to modern Spanish flamenco. There’s not a huge amount of information about them, but you can download their latest album El borde donde se termina el mar on the site free here. Surely the highlight of D’Callaos comes from the lead singer’s (“La Canija”) warm, earthly voice.

Listen to:

One of their ealier songs, Se fue la luz was recorded in a cafe somewhere in Madrid. I’d love to stumble across more of this – beautiful.

Estrella Morente

Daughter to famous flamenco singer (Cantaor) Enrique Morente, Estrella had flamenco in her blood from the day she was born. It was inevitable that as a flamenco singer Estrella was destined for big things. One of the most popular flamenco singers now, she has performed with her father since the age of seven, releasing four albums and being the voice behind Penelope Cruz in the song Volver (“Return”), from the film of the same name.

Listen to

Alcazaba, taken from the album Mi Cante y un Poema (“My Songs and a Poem”), evokes Granada’s Alhambra.

Canteca de Macao

Another Spanish flamenco band, hailing this time from Madrid. Formed of 9 members, Canteca de Macao play their own hybrid music, combining flamenco sounds with ska and reggae. They remain active and are growing in popularity, having released their latest album Nunca Es Tarde (“It’s never too late”) in 2012.

Listen to:

Their album Agua pa’la tierra (“Water for the earth”) is a well put together, thoughtful album. The final song La Lumbre (“The light”) is particuarly poignant:

Manu Chao

If you haven’t listened to music in Spanish before, Manu Chao should be one of your first stops. With roots in punk, rock, reggae and ska, Manu Chao never seems to have made it much beyond Europe and Latin America, where his messages (in Spanish, English, French, Russian, Arabic…) of love, drugs and immigrations have hit home. He’s also a fantastic, frenetic live performer.

Listen to:

La Radiolina, El Cladestino – his live album Radio Bemba Soundsystem is on Spotify.

Chambao

Chambao are the originators of a new form of flamenco known as “Flamenco Chill”, and have been around since 2002, with the release of their first album, also called “Flamenco Chill”. It’s relaxed, chilled, and also serves as a nice introduction to getting into pure flamenco – many of their songs are re-workings of classic flamenco songs.

Listen to

I’m a big fan of the album Chambao Caminando (“Chambao walking”), and the song I’ve selected is taken from that. Volando voy (roughly “I’m flying) is a song originally written by Kiko Veneno, then recorded by flamenco legend Camarón de la Isla, with this great cover by Chambao:

Nach

A Spanish rapper from Alicante, Nach raps about social issues (sound familiar?). His delivery is particularly startling for its speed and punctuation – great for learning Spanish as he packs so many words into each song! Not for the faint-hearted.

Listen to

I’m most familiar with his album Un día en suburbia (“A day in Suburbia”), which I would commend to the house. The song I’ve chosen, though, is El idioma de los dioses (“The language of the Gods”):

 

Moving on to Latin American music:

Bomba Estereo

Describing themselves as “electro tropical”, Bomba Estereo is a Colombian band started in 2001 in Bogotá. They’ve only released one album, Estalla (“Explode”), but this has gone down a storm in Colombia and much of South America. Bomba Estereo fuse traditional Colombian “Cumbia” with electro music, and combine this with a talented vocalist/MC by the name of Liliana Saumet.

Listen to:

Fuego, the best known track on the album. I’d recommend the whole album, as well!

Calle 13

Two stepbrothers, Residente and Visitante, form Calle 13 – a multiple grammy winning hip hop/reggaeton band from Puerto Rico. Calle 13’s music is well known for its eclecticism, both in the style and contents. Songs cover social issues and culture from around South America, and Calle 13 often seem to be the voice of South America – they’re certainly popular all over the continent. A personal favourite is the latest album Entren los que quieren (“Enter those that choose”), although earlier songs were more inflammatory in substance, such as Querido FBI (“Dear FBI”), an open letter to the FBI produced after the death of a leader of the Puerto Rican revolutionary group, who was killed during arrest by the FBI.

Listen to:

A song detailing life as an immigrant, P’al norte (“to the North”) won the Grammy for best urban song:

Buena Vista Social Club

Originally a members’ club in Havana, Cuba, Buena Vista Social Club rose to world prominence when American guitarist Ry Cooder stopped by to record some of the veterans who’d been playing there for years. What followed was an award winning documentary, and a world tour for these veterans who’d never set foot out of Cuba before. Buena Vista Social Club play Cuban dance music, including salsa and bolero.

Listen to:

The self titled album is what emerged from the documentary and recording process, and this is what to listen to. The best known track is Chan Chan:

Orishas

Formed in Cuba in 1999, Orishas initially appealed to a Cuban youth yearning for the sounds of African American culture. Primarily a hip hop band, Orishas are also a mixture of traditional Latin and Cuban sounds.

Listen to

A cover of a Chan Chan, which we already heard from Buena Vista Social Club. For an album, you can’t go wrong with A Lo Cubano (“The Cuban Way”), released in 1999.