What Is 'Latin Music' Anyway? : Code Switch The term 'Latin Music' can encompass everything from Celia Cruz to Bad Bunny to Selena Gomez to Los Tigres del Norte. It's rock, pop, hip hop, salsa, bachata, reggaeton, and so much more. So...what exactly is the connective tissue? Language? The ethnicity of the artist? Pure vibes? Or is it something else entirely?

What Is 'Latin Music' Anyway?

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SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. And this is CODE SWITCH from NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Hi, CODE SWITCH familia. It's great to be back on the show that I love. And for those of you who have forgotten me already or are new here, I've co-hosted the CODE SWITCH podcast for the past five years. And I left to try some other things, and we'll see how that goes.

But I'm sliding into your DMs this week because when the CODE SWITCH producers pitched me the topic, I could not say no. It's two things I am obsessed with, one being language - more specifically, the language we use to identify ourselves and the world around us, why we use certain terms and, you know, what that means - and music - in this case, a genre many refer to as Latin music, a genre in heavy rotation on my playlists, which go from Celia Cruz...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIMBARA")

CELIA CRUZ: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: ...To Natanael Cano...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUENOS RATOS")

NATANAEL CANO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: ...To Manu Chao.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUMBA DE BARCELONA")

MANU CHAO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: So why are a Cuban (non-English language spoken), Mexican trap corrido musician and a French Spanish rocker who sings in a bunch of different languages - why are they all considered Latin music? It's a question our play cousins over at NPR's Alt.Latino, Felix Contreras and producer Anamaria Sayre, have been arguing over for a minute. So we invited them on the show to hash it out in front of all of you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALEXANDER ACE BAKER AND CLAIR MARLO'S "BLACK MAGIC")

MERAJI: Felix, Ana, thank you so much for joining me.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Thank you. Thanks for having us. This is going to be fun.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, BYLINE: We're excited.

MERAJI: I've been looking forward to this for a long time, but not as long as Alt.Latino's been around, Felix. I believe you're on double digits now. And, yeah, you've been producing and hosting the entire time. And for those of you out there who have not listened to Alt.Latino, I'm judging you just tiny, tiny - just a little bit. (Non-English language spoken).

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MERAJI: But really, for folks who haven't listened to Alt.Latino yet, Felix, how would you describe it?

CONTRERAS: You know, the show started - we're going into our 12th year in June.

This is Alt.Latino, NPR's new show about Latin alternative music.

So the show started as a show dedicated to Latin alternative music - very, very specific sliver of the Latin music market, right?

MERAJI: Hence, Alt.Latino.

CONTRERAS: Exactly. Along the way, it evolved into a look at Latino arts and culture writ large through conversations, interviews and music.

I guess the first thing we need to do is, how would you define AfroLatinidad? Let's start with you, Omar (ph).

MERAJI: And after a pretty long stretch of holding the show down all by yourself, you got another full-time member of the Alt.Latino crew. Her name is Anamaria Sayre. And Ana, not that long after joining the show, you asked Felix a very astute question, which was, how do we define Latin music anyway?

SAYRE: So I don't know if I would say I directly asked the question because...

MERAJI: You're passive aggressive?

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: Let the record reflect - no, I'm not. I swear.

MERAJI: I'm just playing.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: So you come on as an intern for a Latin music show, it's a little embarrassing if you have to ask what Latin music is.

MERAJI: That's a good point, actually.

SAYRE: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I was like, I'm not going to ask what it is. I'm just going to kind of try to suss out the situation and figure out how these people, being Felix, define it.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: So I think it started - maybe my first clue was when we - when, Felix, you brought up the ROSALIA controversy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MALAMENTE (CAP.1: AUGURIO)")

ROSALIA: (Singing in Spanish).

SAYRE: I heard about how, you know, they had picked ROSALIA as the artist with the best album of the year from the year before. And I was like, oh, OK.

MERAJI: So Spaniards.

SAYRE: So now I know.

MERAJI: Yeah.

SAYRE: I'm like, OK, Spaniards are included. That's a clue. But I don't know, Felix. I mean, what did you tell me about that? What do you remember?

CONTRERAS: I have avoided this question for such a long time. I've avoided trying to define the term Latin music, I guess, for a long time because it's so amorphous. There's so many different ways to look at it. And trying to define it with one single definition, it's going to fall short. It's just not even going to come close. So what I'd like to try to do during this show is define it through - you know, don't tell us what you feel, show us how you feel.

MERAJI: So show, don't tell. And you're letting your listeners decide what it is based on what they're listening to?

CONTRERAS: Correct.

MERAJI: And Ana, were you satisfied with that as an answer?

SAYRE: Oh, absolutely not. No.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: I mean, it helps for, like, the pie in the sky, like, oh, like, theoretical lens. But if I'm trying to, like, pick who gets to go on the playlist, I need some parameters.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Got it. Got it. Well, you know, both of you came to me a few months ago and talked to me about this discussion. And I was really interested in it because, as you know, I've been exploring these questions in our series with the working title "What Does It Mean To Be Latino?" We can add Latinx, Latine, Hispanic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I identify as a Latina.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes, I'm Latinx.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: I self-identify as Latino and of the Black race.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: I'm indigenous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Mexican American Indian - Indigenous.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Sorry. That's always really a hard question for me (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: I look white. That's how I came out. However, I was raised in a Dominican household.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: It just doesn't make sense.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: That question is an incredibly fraught and tricky question, you know? Are we an ethnicity? Are we a race? Are we a cohort of people who trace our heritage to Spanish-speaking countries and only Spanish-speaking countries? Do we have to speak Spanish in order to be Latino? You know, there's a lot there. Ana, what questions were running through your mind when you were trying to figure out for yourself how to define Latin music so you could do your job?

SAYRE: Yeah. Being a Latino, you don't think about it. Like, I guess anything in Spanish qualifies, maybe. And I was like, OK, so that - I feel comfortable with that. That works. But then I was like, OK, but, like, we're talking about, you know, Latin America. So then we're talking Brazil. So then we're talking Portuguese. So it's not just Spanish, but then...

MERAJI: Right.

SAYRE: ...Wait, now I'm going back to my original, like, I felt comfortable saying anything in Spanish counts, because does someone who's from Spain singing in Spanish or someone who's not Latino or Hispanic and they're singing in Spanish, is it not Latin music? Because that feels kind of weird to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAYRE: So I had no answers.

MERAJI: Felix, what were you trying to avoid by not going there, by not, like, jumping into this ocean...

CONTRERAS: I think...

MERAJI: ...These very deep waters?

CONTRERAS: I think, first of all, you need to consider that in Latin America, they don't call it Latin music, right? They go genre by genre.

MERAJI: Right.

CONTRERAS: It's - you're either playing tango, merengue, norteno. But a part of it has to do with history, too, 'cause, like, when you think about how it interfaces with mainstream - in other words, white - culture here in the United States.

MERAJI: Yeah. So you're thinking about this in a very U.S. lens. Sorry.

CONTRERAS: Right.

MERAJI: 'Cause...

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

MERAJI: ...Just going back to what you were saying before, in Latin America, this label doesn't exist. So this is a very U.S.-centric label.

CONTRERAS: And it can also sometimes be used to sort of marginalize these bands - right? - or artists, if they're considered foreign or the other and not part of mainstream culture.

MERAJI: All right. Well, we've already gotten into this. We're not avoiding this question anymore. We're there.

CONTRERAS: We're in it, man.

MERAJI: We're in it.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: And we're going to start with some musicians. You two actually asked a bunch of musicians who've been on Alt.Latino how they define Latin music.

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ: Hello. This is Carrie Rodriguez coming to you from Austin, Texas. Latin music is music that is inspired by, informed by and mostly made by, but not exclusively, Latinos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DREAMED I WAS LOLA BELTRAN")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: Carrie identifies as Tejana and sings in both English and Spanish.

RODRIGUEZ: I think it's a genre that can sound like everything because we are everything.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DREAMED I WAS LOLA BELTRAN")

RODRIGUEZ: (Singing) Date is written by your name.

JOVINO SANTOS NETO: Hello. This is Jovino Santos Neto, and thank you for asking this question to me.

MERAJI: Jovino's a Brazilian jazz pianist.

NETO: Well, for me, Latin music is sort of a funnel that takes the most interesting creative musics of the world, and funnels them into different places in South America and Central America, the Caribbean. And that includes music from Africa, East Africa, West Africa, North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America. And the way that this music gets funneled and blended - for me, this is what qualifies Latin music.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOVINO SANTOS NETO'S "CORRENTE")

AJ DAVILA: Hi. My name is AJ Davila. And what is Latin music?

MERAJI: So there's a robust punk scene in Puerto Rico that I had no idea about, but I'd like to find a show when I'm out there next month. And AJ Davila came out of that scene, and he takes great pride in being part of the Latin music genre.

DAVILA: I'm a Latino, and I feel really proud to be a Latino, you know? You can hear all my songs all singing Puerto Rican slang. So you can hear, like, a reggaeton song, or you can hear, like, a classic old salsa song. And I use the same words that they use. So what I can say? (Laughter) I make Latin music, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANIMAL")

DAVILA: (Singing in Spanish).

And for me, Latin music is the music that comes from the Spanish-speaking countries, you know, Latin America. You know, you have South America. You have Central America. You have the Caribbean. You have the United States that have, like, a huge Latino community.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEXICAN CHEF")

XENIA RUBINOS: (Singing) French bistro, Dominican chef. Italian restaurant, Boricua chef. Chinese takeout, Mexican chef. Nouveau America, Bachata in the back. It's a French bistro, Dominican chef.

What is Latin music? What is Latin music? You just called me to argue about this, didn't you?

MERAJI: Of course we did, Xenia.

RUBINOS: Hello, my name is Xenia Rubinos. I'm a music-maker, vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. The label, Latin music, to me, is quite reductive in my personal experience as an artist putting out music that has sometimes been categorized as Latin and, I believe, falsely so.

For example, my previous album, "Black Terry Cat," was on a best of albums lists. And at first, it was listed as a Latin album. And I got really angry 'cause "Black Terry Cat" had almost no Spanish singing. It was more an album of R&B and jazz and hip-hop influenced and maybe even punk and, like, some rock and stuff. But I was like, there's nothing of this style in there. And the only Latin thing - the most Latin thing about this album is me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEXICAN CHEF")

RUBINOS: (Singing) It's a party across America. Bachata in the back.

MERAJI: There wasn't a whole lot of consensus there. So you have one artist saying, Latinos make this music, therefore it's Latin music. And then you have a Latina saying, I'm Latina, but my music has nothing to do with what I think Latin music is. My music is hip-hop, and my music is this, which I would argue hip-hop could also be considered Latin music if you look at the roots of hip-hop because Puerto Ricans in the Bronx were very instrumental in creating that art form. But whatever. You know, I digress.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: I love all of this stuff, Shereen. I love it because there is so much creativity. There are so many different perspectives on this, right? Like, I'm just thinking about my list of favorite albums. They're all over the place. So, you know, there's ambient. There's Latin jazz. There's, you know, saxophone. There's a jazz vocalist. There's C. Tangana, the Spanish musician.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TU ME DEJASTE DE QUERER")

C TANGANA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Like, it's just - the cool part is that it doesn't have to be one thing. It can be everything or how they want to self-identify.

SAYRE: And correct me if I'm wrong, Felix, like, he really likes to sit in that ambiguity and leave it open-ended because, like, our overarching thesis, battle cry, is this whole concept that, like, you can't define what Latin music is because we want to take all the things.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PETRA RIVERA-RIDEAU: Reggaeton is a distinct genre from banda, which is distinct from cumbia, which is distinct from salsa, et cetera, et cetera. But the term Latin music sort of homogenizes all of those things into one mash-up of something that's considered Latin.

MERAJI: Latin? Anybody speak that anymore? Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Shereen - just Shereen - CODE SWITCH. And we're here talking about how to define Latin music. A quick and dirty internet search gave me this dictionary definition for Latin. One, the language of ancient Rome and its empire, widely used historically as a language of scholarship and administration. Two, an inhabitant of a country whose language developed from Latin, especially a Latin American. So chew on that while we keep the conversation going with Alt.Latino's Felix Contreras and Anamaria Sayre.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: So I'm sure there's some ethnomusicologists that are tuning in to your show, and they're like, hey, I study this. It's great that you're asking a bunch of musicians what they think Latin music is, but I've done the research. I've done the scholarship. Trust me. We've had a lot of scholars write into us to say those exact things (laughter) on many things that we talk about here at CODE SWITCH.

And, Ana, you actually did your due diligence. To get a bit more clarity, you talked to an ethnomusicologist who spends a lot of her time thinking about this, what it means, Latin music. And yeah, what does she have to say? Is she going to, like, clear everything up for us?

SAYRE: Oh, God. I wish.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: Yeah. So, you know, it's nice to know that there are people out there - I can't believe there are people out there that this is, like - this is their scholarly work. It's incredible.

MERAJI: Jealous.

SAYRE: Like, look her up.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: Dr. Petra Rivera-Rideau. is who I spoke with. She's dope. Her research is ridiculously cool. She studies race in popular music and Latinidad. She's obsessed with reggaeton. It's super awesome. She's very cool. So I was hoping, you know - talk to someone who's an academic. This was totally my error to believe that an academic would ever give me a straight answer.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: But I was like, she studies this all the time. She must know. She gave me all the answers.

RIVERA-RIDEAU: You know, I think part of what makes defining Latin music so difficult is because it's so incredibly broad. And it encompasses, really, a host of genres that are also quite complex, right? So, for example, we might think of something like cumbia. There's many different styles of cumbia, many different ways the music has evolved over time, many different histories and geographies tied to cumbia, whether it's in Mexico or in Colombia or among Mexican Americans, right?

So part of the problem of the term Latin music is that if you are listening to a lot of Latin music, like I do, there's - like, I recognize different genres. Like, I recognize that reggaeton is a distinct genre from banda, which is distinct from cumbia, which is distinct from salsa, et cetera, et cetera. But the term Latin music sort of homogenizes all of those things into one mash-up of something that's considered Latin.

SAYRE: Petra talked even more about how the genre here in the United States not only homogenizes and erases the different styles of, quote-unquote, "Latin music," it erases its Indigenous and Afro-Latino roots, too.

RIVERA-RIDEAU: Look at mambo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABARABATIRI")

TITO PUENTE: (Singing in Spanish).

RIVERA-RIDEAU: So mambo seems like something, you know, from the 1930s, 1940s. What does it have to do with anything? It sounds like jazz, so old. But mambo, which is this, you know, Afro-Cuban style of music - you have many Black Cuban artists who are very popular and very important and who do well - right? - like Machito y Sus Afrocubanos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SENTIMENTAL MAMBO")

MACHITO Y SUS AFROCUBANOS: (Singing in Spanish).

RIVERA-RIDEAU: They're an iconic group on the scene. But who is it that gets to be on TV for an English-language audience? It's Desi Arnaz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABALU")

DESI ARNAZ: (Singing in Spanish).

RIVERA-RIDEAU: A white Cuban man who comes from an elite political family in Cuba performing almost, like, a caricature of Afro-Cuban music. This, to me, is indicative of a much larger historical pattern of systemic racism within the music industry.

CONTRERAS: Pretty much. I did a show on the Afro-Caribbean influence on the beginning of rock 'n' roll, and it's there. When you get to, like, the 1960s - late 1960s - you got a guy like Carlos Santana. His first hit was with a song called "Evil Ways."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVIL WAYS")

SANTANA: (Singing) You've got to change your evil ways, baby, before I stop loving you. You've got to change.

CONTRERAS: That's a Willie Bobo song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVIL WAYS")

WILLIE BOBO: (Singing) And every word that I say is true. You got me jumping...

CONTRERAS: That was a boogaloo tune that was popular within - out on the East Coast, Afro-Caribbean. But right place, right time, he's out in San Francisco at The Fillmore with all these hippies. So all of a sudden, he has a hit, note for note - well, like Willie Bobo did - and it's a big deal because it's accepted by that community, by that rock 'n' roll, hippie Fillmore community. And then it becomes its own thing, right? Is that Latin music? Is it rock 'n' roll? Is it - you know, what is it? They didn't really have a name for it back then.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAYRE: And Petra Rivera-Rideau says naming things makes it easier to sell them. So what she refers to as this larger historical pattern of systemic racism in the music industry - that cannot be divorced from capitalism.

RIVERA-RIDEAU: This kind of homogenization of musical styles is not unique to Latin music. So the music industry has historically operated in a way that has, like, these very discrete categories. And scholars have documented, for example, the ways that R&B and soul music have been classified over time. And they may even, at one point, have a label like Black music. And so I say that to say that a lot of times - right? - what these labels do is, one, they bring together a lot of distinct musical genres into one kind of convenient label that allows them to imagine a market or an audience for it.

CONTRERAS: I mean, and she touched on being able to bring it all together in a homogenized form, which is useful in the marketplace because - we've got to be real about it - because people want to sell records, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: It definitely feels like a double-edged sword in a lot of ways. Wonderful, in some ways, because it's so broad and it allows you both to kind of get into whatever you want to get into. And then in another way, it's homogenizing, flattening, limiting - at least that's what I'm hearing, especially from Petra - where it doesn't give proper credit to these very distinct genres within this huge umbrella - in, you know, cumbia, salsa, merengue, bachata, whatever we're talking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: We're not going to be able to answer this question, I know, but you two have been thinking about it for months now. Where have you landed? Like, have you been able to come to a place within yourselves where you have some sort of working definition - Ana, especially you, because this was something that was really bugging you?

SAYRE: Oh, man.

MERAJI: Sorry to put you on the spot first, but...

SAYRE: I think I've joined the dark side...

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: ...And now I'm just with Felix. I'm like - because that was the old me - you know? - where I was like, I want some parameters. And now I'm like - I'm kind of pushing it off. I'm like, I kind of like this world we live in, where Latin music kind of gets to be whatever we want it to be. My stance is whatever the record labels don't want is my official stance.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: I think, you know, because...

MERAJI: Very Marxist.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: I'm like, down with the bourgeoisie. No, I think, you know, like, they made this term up, but I'm comfortable with using it as long as it's our term now. So if it's something that allows me to be like, I am a part of this greater, beautiful, complex community of musicians who all share my Latino-ness and are part of, you know, making music, whether it's in Spanish or not, that stems from a shared, like, experience with Latinidad, then I'm comfortable with that, and I like that because I want to be able to have that connection with, you know, the bassist in Brazil, even if we don't have anything else that's tying us together.

MERAJI: And Felix, have you changed? Have you moved? Have you budged...

CONTRERAS: You know...

MERAJI: ...In any way?

CONTRERAS: ...I'm even more so in that there is no answer - right? - that there is no definitive answer. And a lot of it has to do with - coincidentally, with the series that you're working on, like, what does it mean to be Latino, right? I am always quoting my age because I'm very proud of it. I'm 63 years old. You know, how I referred to myself, you know, 40 years ago in my 20s was very different than - somewhat different than what I refer to myself now, right? I was a hardcore Chicano - radical - Chicano y que - right? - not Mexican American, not Hispanic, you Know...

MERAJI: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: ...not even Latino. I was Chicano, right? At this point. I'm all of the above.

MERAJI: Right.

CONTRERAS: It doesn't matter anymore...

MERAJI: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: ...Right? - because I know who I am. I know who I am. I know that I love Los Lobos as much as I love the Rolling Stones.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAINT BEHIND THE GLASS")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Hammer and a nail, hammer and a nail - saint behind the glass holds a hammer and a nail.

CONTRERAS: So that's - my bicultural existence is established. So as a result, when I listen to music, and I have been listening, I got my dream job. I've been listening to music seriously since I was a kid - sixth grade, right? Like, now when I listen to music, you know, it doesn't matter because it's all about the discovery, like, hearing all of these different sounds. Again, I go back to that.

There's just a variety that's flowering right now, Shereen, of amazing creativity. And they are not held by genres or boundaries. They are breaking everything - breaking all the rules. It's all about creativity. And they're all - they're Latino musicians from the United States, from Puerto Rico, from all over, right? So what they call their music, I don't know. That's the beauty of it. That's the part of the conversation.

MERAJI: So they have to be Latino musicians, right?

CONTRERAS: Well, you know - oh - because there weren't...

SAYRE: You trapped yourself, Felix.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: So that goes into...

SAYRE: I mean...

CONTRERAS: You know, that goes into a whole different thing, man. There is an African American guy who went to Puerto Rico and immersed himself in Afro-Cuban, Afro-Caribbean Santeria. He is an expert.

MERAJI: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: He can play. He knows all stuff. He's a santero. He's been absorbed and christened in - within this church by the real deal, right? He's an African American cat. He's a young guy. He leads this band called Ife. They've got a new album out, as a matter of fact.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOUSE OF LOVE")

IFE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: I consider him a Latin musician. But he's an African-American guy from Cleveland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOUSE OF LOVE")

IFE: (Singing in Spanish).

SAYRE: I think that's where Felix and I don't align. Maybe I'm just more possessive than Felix is. But I'm kind of like, any time something comes out and it's not from a Latino and they're making Latin music, I'm kind of like, stay in your lane. Like, let's keep it to Latinos only making Latin music. But that's just me.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: So no Beyonce singing in Spanish. That is not Latin music.

SAYRE: Well, OK - Beyonce can sing in Spanish. That's perfect (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: I prefer...

SAYRE: You got too specific.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: Beyonce can do whatever she wants.

CONTRERAS: That is so true, man.

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: I will give you that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IRREEMPLAZABLE")

BEYONCE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: All right, we're going to end things on an even more fun note because this has been fun - but confusing and confounding. And this part isn't. We are going to talk about - we want to go out with the Latin music anthem you two come back to over and over again. What is that song that just, for you, is quintessentially (laughter) Latin music?

CONTRERAS: This was such - oh, my God...

MERAJI: Hit me.

CONTRERAS: ...This was such a hard assignment.

SAYRE: This is the worst question ever. Oh, my God.

MERAJI: It was so easy for me - so easy for me.

CONTRERAS: OK, what is yours Shereen?

SAYRE: Yeah.

MERAJI: Come on - Pedro Capo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEDRO CAPO SONG, "CALMA")

MERAJI: You know, a couple of years ago - classic - instant classic - "Calma."

CONTRERAS: That's a good one.

MERAJI: That's it - I mean, in every way.

SAYRE: OK. Oh, my God.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALMA")

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

PEDRO CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: Yes. Let's just listen to it while you all think 'cause I know I had the best choice (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALMA")

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

Sing it with me.

(Singing in Spanish).

CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

MERAJI: Cut out my singing. It's terrible.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Pedro, I love you.

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: That just, like, took me back, actually. I feel like that was...

MERAJI: Yes.

SAYRE: ...One of those songs that I was like, oh, my God, I have, like, all these - like, I have memories associated with this that I forgot about (laughter).

MERAJI: Quintessential Latin anthem.

SAYRE: That is true - indeed.

CONTRERAS: And it's generational, right? It's - no...

MERAJI: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: ...It really is generational.

MERAJI: OK.

CONTRERAS: OK? When I was thinking of, like, the anthem - right? - that I think that people - all people would, like, identify as Latin music. I would go with Santana's version of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va," OK?

SAYRE: Ugh, OK.

CONTRERAS: Generational - that's my people, right? But it's - to me, it's a perfect distillation 'cause all they did was recreate the early 1960s, late '50s version of the Tito Puente original.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYE COMO VA")

PUENTE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It's note for note the same thing, but with rock ā€™nā€™ roll instruments - right? - and a new attitude. He became a symbol for Latinos all over the United States. It's a mixture of old school interpreted by the new-school parents out in the front room dancing and the kids dancing in the basement. That's what this song means to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYE COMO VA")

SAYRE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: (Singing in Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF HAND PERCUSSION)

SAYRE: (Laughter).

SANTANA: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: Well, shout out to Tito Puente...

CONTRERAS: There you go. There you go.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: ...And Santana.

SAYRE: I guess Santana - whatever.

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: It was that hard?

MERAJI: I got to shout him out, too, 'cause I'm from California.

CONTRERAS: Right.

MERAJI: And he's from Cali, too. So it's like - you're right. It's the perfect blend. It's the perfect blend.

SAYRE: OK, if I were speaking for, like, what reminds me of my childhood, then I would say "Cielito Lindo," because at the end of every single party, my grandma and my dad are, like, singing to the heavens, like, belting "Cielito Lindo" together. It's very sweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIELITO LINDO")

SAYRE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: See even this - this is Latin music, but it's a waltz.

MERAJI: Yeah.

CONTRERAS: One, two, three - one, two, three.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIELITO LINDO")

PEDRO INFANTE: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: So what is that - right? - bicultural by definition.

SAYRE: It's a good song. It's a classic. It's great for the end of a party, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

SAYRE: Just belt it out.

MERAJI: It is a good song, though. It is classic.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Well, this was really fun, even though we just created more confusion than I think we fixed. But that's OK.

CONTRERAS: The way we can fix it is if people tune in to Alt.Latino every week...

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: ...OK?

MERAJI: (Speaking Spanish).

(LAUGHTER)

CONTRERAS: I don't know what to say.

MERAJI: All right. Well, thank you so much. That was amazing. Muchisima gracias. Obrigada. You know, we can throw a little Portuguese in there, too...

CONTRERAS: There you go.

MERAJI: ...'Cause why not?

CONTRERAS: There you go - yeah.

MERAJI: It's Latin music.

SAYRE: 'Cause it's Latin music.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: Thank you. Thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun, man.

SAYRE: It was awesome.

MERAJI: Bye.

CONTRERAS: See you guys.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIELITO LINDO")

INFANTE: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: And that's our show. You can find more information on the artists we've talked about here on our website, npr.org/codeswitch. And don't forget, we want to hear your honest feedback on our podcast. So go to npr.org/podcastsurvey to fill out an anonymous survey. It takes just a few minutes, and it really helps us out. Check out the link in our episode notes as well.

And special thanks to Professor Petra Rivera-Rideau, an associate professor of American studies at Wellesley. Her first book is "Remixing Reggaeton: The Cultural Politics Of Race In Puerto Rico."

And today's episode featured quite a bit of music, so get out your pens because we're going to give you the list right now. I'm going to give you a little bit of time. Grab that pen. All right. In order of appearance, you've got "Quimbara" by Celia Cruz, "Buenos Ratos" by Natanael Cano, "Rumba De Barcelona" by Manu Chao, "Malamente" mentored by Rosalia, "I Dreamed I Was Lola Beltran" by Carrie Rodriguez, "Corrente" by Jovino Santos Neto, "Animal" by AJ Davila, "Mexican Chef" by Xenia Rubinos, "Tu Me Dejaste De Querer" by C. Tangana, "Babarabatiri" by Tito Puente, "Mambo Sentimental" by Machito Y Sus Afrocubanos, "Babalu" by Desi Arnaz. And there's more - "Evil Ways" by Carlos Santana, "House Of Love" by Ife, "Irreemplazable" by Beyonce, "Calma" by Pedro Capo, "Oye Como Va" by Carlos Santana, "Cielito Lindo" by Pedro Infante.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALMA")

CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

MERAJI: Whew, that was quite a list.

This episode was produced by Christina Cala and edited by Leah Donnella. Shout out to the rest of the CODE SWITCH familia - Gene Demby, Karen Grigsby Bates, Kumari Devarajan, Jess Kung, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Summer Thomad, LA Johnson, Steve Drummond and Sam Yellowhorse Kesler. Our intern is Aja Drain.

I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji. Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALMA")

CAPO: (Singing in Spanish).

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