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Music from the Spanish-speaking world

Juanes: Pop Music from Colombia

Much like crossover Colombian pop singer Shakira, Juanes is a Colombian pop and rock singer whose Spanish-language music is enjoyed around the world. His four albums include hits such as La camisa negra, Gotas de agua dulce, A Dios le pido and Fotografía. He has received multiple Latin Grammy Awards and performs his music with other great musicians like Nelly Furtado, Andrés Calamaro and the Black Eyed Peas.

He is also a huge philanthropist and started a foundation to help remove land mines.

Some of his music is heavily influenced by hard rock, but my favorites are his pop songs, like this from most recent album La Vida es un Ratico.


Music from Julieta Venegas

Julieta has been a hit for the past decade throughout Latin American, and rightly so. Her songs are so light and catchy it's easy to overlisten to her albums. Her most recent release, Limón y Sal, is full of great songs with plenty of variety: from nearly hip hop, to ballads accompanied by romantic guitar, and rounded out by upbeat poppy songs. Though born in Long Beach, California, Julieta grew up in Tijuana and her Spanish-language pop/rock has truly crossed borders within Latin America and more recently, in the US.

Her lyrics are easy to understand and listening to them is great Spanish practice!

Her newest album, MTV Unplugged is incredible and features this great adaptation of "Ilusión" with Brazilian Marisa Monte. The song is a beautiful combination of Spanish and Portuguese.


Classic Latin Sounds from the Dominican: Juan Luis Guerra

If you haven't heard his name, you've certainly heard his music. Dominican Republic-born Juan Luis Guerra has been singing and songwriting for over 25 years, one of his all-time songs being Ojalá que llueva café (which you may have heard in Spanish class to practice the subjunctive). His merengue/bolero style of music has become famous both inside Latin America and abroad, and the musician has won many music awards including 5 Latin Grammy's in 2007. His classic upbeat sound inspires dancing merengue and sipping mamajuana on the Caribbean island.


Music from Mexico: Maná

Maná remains one of the Spanish-language rock bands with the largest international fan base. When they started making music in Guadalajara, Mexico in the 80s, the group wasn't sure if a rock band singing in Spanish would appeal to the public. Their sound didn't only take off in the Spanish-speaking world, but internationally as well. Maná remains one of the most prolific, longest-running bands in Latin American history. Their most recent album is Amar es Combatir.


Crossover Pop from Colombia: Shakira

No Spanish-language music review would be complete without mentioning Colombian pop sensation, Shakira. Although she has officially crossed over to the North American market with hits like Whenever, Wherever and Hips don't lie featuring Wyclef Jean, I'm still partial to her first big albums, Pies Descalzos and ¿Dónde estan los ladrónes?. While her sound is certainly pop, she does have some good beats and an interesting Middle Eastern influence.


Music from Spain: Jarabe de Palo

From Barcelona, music group Jarabe de Palo is a great, upbeat Spanish rock band. The world jarabe in Spanish means syrup (in a medicinal sense) while palo means stick. As the saying goes, a naughty child needs a "jarabe de palo" to start acting right. The main indication the band is Spanish is in the singer's accent, Pau Donés, where "z" and "c" sound like "th" in English (corazón, or heart, sounds like corathón).


Manu Chao

Manu Chao's latest album La Radiolina is selling like crazy from Barcelona to Buenos Aires...and perhaps in the United States as well, even though it's been 6 years since his last album. The singer/guitarist is hard to place in a single genre, since his music ranges from rock to reggae with some guitar-work influenced by flamenco. His lyrics are often political and choruses are catchy. His 1998 album Clandestino is a classic, packed with great songs that seem to be timeless.


Cuban hip-hop: Orishas

You can't get much better Latin hip-hop than the Orishas or Ozomatli. The members of Orishas group are Cuban exiles, and many of their lyrics talk about life in Havana and the immigrant experience. From the song 'Emigrantes':

estoy cantando pa’mi gente
triste loco el que ha dejado atras
su sol, su gente, su camisa (estoy cantando pa' mi gente)
sin pensar tan lejos cambia todo
y la nostalgia te hace trizas (estoy cantando pa' mi gente)

i'm singing for my people
deeply sad for what he has left behind
his sun, his people, his shirt (i'm singing for my people)
without thinking that far away everything changes
and the nostalgia tears you to pieces (i'm singing for my people)

They lyrics are sometimes a contrast to the upbeat nature of the music, with its Cuban beats, keyboard, and horns that generally make you want to dance (or at least shimmy a little).


Ojos de Brujo

Ojos de brujo is to flamenco what the Gotan Project is to tango, which is to say the group provides a refreshing twist to a traditional music, in this case the music of southern Spain. While the flamenco base of the music is unmistakable with its guitar style and clapping, the group fuses in African beats, Cuban piano, and Cátalan rumba. The music is fresh and interesting, it's catchy without being "poppy".



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