Styles & Forms | Nineties Latin Pop
Latin pop has been around for as long as Latin music itself. As far back as the 1920s, Mexico, Argentina and Spain were veritable fountains of popular music, which they exported to all Spanish-speaking nations. An international audience was found in the United States, along with the steady influx of Latino immigrants in the late twentieth century.
Prior to this, Latin music made its rounds through the decades via the boleros – traditional romantic songs – of composers such as Mexicans Agustín Lara (‘Noche de Ronda’, ‘Granada’) and Consuelo Velázquez (‘Bésame Mucho’). Their songs were translated into English and popularized by various acts, ranging from Nat ‘King’ Cole to Ray Charles.
Latin music also managed to supersede language barriers thanks to various Latin dance crazes criss-crossing the globe, primarily the Cuban mambo. Its best-known representative was Pérez Prado, a big-band leader and composer whose catchy compositions and simplified arrangements propelled the music to international renown in the 1950s.
However, the rise of widely popular Latin acts remained relatively rare outside the Spanish-speaking world. Among the few exceptions are the Spanish balladeer Julio Iglesias, who crooned his way to fame in more than a dozen languages and Miami Sound Machine, the group created in the 1980s by the music mogul Emilio Estefan, who was a fledgling bongo player. With Estefan’s wife Gloria as the lead singer, Miami Sound Machine brought to the table a dynamic mix of Latin percussion and heavy brass, blended with disco beats and performed in English. The combination, which the Cuban-born Estefans often described as rice and beans (Cuban staples) with hamburger, turned songs such as ‘Conga’ into international hits and paved the way for what many now refer to as the ‘Latin music explosion’ of the late 1990s.
That explosion was spearheaded by Ricky Martin, a Puerto Rican singer whose hip-swivelling moves were reminiscent of Elvis Presley and whose generic, Western-world good looks made him internationally appealing. Martin started out in show business with Menudo, a 1980s boy band who performed bubblegum Spanish-language pop. As a soloist, he became enormously popular throughout Latin America by singing Latin ballads, but gradually developed a parallel, upbeat style characterized by his use of Caribbean dance rhythms, percussion and brass.
That sound characterized 1998’s ‘La Copa De La Vida’, or ‘The Cup Of Life’, a song conceived as the football World Cup anthem, which Martin recorded in several languages. Its worldwide success set the stage for Martin’s self-titled English-language debut album in 1999, which featured ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’, a track that would become an international anthem in its English- and Spanish-language versions. ‘Livin’’ was typical of Martin in its use of Latin rhythms, while its electric-guitar intro – reminiscent of 1960s California surf rock – gave it a far greater international feel. As well as propelling Martin to international superstardom, it opened the door for other Latin artists to embark on the crossover from Spanish to English.
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