After Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, two established Puerto Rican artists released their huge hit, “Despacito,” in 2017, Justin Bieber created a new remix with Bieber singing in Spanish for the first time.
That gave it a whole new life and the track shot its way up to becoming the first Spanish-language No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since 1996s “La Macarena.” It reigned as the most-streamed song in Spotify history, and the music video (sans Bieber) shattered YouTube records when it reached 3 billion views.
The song’s enormous success has many asking: What does it all mean for the state of Latin music? What’s the next big hit? What’s the next big sound? Some music industry watchers see it as the beginning of a new Latin crossover era, a resurgence of its diminishing influence over the past decade. Latin crossovers have occurred throughout history, such as the mambo craze of the ’50s and the Estefans’ Miami sound fame of the late ’80s. The Latin boom of the early 2000s turned artists such as Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin into international megastars. These phases all have something in common. They were all short- lived.
Those looking for an instant profitable clone or the next craze to cash in on, are losing the true history and value of Latin music. Although there have been alternating periods of Latin music popularity and obscurity, it has been a constant underlying presence in the American musical landscape for centuries, leaving its mark, however subtle, in jazz, pop, country/folk, and even classical forms. Consider Coplands “El Salón México.” Latin music may not be at the top of the charts tomorrow, but it will never go away. It is too pluralistic, too universal, too multicultural, and too relevant to ever disappear. Just when it seems to doze off into permanent hibernation, it suddenly awakens to proclaim its artistic essence and usefulness.
Why does it endure, even as it changes and expands? Perhaps the most obvious reason is simply that it borrows from such a broad swath of our human experience and connections. Start wherever you choose. Move out of Africa to Europe and on to the Americas, collecting and combining rhythms, sounds, and voices to form a massive river of musical treasures. Follow any one ancestral line and you may discover a surprising contributor to the mix. In 1996, Irelands own, The Chieftains, released Santiago, an album dedicated to the traditional music of Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain. It shows how Galician emigrants contributed their Celtic musical folklore to Latin American music, specifically to the music of Mexico and Cuba. Surprise.
Latin music is never going to go away, and may be on the verge of unprecedented, explosive growth. For that reason, perhaps the time has come to think of it not as its own genre, but as a giant treasure chest of spices, available to singers, filmmakers, dancers, and other artists, providing endless opportunities for innovation. For example, why use Latin music in stories related only to Latinos or Spanish language? Explore its value to enhance any scene, theme, or movement, drawing from its endless diversity and appeal. Pick any one spice and add it to some unlikely work to create fresh, artistic blends. Add spice or color to any concept or design and discover new landscapes. Do away with clichés and be endlessly surprised and delighted.
Written by Hank Olguin, International Latino Book Awards-winning author of Who Let the Mexicans Play in the Rose Bowl? Navigating the Racial Landscape of America and Latin music background provided by Daniel Indart, founder and CEO of Latin Music Specialists.