Latin music, also known as música latina, is an umbrella term for many genres of music that are popular in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal. The most common of these genres include reggaeton, Latin hip hop, Latin pop, Brazilian samba, Dominican bachata, and earlier, dancehall.
The term "Latin music" started to be used regularly in the American music industry in the 1940's. The rising Latino community in the US created a market for music geared toward them. The earliest Latin music genre with considerable commercial success was musica tropicale in the 1950's, with such artists as Tito Puente and Machito. Soon after, latin jazz and cha-cha-cha music emerged on the scene. The 1960’s saw the rise of bossa nova music out of Brazil, and also Latin rock, with international guitarist superstar Carlos Santana at the forefront.
In the 1970's, the street parties of Kingston, Jamaica gave birth to the dancehall music style. DJ's began remixing pre-recorded instrumentals with turntables and started to yell out a couple lines during the song, a practice known as "toasting". This later became very influential in the early American hip hop culture.
Reggaeton, a genre of music that typically dominates the charts in Latin American countries today, originates from Panama and Puerto Rico in the late 1980’s, but only became massively popular in the mid-2000’s. It very much resembles American hip hop, following the same verse-chorus structure with rapping, but with a very specific rhythm known as the “dem-bow beat”. By the 2010’s, this style’s success spilled over to the US as well, with such artists as Daddy Yankee and Bad Bunny.
With so many genres in this category, it’s hard to come up with generalizations that hold true to all of them.
One of the common features is the rhythm. Latin music songs either feature son clave or rumba clave rhythm patterns. Claves consist of one measure with two beats and another with three. Either of them can come first, depending on if it's a 2-3 or a 3-2 clave. The two cells are rhythmically opposed, one antecedent and the other consequent. These rhythmic patterns come from African music, which found their way into Latin music through Cuban musicians coming into contact with the descendents of African slaves on the island nation. In reggaeton music, we typically hear a derivation of the clave rhythm, the so-called “dem-bow beat”. The rhythm always has just as prominence in Latin songs as the melody.
String instruments, mainly the acoustic guitar, are commonly used. Instruments exclusive to Latin music genres are maraca (a rattle), timbales (a type of drum), conga (another type of drum), pandeiro (a frame drum), and el tres (a guitar), among others.
Again, with so many genres, it’s hard to narrow the themes down enough to make any meaningful statements. Love, sex, and relationships are common topics in any musical genre, this holds true for Latin music as well. The lyrics of these songs are usually in Spanish, or, if it comes from Brazil or Portugal, Portuguese.
Daddy Yankee from Puerto Rico is known as “the King of Reggaeton”. He started in the 1990’s but only hit it big in the mid-2000’s, with such smash singles as “Limbo” (2008), “La Rompe Corazones” (2017), “Con Calma” (2019) featuring Snow. Alas, he announced his retirement will be coming at the end of his 2022 live concert tour. He was also featured on the 2017 hit song “Despacito” by fellow Puerto Rican Latin pop artist Luis Fonsi. Its music video broke the record of the most viewed on YouTube in August 2017, a title it held until November 2020. As of the time of writing this, it has 7.980 billion (!) views.
Bad Bunny, also from Puerto Rico, is another world-famous reggaeton/Latin trap artist. His best known songs are re “Mía” featuring Drake (2018), “Amorfoda” (also 2018), and “Dakiti” featuring Jhay Cortez (2020), he was also featured on Cardi B’s 2018 song “I Like It”. Latin pop singer J Balvin is from the South American nation of Colombia, with such hits as “Mi Gente” (2017) featuring Willy William, and “X” (2019) featuring American reggaeton artist Nicky Jam. Meanwhile, legendary Latin pop singer Gloria Estefan is from Cuba.