It’s a bit of a misnomer to use “Latin music” to describe the cultural output of nearly one billion people across two hemispheres, numerous international and regional borders and thousands of years of shared history. At Pandora, we seek to reflect Latin American culture, both past and present, as authentically and completely as possible.
One of the defining themes of the Latin American story is migration. We are an ever-shifting diaspora that has always been on the move, both willingly and not.
Nowhere is this legacy of migration more evident than in the United States. Immigrants from Latin America having been coming to this country for centuries, and they continue to add to American society in innumerable ways. One of their most obvious contributions is also one of their most popular: music.
Data from Pandora listeners illustrates just how widely the sound of Latin America extends. From coast to coast, we can pinpoint where communities have taken root based on the artists and musical styles consumed there. Some of these regional enclaves are established and well-known. Others are surprising and unexpected. But they all offer a glimpse of the varied richness of Latin American music.
Many residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth area trace their roots to the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí, making this Lonestar city a hotbed for norteñas con sax (norteñas with saxophone). Characterized by a driving rhythm section and the soulful interplay of accordion and alto saxophone, this variant of the norteño genre is one of the most popular musical styles emanating from Texas and northern Mexico. Some of the genre’s most revered artists, like La Maquinaria Norteña, La Energia Norteña and La Reunión Norteña, are based in and around Dallas, and the city is ground zero for packed dance floors as a result.
The global popularity of reggaeton continues to grow, and its biggest artists are becoming household names. For a hint of what’s next, look no further than Orlando, Florida. The city’s Puerto Rican population has steadily grown over the past decade, so it’s no surprise that many of the most promising new talents in Latin urban music count it as a top market (after the island itself, where Pandora is also available). Young performers like Alex Rose, Rafa Pabön, Lyanno and Juhn all share “the City Beautiful” as their top-performing region on Pandora outside Puerto Rico.
New York City is synonymous with Latin music. Some of the most celebrated recordings penned, performed and cut by musicians who trace their lineage to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia and beyond emerged from the five boroughs. Perhaps less widely recognized is the impact of immigration from Mexico on the ever-shifting Latin identity of the Big Apple. One of New York’s most established Mexican enclaves is composed of immigrants from the state of Puebla. Poblanos have made Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, Crown Heights and Bushwick neighborhoods their home away from home, and this is reflected in the music that’s popular there. Puebla native sons Chucho Ponce los Daddys de Chinantla, Los Telez, Los Kiero and Grupo La Cumbia all count Brooklyn as a top market. Their flavor of cumbia, known as cumbia poblana, is one of the most requested dance styles at house parties.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that bachata is big in the Bronx. After all, Dominicans are the largest immigrant group in New York City, and the Boogie Down is an epicenter of cultura dominicana. While Bronx-born bachateros Romeo Santos and Prince Royce are some of the best-known names among Latin music listeners, their fanbases are dispersed across the U.S. For veteran, old-school balladeers of this iconic genre quisqueyano, however, the Bronx is home to their most loyal listeners. Luminaries such as Antony Santos, Luis Vargas, Raulín Rodríguez, Joe Veras and Kiko Rodríguez all earn the most Pandora streams from the Bronx. While the mainstream obsession with bachata may have waned in recent years, diehard fans are still holding it down north of town.
The list of top performing regions for Cuban artists on Pandora reads fairly predictably: cities like Miami and Tampa Bay, Florida and Newark, New Jersey appear often. Even Las Vegas can stake a claim on cubanidad. Less expected is Louisville, Kentucky. In a sea of country music fans exists a community of salsa and reggaeton enthusiasts, a beacon of ritmo y puro sabor. Louisville has a thriving Cuban community — 10,000 residents, according to a 2014 census — that has only grown in recent years. While few exports make it out of Cuba, music is an exception, and salsa cubana is perhaps the most widely celebrated, with reggaeton cubano coming in a close second. Pandora listeners in Louisville enjoy the sounds of Alexander Abreu y su Havana D’Primera, David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco and Los Van Van, among many others.
Miami’s Cuban population accounts for the majority of the city’s Latin identity, followed closely by residents from all over Spanish-speaking Latin America. Perhaps less recognized are the profound contributions of Brazilians to the culture of this seaside metropolis. Baile funk, a Brazilian-born genre, has been making inroads into mainstream Latin music by being unapologetically true to itself. Like all great urban movements, it emerged from marginalized communities — in this case, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Fast-forward almost two decades, and baile funk is among the most popular genres in Brazil. Top artists like Anitta, MC Kevinho, MC Fioti, MC Bin Laden, MC João all count Miami as their top market on Pandora.
Houston is the most diverse city in the U.S., and it would be easy to highlight any number of Latin American populations that contribute to its rich cultural diversity. One such group is the Colombian diaspora, which, at over 50,000 strong in the city, represents an integral part of the Latin identity in the region. When it comes to musical output and legacy, Colombia is second to none, and Colombian artists — Shakira, J Balvin, Juanes and Maluma, to name just a few — have never been more broadly embraced in the Latin music mainstream as they are today. However, while trends come and go, it’s roots music that endures. Such is the case with vallenato, an accordion-based genre and a close cousin of cumbia, which also originated in Colombia. Whereas cumbia’s popularity has declined in Colombia over the decades, vallenato has managed to continually reinvent itself and remain a commercial force without losing its heart and soul. Artists like Los Inquietos, Los Diablitos and Rafael Orozco count Houston as their top market.
LA is a major tastemaker for regional Mexican music, especially when it comes to the subgenre of corridos. The city is the center of the industry and an audience from which artists must gain support to achieve national recognition. Far from an overnight phenomenon, corridos have roots in the 19th century and have undergone many updates over time. In the modern, LA-centric era of corridos, numerous artists have deep ties to both sides of the border, and this biculturalism is what makes their music so relatable to LA audiences, many of whom share that same background. Classic narratives of illicit lifestyles are still central to corridos, but it’s often expressed through the lens of the West Coast urban experience as opposed to ranchos in rural Mexico. Oh, and there’s a lot more weed being smoked. Legado 7, El de la Guitarra, Aldo Trujillo, Arsenal Efectivo and Omar Ruiz all count Los Angeles as their number-one market on Pandora.