From the busses of blue collar workers in Panama to the speakers of the swankiest Miami nightclubs, Latin music has come a long way. Whether students embrace it for its pulsing beats or the way it connects them to Latin culture, it’s safe to say this music has found a home as part of the fabric and soundtrack of the 305.
It’s Saturday afternoon in Miami. You and your friends have matching sunburns on a boat in Virginia Key. You’re dehydrated and bored of the same EDM anthems playing over the speakers. But suddenly, the audio seems to cut out, replaced by the sounds of seagulls and crashing waves. But it isn’t coming from the sky above or beach nearby.
If you’d never heard this intro you’d think that someone shut off the speakers. But soon, a Latin beat and smooth Spanish lyrics add layers to the soundscape. It’s Bad Bunny’s 2019 hit “Callaita.” Suddenly, the water looks a shade bluer; the sun burns a little brighter. The boat’s rocking; your body is moving. And you may feel like the lead singer of a Miami music video.
If you’ve been living here for any amount of time though, chances are you have heard it. Latin music—reggaeton, bachata, salsa and samba—is deeply engrained in Miami culture. And for good reason: According to the United States Census website, more than 69% of Miami-Dade County’s population is Hispanic or Latino.
Because of this, Miami is often a gateway city for Latin artists hoping to skyrocket their careers in North America. It’s no surprise that Bad Bunny sold out his Miami concert on his fi rst tour: La Nueva Religion Tour Part I and II.
Shakira, the Colombian singer known today for hits like “Hips Don’t Lie,” had already recorded four albums by the time she was 21. But with hopes of expanding her stardom and making a major hit record in the United States, she and her family moved to Miami in 1997. She worked with Emilio and Gloria Estefan of the band Miami Sound Machine and, a few years later, released the “Laundry Service” album, which included “Whenever, Wherever” and “Underneath Your Clothes.”
In 2004, it was Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina” that topped charts. And remember the remix of Luis Fonzi’s “Despacito” with Justin Bieber from 2017? Today, even the most gringo of frats play “Pepas” at their house parties. These songs are just some examples of huge hits by Hispanic artists that touch listeners, no matter what language they speak.
“I feel like there’s something very romantic about being able to sing along to music in a different language,” said University of Miami freshman Lydia Platt. “Especially one that you don’t understand.”
She said that Latin music’s influence in Miami was one of the reasons she decided to move here, after growing up in a small town in Alabama.
While some international Latin chart-toppers today were born in Spanish-speaking countries, most have been “Americanized,” according to Guillermo Page, assistant director of the Music Business and Entertainment Industries Program at the Frost School of Music. Their songs have been recorded at American studios, played at American venues and produced by American producers.
“They were Hispanics, Latin, by their heritage, but they grew up in a general market, and you could see how the growth of that second and third generation Hispanics have adapted into the general market but have retained their roots,” Page said, referring to more recent talent like Bad Bunny, Kali Uchis, Anuel AA and Farruko, who adopt sounds and tempos more in line with pop, trap and even country genres.
Another example is the late Tejano singer, oft en called the “Queen of Cumbia,” Selena Quintanilla. She was born and raised in Texas in a Mexican-American family with English as her first language. Though she sang and produced music almost exclusively in Spanish until just before her death, she publicly struggled to speak Spanish fluently early in her career and learned the language from her music and her father.
The language in today’s lyrics has shifted in Spanish songs as well. While in the past lyrics told stories and folklore about cane sugar, a Caribbean cash crop, or even a moment at a friend’s house, todays reggaeton lyrics, in particular, exude “the ecstasy and uncertainty of youth, sexual self-discovery and the freedom movement,” wrote Isabelia Herrera in an article for The New York Times.
“Music is a social response, but there’s also some sensitivity to the audience that they need to have and I think it’s a sign of the times,” Page said, “ I don’t think it should take away from the success that they’re having, it’s just being socially responsible with the role they now occupy.”For University of Miami senior Matthew Calle, listening to both new and old Latin music is almost therapeutic.
“My rotation of current favorite music always includes Latin music. Sometimes old classics like ‘La Nave del Olvido’ by José José hits the spot on a long day, and other times ‘A Tu Merced’ by Bad Bunny can get my blood moving a little more,” he said. Calle realized he wanted to pursue a career in music, specifically music therapy, after playing violin for his mother while she battled breast cancer nine years ago.“
Learning about the neurologic music therapy approach and planning treatment for clients using evidence-based research in my practicum sessions has been one of the most amazing and fulfilling opportunities I have had in my life,” he said.
Calle was the co-moderator of a conversation with Pitbull—known to many as Mr. 305—for What Matters To U, a campus organization that brings celebrities and influencers to campus for discussions. Tickets for the March 29 event sold out so quickly that it was moved from the Shalala Ballrooms to the Watsco Center.
Calle, who got to interview Pitbull on a stage in front of over 2,000 fellow UM students, said the experience was surreal.
“Speaking with Pitbull was empowering and inspirational, and I’m sure other members of the audience felt that his words were relatable and personable,” he said. “As a Cuban-American, meeting Pitbull was a dream come true and as a fan it was a heart pounding moment. One of the most fulfilling parts of the whole experience was having my mom in the crowd watching the talk, and knowing she would never have imagined this being something she would get to see me do.”
UM senior Jasmine Ortiz said that growing up in Pennsylvania made her feel detached from her “Latinidad” as one of the only Latin families in her neighborhood. When she came to UM, she felt that there was “a missing piece in the Frost (School) landscape, and given that we are located in Miami, it was important to ensure that the cultures of this vibrant city were being represented on campus.”
In response, Ortiz and three classmates launched “Café Con Leche”, a campus group bringing Latin music to UM with help from Dean Sanchez.“
I actually had a very transformative experience during my first trip to Colombia in 2018,” Ortiz said. “During this week-long trip to California, I worked with the producers responsible for many of J Balvin and Daddy Yankee’s early hits, and found a love for writing and singing in both English and Spanish.”
From busses to blockbuster shows, the popularity of Latin music has very far.
In her podcast, “Loud: The History of Reggaeton,” Ivy Queen, a Puerto Rican reggaeton pioneer, talks with other artists, El General and Renato, about the “dembow riddims” that immigrant workers experimented with in 80s Panama.
The first reggaeton singers “toasted,” or rapped, over sped-up Jamaican reggae in Spanish. “Reggae en Espanol,” as it came to be known, traveled through the Panama Canal Zone on wheels.
Bus drivers of “diablos rojos,” or red devils—colorfully painted American school buses—played cassettes with the grassroots reggaeton beats.
Over the years, Latin acts exploded, with singers like Daddy Yankee and Shakira reaching international superstar status in the 2000s.
Today, the songs inspired by these trailblazers can be heard through the speakers of homes, cars and dancehalls around the world.
Page, who has worked with Santos and managed talents Latin pop artist Chayanne, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Shakira and Ricky Martin, said even his children are in awe of these connections with their role models. “They said, ‘Dad, you know Romeo Santos?’ and I said, ‘Dude, I worked with Romeo Santos,” he said.
words_andrea valdes-sueiras. design_lucas rosen. photo_isaac reyes. translation_maria emilia becerra.