Latin Music: The Rhythm

Catie Wilber

June 3, 2020

Chandler Bing was there to remind us that, thankfully, in the words of Gloria Estefan, “Eventually, the rhythm IS going to get you.”  That particular Friends episode (The One with the Tiny T-Shirt) aired some 23 years ago, and a decade after Cuban-born Gloria Estefan burned up the charts with “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” 

Much has changed in the decades since, and just as pop culture has been deemed to drive politics, so too is it a reflection of the natural and in some cases exponential evolution of demographics.  Augmenting the demonstrated growth of the Latin recording industry across all genres is the accessibility and usability of DIY digital platforms and tools. (Play MPE, at your service!)  It’s a formidable market now reachable by artists and creators not necessarily backed by a robust team of financiers and seasoned marketers. 

The numbers bear out that the fastest-growing music market belongs to a steady stream of Latin American artists from Brazil, Peru, Mexico and their neighboring countries.  While recent years have shown double-digit gains for hip-hop album and single sales/streams, Latin Music has in the past two years eclipsed Country with an 8.7% share of the market, according to the data gurus at BuzzAngle.   

Stateside, The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) shared numbers reflecting a notable 18% growth rate, for a total of $423 million in revenue. Streaming formats made up a remarkable 93% of total Latin music revenues, compared with 75% for the overall U.S. music market. Latin music accounted for 4.2% of the total $9.8 billion U.S. music business, a slight increase versus 4.0% in 2017.  “Any conversation about the Latin music market starts with one word: streaming,” RIAA COO Michele Ballantyne noted.  By the numbers, streaming formats encompassed 93% of total Latin Music revenue, compared with 75% for the States overall. Billboard charts, too, continue to reflect the throngs’ desires for the rhythm of which Chandler Bing spoke.  Snapshots showcase Spanish-language chart entries quadrupling in the last five years.  

Recognizing the surge, Symphonic has formally rebranded its heritage Latin label Mambo Music. Recordings across a myriad of genres including mambo, jazz, soul, boogaloo, and salsa are now ready for their close-up via broad distribution through the Mambo Music label.   

Equally reflective of Latin Music’s resonant appeal is the bevy of conferences scheduled in celebration.  Revellers and professionals (and perhaps even professional revellers) converge annually for Primavera Pro and Bime in Spain (Barcelona and Bilbao, respectively) as well as the Billboard Latin Music Conference in Vegas and the Latin Alternative Music Conference, now scheduled to be a virtual gathering June 9-13.  Presented by Telemundo and Billboard, LatinFest had been scheduled as a celebration of “30 Years of Latin Beats,” but has been cancelled.  The International Music Fair for Professionals (FIMPRO), one of the genre’s largest conventions, has also been tabled for this year, in the wake of COVID-19. 

To stay informed there are a number of blogs and traditional publications focused on Latin Music (which include Latin Beat, Remezcla, Latin American Rhythm Magazine, Huizache). Alongside countless tweets and Tik Toks rejoicing in Latin music, they make up a social media town square celebrating a breadth of artists spanning decades: Richie Valens, Carlos Santana, Selena, Tito Puente, Julio Iglesias, and Celia Cruz barely scratch the surface.  Well before Ritchie Valens gave us “La Bamba,” Latin Music’s popular imprint on the States began in the 1930s with the rhumba and gifted us in the 60s with salsa.  And let’s not forget Bachata, Reggaeton, Merengue, Bomba, Tango, and so on…and so on.  

Admittedly, the two words “Latin Music” make for a broad catch-all. With misleading brevity, it’s a modern phrase encompassing not just cross-format radio hits, but also a profound history within Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.  Latin Music remains rooted in cultures both pre-Columbus (The Aztecs, Mayans, Incas) and post-New World, including Spanish genres steeped in Far East and European influences. 

The way has long since been paved for a now burgeoning alternative market.  KROQ, as one barometer, boasts Alternalido, a weekly Latin Alternative English language specialty show from host Anthony Valadez. Listeners can expect to hear Inner Wave, Omar Apollo, Devandra Banhart, Brainstory, Ambar Lucid, and many more on the weekly “mixtape.”

Scheduled for June 9-13, The Latin American Music Conference (LAMC) celebrates the fast-growing genre with showcases, workshops, panels, and Q&A sessions.  

For a modern primer of Latin’s latest gems, just head on over to your Play MPE Player, and stream away… you’ll likely find yourself fully gotten by the rhythm. 

Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels




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