Latin music (Portuguese and Spanish: música latina) is a genre used by the music industry as a catch-all term for music that comes from Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking areas of the world, namely Ibero-America and the Iberian Peninsula, as well as music sung in either language.
Terminology and categorizations
Deborah Pacini Hernández noted that due to the majority of Latino immigrants living in New York City mostly being of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent and the area being dominant in the music industry during the 1950s, “Latin music” had been stereotyped as music simply originating from the Spanish Caribbean. She also observed that even the popularization of bossa nova and Herb Alpert’s Mexican-influenced sounds in the 1960s did little to change the perceived image of Latin music.Since then, the music industry classifies all music sung in Spanish or Portuguese as Latin music, including musics from Spain and Portugal.
Following protests from Latinos in New York, a category for Latin music was created by National Recording Academy (NARAS) for the Grammy Awards titled Best Latin Recording in 1975. Enrique Fernandez wrote on Billboard that the single category for Latin music meant that all Latin music genres had to compete with each other despite the distinct sounds of the genre. He also noted that the accolade was mostly given to performers of tropical music. Eight years later, the organization debuted three new categories for Latin music: Best Latin Pop Performance, Best Mexican/Mexican-American Performance, and Best Tropical Latin Performance. Latin pop is a catch-all for any pop music sung in Spanish, while Mexican/Mexican-American (also to referred to as Regional Mexican) is based any musical style originating from Mexico or influences by its immigrants in the United States including Tejano, and tropical music focuses any music from the Spanish Caribbean.
In 1997, NARAS established the Latin Recording Academy (LARAS) in an effort to expand its operations in both Latin America and Spain. On September 2000, LARAS launched the Latin Grammy Awards, a separate award ceremony from the Grammy Awards, which organizers stated that the Latin music universe was too large to fit on the latter awards. Michael Greene, former head of NARAS, said that the process of creating the Latin Grammy Awards was complicated due to the diverse Latin musical styles, noting that the only thing they had in common was language. As a result, the Latin Grammy Awards are presented to records performed in Spanish or Portuguese, while the organization focuses on music from Latin America, Spain, and Portugal.
Since the late 1990s, the United States has had a substantially rising population of “Latinos”, a term popularized since the 1960s due to the wrong and confusing use of the term “Spanish” and the more proper but less popular term “Hispanic”. The music industry in the United States started to refer to any kind of music featuring Spanish vocals as “Latin music”. Under this definition, Spanish sung in any genre is categorized as “Latin”. In turn, this has also led to artists from Spain being labelled as “Latin” as they sing in the same language.
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Billboard magazine use this definition of Latin music to track sales of Spanish-language records in the United States. The RIAA initiated the “Los Premios de Oro y Platino” (“The Gold and Platinum Awards” in Spanish) in 2000 to certify sales of Latin music albums and singles under a different threshold than its standard certifications. Billboard divides its Latin music charts into three subcategories: Latin pop, Regional Mexican, and tropical. A fourth subcategory was eventually added in the mid 2000s to address the rise of Latin urban music genres such as Latin hip hop and reggaeton.
The term “Latin music” originated from the US due to the growing influence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the American music market, with notable pioneers including Xavier Cugat (1940s) and Tito Puente (1950s) and then accelerating in later decades. As one author explained the rising popularity from the 1940s: “Latin America, the one part of the world not engulfed in World War II, became a favorite topic for songs and films for Americans who wanted momentarily to forget about the conflagration.” Wartime propaganda for America’s “Good Neighbor Policy” further enhanced the cultural impact. Pérez Prado is the composer of such famous pieces as “Mambo No. 5” and “Mambo No. 8”. At the height of the mambo movement in 1955, Pérez hit the American charts at number one with a cha-cha-chá version of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”. El manisero, known in English as The Peanut Vendor, is a Cuban son-pregón composed by Moisés Simons. Together with “Guantanamera”, it is arguably the most famous piece of music created by a Cuban musician. “The Peanut Vendor” has been recorded more than 160 times, sold over a million copies of the sheet music, and was the first million-selling 78 rpm single of Cuban music.
The Brazilian bossa nova became widespread in Latin America and later became an international trend, led especially by Antônio Carlos Jobim. Rock en español became popular with the younger generation of Latinos in Latin America, notably including Argentine bands such as Almendra. Mexican-American Latin rock guitarist Carlos Santana began his decades of popularity. See for more.