Despite generational differences, the 'corazon' of Latin music beats strong for all Latinos
Not only is Latin American music becoming mainstream, but it’s also changing between generations. And while trending artists have millions of fans, some older generations don’t approve of rising stars.
While wearing white Crocs with Bad Bunny accessories, I plopped down on the couch of my college apartment a few Sundays ago to watch the Grammys. As performances and nominations went by, I stared at the television not wanting to miss a chance to see Bad Bunny.
I’ve always liked watching the Grammys, but I was a bit more excited to see it this year.
Bad Bunny’s album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” or “A Summer Without You,” was the first-ever Spanish-language album to be nominated for album of the year. It was a big deal for Latin music, or at least it was big deal to me.
So, I made myself comfortable, forced my eyes to stay open and waited for the album of the year category to come around. When it came, I sat in silence next to the tapestry in my living room that displayed the cover of his hit summer album.
I covered my mouth with my hands and waited to hear Bad Bunny’s name being announced.
I didn’t hear it.
The Puerto Rican reggaeton singer didn’t win album of the year, but it was a win for Latin music. And it’s not the only stride he’s making for the genre.
This April, Bad Bunny will be the first Spanish-language musician to headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Not only is Latin music becoming mainstream, but it’s also actually changing between generations. And while trending artists like Bad Bunny have millions of fans, some older generations of Latinos don’t approve of Latin music’s rising stars, including my family.
During family gatherings, my cousins and I tend to always bring up trending Latin artists. If we’re really feeling passionate about a certain artist, we’ll play their music. This is usually met with disappointed sighs or loud shouts of “apaga eso,” or “turn that off.”
And some of my older family members will argue that Latin artists from their generation are better than those today. They’ll say music nowadays is louder, more vulgar and not as lyrical as their favorite music is. Naturally, my cousins and I push back — our generation is creating “fire” music. The debates have become very popular at our family dinners.
Older generations of Latinos may think the music of their time is better because it holds certain values for them. And younger generations, like me, may think music being released now is better simply because it appeals to us.
But even though generations don’t see eye to eye on Latin music, it means something different to each listener and to the artists who make it.
Welson Tremura, an ethnomusicologist and professor at the University of Florida’s School of Music and the Center for Latin American Studies, said he views Latin music as the voice of Latinos.
“So, when you ask someone ‘what’s Latin American music’ is like asking ‘what is water,’ you know, ‘what is wine?’ There is so many types of water, so many types of wine, and so many types, you know, you have to look at the music as shots or pictures of historical moments in people’s lives,” Tremura said. “Latin music, to me, it’s part of a complex network of many musics. When I think of Latin music, I think of music that represents the voice of many different peoples in different moments of their life and their history,” he said.
And it’s true. Latin artists, both past and present, have created music that revolves around events important to them.
Alí Primera, a Venezuelan artist and political activist, was a singer who wrote music that protested events happening in his home country. He was known for the work he did in the musical genre of Nueva Cancion (new song), a style that swept Latin America in the 1960s and '70s. Songs of Nueva Cancion contained lyrics with social and political messages. His song “Techos de Carton,” or “Cardboard Roofs,” tells a story about the economic hardships the Venezuelan working class faced during the '70s.
A more current music duo who also sing about injustices is Calle 13. The Puerto Rican rap pair has dropped opinionated songs throughout their career. Some songs criticize the actions of the Puerto Rican government and others contain lyrics that protest things happening in other countries.
Although some fans may not recognize it, current Latin artists have used their work to highlight social and cultural events. But some Latin music listeners like LaQianya Huynh, 44, argue older music is more meaningful than new music.
“You know, the old music is about culture,” Huynh said. As a writer and dance instructor, she prefers the classical side of Latin music for a certain reason. “It’s about the way of life and what people went through, to find peace and to not be oppressed. So, that music takes you on a journey. These young people; they didn’t have the same issues they did back in the '70s. And the '60s, you know, or even in the 1800s or early 1900s,” she said.
It’s not uncommon to know someone who believes that music from the past is superior. People will always have their opinions about music. Tremura shared that each generation listens to Latin music with their own experiences and upbringing in mind.
“We have to understand the generations listen and look at music, from their own perspective, because that reflects their, their historic, historic moment in their times. So, it’s really hard to make a comparison or say, mine is better, yours better. It’s just a different historical moment,” he said.
Latinos born before the 1970s tend to prefer more poetic songs or songs you could use to serenade your significant other. Others from that era may also prefer songs that include social meanings, according to Tremura.
Tremura also said younger generations are attracted to driving beats and strong rhythms, which make people want to dance. He said older generations born before the late '70s and early '80s didn’t have many songs that were influenced by beats.
And these older Latinos will claim that music from their time is more meaningful and less explicit.
Felix Contreras is the co-creator and co-host of NPR’s "Alt. Latino," a podcast that celebrates Latin artists, music and culture. He said he’s encountered older Latinos who believe their generation’s music is superior, but Contreras tries to get the podcast’s listeners to appreciate new music as best as he can.
“I think that’s one of the things I’ve tried to do over the years of doing this show is to allow people who think that to try and hear themselves in the new music whether they’re singing or writing about themes that were important to the older folks who are listening,” said Contreras. “Whether there’s some element of music, cumbia, funk, bolero, whatever that’s in the new music that they can relate to. You know, that’s one of the joys of doing this show is the discovery on my part.”
Different generations of Latinos are attracted to certain music because it’s what they’re used to.
People like music they are familiar with, he said.
Although current music on the radio doesn’t exactly sound like the music from 20 or 30 years ago, the intention of the work remains the same, according to Anamaria Sayre, co-host of "Alt Latino."
“And you know I do truly believe that the corazon, the heart, of the music really does stay the same across generations,” said Sayre. “ I think that it’s more the expression of that and the ways we get to hear it and how we evolve, as musicians evolve, as we evolve as a people, as a community. I think that expression can change and sound different.”
Younger Latinas like Vanessa Obando, 19, agree with Sayre saying the heart of the music remains the same throughout generations. Obando, originally from Managua, Nicaragua, moved to Homestead when she was 4 years old. In Homestead, the Spanish radio was always on, playing traditional Mexican music like rancheros and corridos.
Obando finds herself listening to all kinds of Latin music. The UF political science major said she enjoys traditional music, but she also finds herself jamming to trap Latin music. Although she listens to music from different periods, she said artists share the same meaning in their songs.
“But when you think about it, the music today still has the same message. You know, it’s still similar to the things that used to be talked about then it’s just in a different approach,” said Obando. “The older generations listen to today’s music, and they hear that all they hear is profanity. all they hear is vulgar language. But if you sit back and you, like, put the profanity aside, it’s pretty much the same thing,” she said.
Krystin Anderson, 22, a UF anthropology major and an ethnomusicology/music history minor, said there’s always new music that receives pushback. Echoing Tremura’s words, Anderson shared her take on music and how people perceive new sounds.
“I think that you’re always gonna think that music at the peak when you were young is better, as it happens every generation,” said Anderson. “ I mean, we even saw in like the '20s and '30s that jazz was marginalized and people thought it was like marginalized and people thought it was dirty music that was making people go crazy and do wild things,” she said.
But whether people approve of it or not, music will continue to evolve.
“And then in the '70s, rock music was making people go crazy and do wild things. But it’s just always, there’s gonna be every generation, there’s gonna be some to tie to somebody thinking that ‘Oh this new music is bad, this new music is bad.’” Anderson continued. “We’re just stuck in our ways as human beings and as a culture. But I really do think that all generations have had some awesome music. So, I love listening to music from multiple different eras,” she said.
Strong beats and rhythms are more apparent in music today, which builds new sounds of Latin music. While there will always be new music transforming the sound of Latin music, Tremura said artists will continue to make work that expresses their feelings.
“When we look at the future of Latin music, I see it as a continuous evolvement. And of course, I think the rhythm is going to continue to push that driving rhythmic structure, but I think it’s always going to have a space for more poetic forms as well because Latin American is and Latin American people, when they come to look at themselves from inside out, not from outside in,” he said. “ I think they seek also not only to dance and to enjoy life but what’s the true meaning of life within their hearts,” he said.
For most people, listening to music is a part of their daily routine. This could not be more true for the Latino community. If you have ever attended a quinceañera or experienced the cleaning of a Hispanic household on the weekend, you have probably heard the sounds of Latin music. It is always with us, no matter what we do.
Obando said Latin music brings a community together. As the treasurer of UF’s Central American Latin Organization (CALOR), Obando said her organization plays a variety of music at their meetings from old-school reggaeton to salsa. She said the music gets people excited and allows them to connect with each other.
“Within the Latin community, there are so many different genres of music and dance,” Obando said. “Dance as well. Like, if it’s not just the artist singing if it’s, like, like, a dance class thing or, or something like that. That’s how music not only brings people through like singing or lyrics but also through dancing,” she said.
And dancing was very present during the World Music Festival this past November. various world music ensembles from UF’s School of Music took the stage at Bo Diddley Plaza in downtown Gainesville. Directed by Tremura, the festival included performances by groups like the mUndo Flamenco Ensemble and the African Pop Ensemble. Jacaré Brazil, an ensemble led by Tremura, featured a mix of instrumentalists, vocalists and percussionists that gathered on stage to perform Brazilian music.
Attendees sat down on the artificial grass with drinks and snacks surrounding them. Listeners slowly rocked side to side to the melody of a Brazilian waltz and tapped their feet to the floor when Tremura’s ensemble played the sounds of a Brazilian tango. Some were bold enough to dance in the middle of the plaza to the strong beats of drummers.
Families and friends had secured spots on the grass or upon the plaza’s brick steps to enjoy the music. Others like Gainesville resident Carlos Gomez, 40, didn’t know the festival was taking place that day. But as he saw the musicians rehearsing, he grabbed a beer and a burrito and sat down to watch them perform.
As a UPS truck driver, he said he listens to music all the time. Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Gomez said music, especially Latin music, is one of the few things that make sense to him.
“Being Latino or from anywhere, music is just part of us. Latin music is just where I’m from, so it’s the main one [he listens to],” said Gomez.
Like Gomez, Kevin Ventsias, 41 stumbled upon the festival while he was visiting Gainesville for the first time. Currently living in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Ventsias shared his passion for music.
“I definitely think that music being a universal language, is you know, it’s something that people can default to,” said Ventsias. “Any person of any race or place, experience in their life can use music to connect with one another. So I think that it’s definitely there as a tool to communicate as we evolve,” he said.
In addition to working in the roofing industry, Ventsias is a drummer. He admitted he didn’t have much experience with Latin music, but said he’d like to learn more about it and is doing so by taking a percussion class in Afro-Cuban music.
Although he’s had little exposure to Latin music, he said there’s something so captivating and bright about it.
“I still have so much to learn about the classics and the music,” said Ventasias. “My introduction to you know, drumming, just the parts and the pieces and how they put together something so joyous. It’s like, how come this isn’t mandated?” he said.
Unlike Ventasias, Huynh said she’s been surrounded by Latin music all her life. The Gainesville resident smiled as she said it symbolizes love and passion for her.
“I discovered Latin music as a baby,” said Huynh. “Because all types of music were played to me when I was a child. My father loved Latin music. I have a lot of friends from all around the world that, you know, they are musicians or they’re dancers. You know, it’s just a part of my makeup,” she said.
Although she appreciates all Latin music, Huynh said current artists make racier music, which is something my family claims as well.
My family worships singers like Ricardo Arjona, 58, who creates songs with beautiful lyrics that don’t include raunchy and explicit language. According to my family, the Guatemalan singer writes songs with different meanings. Some are about love and breakups like “Fuiste Tu,” or “It Was You.” Other songs like “Si El Norte Fuera El Sur,” or “If The North Were The South,” tell stories about the social-economic issues of Latin America.
Although it may not be as noticeable, well-known Latin artists on today’s music charts are also incorporating specific messages within their music. Bad Bunny, 28, has spread awareness about the troubles taking over Puerto Rico, his native territory. His song “El Apagon,” or “The Blackout,” sheds light on the island’s power outages and calls out the foreigners moving there.
Bad Bunny and Ricardo Arjona produce different sounds of Latin music, but both artists have used music to draw attention to problems faced within the Latin community and to express themselves.
It doesn’t matter if someone prefers Bad Bunny’s music over Arjona’s, or vice versa. Latinos will always have their favorite artists and music styles.
And a person’s attitude towards a certain sound can also change as time evolves. Gomez said his perspective of older music has changed as he’s aged.
“You know, now I’m 40 and I listen to '70s music now and I love it,” said Gomez. “Back in the day, when I was 20 years old and I would be like ‘Woah, no. That’s terrible, let’s play some new music.’ Now, new music sounds like ooo [weird] because it’s new. But I believe music in general, any artist, any type, is there for a reason,” he said.
Latinos like Gomez appreciate the music of the past. And so do current Latin music artists. Musicians and singers have drawn inspiration from those that came before them, according to Tremura. It may seem that new songs are coming up with new beats and lyrics, but they’ve actually been influenced by older generations of artists.
“The past in Latin America is something is something very present. Sometimes you look back to look forward, and I think the sounds are just the way people are bringing the sounds, to innovate, to reinvent themselves. And to actually, to cross boundaries,” Tremura said.
Sometimes, Latin artists will build songs from artists they feel connected to. Many Latinos like Mora, a Puerto Rican singer and producer, have used music from other artists to create new songs. Mora’s “Escalofrios,” or “Chills,” instantly reminds listeners of one of Mana’s biggest hits, “Labios Compartidos,” or “Shared Lips.”
In fact, the end of Mora’s 2022 song includes the exact lyrics and singing from the Mexican pop-rock band’s 2006 hit. Mora includes modern-sounding beats and fast-paced raps, while Mana’s song utilizes impressive guitar work and lyrics that make you want to belt out the lyrics.
There’s no denying that the songs are distinct, but Mora has indeed used Mana’s work to innovate and reinvent music. Many Latin American artists let the past guide their music.
In countries like Jamaica, where Anderson’s family is from, artists are using old music to create new songs.
“Right now, sampling is really popular,” Anderson said. “So, there’s a lot of songs that I’ll hear like reggaeton songs where it’s just directly things from old reggae music or traditional Brazilian music or things like that,” she said.
Anderson said current Jamaican artists are using sampling to generate new music styles.
“I think that our generation is paying a lot of homage to the generations before us and we’re gonna make new styles of music like there’s always has been. So, I’m excited to see what those new ones are,” she said.
Although younger artists use the work of past Latinos to create new stuff, music will change with each new generation that comes into the Latin American music scene. Tremura shared Latin American music will keep on evolving as years go by.
“I think it’s gonna it’s going to continue to expand I think,” said Tremura. “Because I think there is a need in Latin America by all Latinos, of this need to, to change, to transform,” he said.
So what does the future of Latin American music look like? And what will people of my generation think of the Latin music being made in years to come?
That’s an answer only time can solve.
As said by Tremura, today’s music may mean something totally different to people being born right now.
“What people will be listening in 2060? You know, what happened to the music in 2022? Is this music still existed?” asked Tremura. “But one thing we have to remember, are the foundations of the Latin music construct to history. So the answer is yes, the music today is going to be there somehow, in some kind of function or some kind of aspect. But it’s going to mean something completely different for the people that have not been born yet,” he said.
The debate of which generation has better music will always be discussed between old and young Latinos.
Latin music, whether old or new, is something that resonates with all Latinos. The sound of Latin music can’t be classified as one thing or categorized into one genre. As Tremura said, Latin music is complicated. It means something different to everyone who listens to it.
And although people may argue that music from one generation is better than the other, Latin music will forever play a significant role in the lives of all Latinos, as said by Sayre.
“I think that the importance and the truth that it speaks for all of us as a community of Latinos, I think that really does remain the same,” said Sayre.
Latinos will have opinions as to what is the best type of Latin music. People will have their favorite songs and artists lined up. But it doesn’t matter what kind of Latin music you listen to. Whether it be bachata, salsa or anything else, Latin music will always be at the corazon of every Latino. It will always carry the voices of our people.