New Latin Music Crosses Borders At Will California is America's main immigrant magnet. As people move to and from — and within — the state and the U.S., the music produced by this shifting population is changing. The stories of musicians living and working in Oakland and Los Angeles give a sense of how the future of Latin music might sound.
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New Latin Music Crosses Borders At Will

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New Latin Music Crosses Borders At Will

New Latin Music Crosses Borders At Will

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Finally, this hour, the sound of the future in California. The state is 36 percent Latino, and that percentage is rising. Latin music is evolving as musicians move back and forth from Latin America to the U.S. They're mixing regional musical styles from south of the border with American hip-hop and R&B.

Corey Takahashi reports on the way multiple migrations are shaping music in California.

COREY TAKAHASHI: One of Erick Santero's earliest memories is roaming through Central America with his father, a singer from El Salvador.

Mr. ERICK SANTERO (Musician): I grew up with what we call the sonidero sound system DJs, where there would be flatbed trucks that would roll into town with a bunch of homemade speakers and microphones and turntables. And they would just plug into a generator, and they would play at the little festivals in these mountain villages that I was living in. For me, that was like the moment of revelation, where I was like, wow, this is what I want to do with the rest of my life.

(Soundbite of song, "Checherengoma")

Mr. SANTERO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken).

TAKAHASHI: Santero's styles reflect the travel routes of a Salvadoran father and Guatemalan mother. They fled Central America during a time of civil war, natural disasters and crumbling economies. His parents' goal was to get into the U.S. and stay there.

Mr. SANTERO: I was actually born in New York, but shortly after, we were deported, so I grew up in Central America. It was until many years later that we crossed the border back into the United States.

(Soundbite of song, "Agua Del Rio")

Mr. SANTERO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken).

TAKAHASHI: Santero absorbed more musical styles while living in New York, New Orleans and his current home, Oakland, California.

(Soundbite of song, "Agua Del Rio")

Mr. SANTERO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken).

TAKAHASHI: He's part of a loose-knit and far-flung group of artists he calls Latin Sound Systems, a kind of new generation of the roving sonideros he loved as a kid.

Mr. SANTERO: I don't really believe in borders, whether they be musical or geographic or nationalistic.

TAKAHASHI: This track, "Agua del Rio," features Santero, along with rappers from Cuba and R&B singers from the San Francisco Bay Area.

(Soundbite of song, "Agua Del Rio")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken).

TAKAHASHI: And there's the unmistakable guitar styling of bachata.

(Soundbite of song, "Agua Del Rio")

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

TAKAHASHI: Bachata began in the Dominican Republic, but Santero learned about the style from Dominicans in New York City. It's just one of the multiple migration streams that can be heard in music from the Latin sound systems.

This is a DJ set made in Mexico by the artist and producer, Chico Sonido. His real name is Raul Espinosa, and he launched his career in Monterrey. Now, his dreams have taken him across the border.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHICO SONIDO (Musician): I was like, well, I got to be where things are happening, you know, so I moved to L.A. And I came to L.A. to continue my music, to keep on producing, to get more connected with people.

(Soundbite of music)

TAKAHASHI: L.A. has given Chico Sonido's work a different flavor. One of his creations is this hip-hop cumbia track called "A Bailar El Ritmo."

(Soundbite of song, "A Bailar El Ritmo")

But Chico Sonido says it can be hard to tell where the Mexican influence on his work ends and the L.A. influence begins.

Mr. SONIDO: Most of my new album, I made here in L.A. So it feels pretty much like Mexico, like in the middle, you know? It's very different than, you know, New York City and other parts of the United States.

(Soundbite of song, "A Bailar El Ritmo")

TAKAHASHI: The music's pretty futuristic, but Chico Sonido and other artists hope to popularize older Latin styles, too. Sometimes, they do it with remixes of rare and forgotten songs or by playing those vinyl recordings at a special club night on the northeast side of L.A.

One of the party's organizers, Eamon Ore-Giron, performs as DJ Lengua.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman #2: (Singing) Cumbia, cumbia, cumbia.

TAKAHASHI: DJ Lengua is Peruvian and Irish and has lived in the U.S. and Latin America. His personal migrations inform the sound of an increasingly diverse L.A.

Mr. EAMON ORE-GIRON (Musician): As a lot of immigration has happened - El Salvador, Guatemala, Peruvians, Colombians - the world becomes smaller in that sense.

(Soundbite of music)

TAKAHASHI: Music is meant to move, too, but this is a scene where all the big moves happen before the first beat.

For NPR News, I'm Corey Takahashi.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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