One of my favorite things about learning the Spanish language is to learn about the culture as well. Whether it is trying the food, listening to the music, or learning about certain customs, knowing about the culture is essential for truly understanding the language.
A great first step to learning about the culture is to have an understanding about the music. Nothing is better than putting your language skills to the test by trying to figure out the lyrics to a song in Spanish. You feel like all of your hard work is finally paying off, and it feels good!
Music is a large area to cover so, where do you start? Lucky for you, I broke down the 5 major musical styles of the Spanish speaking world in a comprehensible list. Ready to go? Then, let’s get started!
Many people are familiar with salsa dancing but may not be aware that salsa is in a music genre of it’s own. With a different variations around the world, salsa is probably the most popular style known around the world.
What is Salsa and Where did it Come From?
Originally, salsa music came from Cuba during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Once Fidel Castro took power, and relations with Cuba diminished, the Puerto Rican’s and NuYorican’s (New Yorkers with Puerto Rican descent) lept to the stage. They added their own flair to salsa and turned it into what we hear today in the United States.
Puerto Rican Style Salsa
The Puerto Rican style has a smooth, polished jazz structure to it that makes you want to get up out of your seat. Dancing the salsa requires fast footwork, hip rolling, and, if you are really good, a lift from your partner (think Dancing With the Stars). It’s flashy, sexy and in a class of it’s own.
Where Can I Hear Salsa?
Salsa is now popular all over the world and you will not be hard pressed to find a salsa club in the United States. Many of these venues offer free salsa classes before the night “officially” starts. I have been to a few free lessons and thus my love of salsa began. There is just something about the beat that gives you the courage to dance the night away.
Hear it for Yourself...
Celia Cruz - "La Vida Es Un Carnaval”
Marc Anthony "Vivir Mi Vida"
This type of music was hard for me to embrace at first. I wasn’t a fan of the “folk” aspect of the music but it grew on me. I had a student from Mexico that would always want to listen to Tejano in class. After a few weeks the music grew on me and I find myself listening to it from time to time.
What is Tejano and Where did it Come From?
Tejano music is also know as Texan-Mexican music that blends together different types of folk music (polka and mariachi) with other forms of popular Texan music (country and rock). Tejano is unique because it uses various instruments like the flute, guitar, accordion, and drums to achieve this type of sound. As the music genre gained popularity, the lyrics were changed from Spanish to English to gain a wider audience, especially here in the United States.
Wait….Polka Music in a Latin Music Genre?!?
You may be thinking, “How did polka music get in there?” Interesting enough, the polka music came from the Germans and the Polish that moved to Texas and Mexico in the 1830’s. Over time, the music of the different people living in the area came together to create a sound that blended the cultures. As a result, Tejano was born.
Where Can I Hear Tejano?
Back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, you could hear Tejano music on popular music stations all across the U.S. The rise of Tejano was mainly due to one young woman: Selena (aka The Queen of Tejano). If you haven’t watched the famous movie Selena you need to immediately! This young lady paved the way for singers like Jennifer Lopez and Shakira, artists that we know and love today.
Although Tejano is still played on certain radio stations across the country, it seems like it’s mainstream popularity fizzled with the death of Selena. It’s undertones can still be heard in popular music today, especially from Mexican and Texan artists.
Hear it for Yourself...
Selena - “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom"
Grupo Estrella "La Unica Estrella"
Intocable "Y Todo Para Que"
This music genre is my least favorite out of the five. Still, a lot of the artists are cross overs and have played on various rap and hip hop stations in the U.S. Many love the repetitive beats and lyrics of this music, mainly because it makes it easier to sing along.
What is Reggeaton and Where did it Come From?
Reggeaton is a combination of reggae, rap and hip hop. It started off as underground music in Puerto Rico in the late 1990’s. Through word of mouth and bootleg records, this genre finally became popular in the 2000’s and it spread like wildfire.
2004-2010: The Reign of Reggaeton
Finally, in 2004, Reggaeton artist were crossing over into mainstream music. In 2006-2010 they were topping the Billboard Charts. People were taking notice of these artists and the messages they portrayed in their music. The best part is that the majority of reggeaton artists don’t forget their roots, and stick to their native Spanish language. Although many will do a song or two in English, you will always find the majority of the album in Spanish.
Where Can I Hear Reggaeton?
You can hear reggaeton everywhere! From North America, to Europe, Asia and Africa. It is extremely popular and is only gaining momentum.
Hear it for Yourself…
Daddy Yankee - “Gasolina”
Don Omar - “Taboo”
Pitbull - “Bon Bon"
I will admit, bachata is new to me. I heard it for the first time just a couple of months ago and couldn’t decided at first if I liked it. However, after learning a few bachata dance moves, I embraced this genre with open arms as I moved along to the beat.
What is Bachata and Where did it Come From?
Bachata had a later start in the music industry that began in the first part of the 20th century. A mixture of bolero (a slow tempo Latin music) and African elements that originated in the Dominican Republic. This style of music would be on the play list for ‘slow dances’ at a high school prom due to its slower tempo and smooth sound.
There are How Many Instruments in a Bachata Band?
Believe it or not, there are seven instruments that make up a bachata group, four of them being guitars! As you listen to bachata you will hear a lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, bongos and güira (a metal sheet played with a stiff brush). When I first learned of this I was shocked, but the more I listened, the easier it was for me to understand the importance of each instrument. The next time you listen, see how many instruments you can pick out.
Where Can I Hear Bachata?
Obviously very popular in the Dominican Republic, this music can be heard around the world as well. I was shocked to realize that it is played on popular pop stations in the U.S. I had no idea I was bopping and singing along to bachata while I listed to famous artists on the radio.
Hear it for Yourself…
Prince Royce - “Darte un Beso”
Aventura - “Obsesion”
Romeo Santos - “Propuesta Indecente"
The oldest of all five music styles, flamenco has been shown in everything from movies, music videos, and dance shows. I have never learned to flamenco dance, but it is on my bucket list. I plan on someday going to Spain and leaning from the best in the world, or at least someone in my budget.
What is Flamenco and Where did it Come From?
Both the music and dance styles of flamenco can be dated back in literature to 1774! Originally from Spain, flamenco combines the guitar, singing, dancing, hand clapping, and finger snapping. Obviously for the very coordinated, this dance is done to flamenco music that enhances the dancer’s beat from his/her feet, hands, and fingers.
Practice Makes Perfect
Perfecting the art of flamenco is hard work. No different than training for the ballet, flamenco dancers have a rigorous schedule. Dancers need to be trained in technique, singing, history of the art, props, theory, terminology, choreography, and composition. Interested in becoming a flamenco dancer? There are a lot of programs around the world that offer classes to learn the art of flamenco. There just might be a class in your area!
Where Can I Hear Flamenco?
Not widely popular on radio stations in the United States, flamenco can be heard on internet sites like YouTube and Pandora. If you are really adventurous, you can also you the internet to teach yourself to dance the Flamenco. I personally would opt for taking a (live and in person) class, but my dancing skills are not what you would call advanced.
Hear (and See) it for Yourself…
Tomatito - “Alegria”
Gipsy Kings - “”Bamboleo”
Music, in general, can take you to another place. When I studied Spanish for all of those years, I loved to listen to the different styles of the music so I could feel like I was swept away to another country. Through music, I was transported to Cuba, the Dominican, Spain, and Mexico. I used music as a jumping off point to learn more about each culture and in turn, became for excited to learn the language.