Trying to define a Latin music artist can be as complex as trying to define Latin music itself. Considering today's popularity of crossover styles and Latin music awards given to artists who simply have some Latin background, this definition becomes even more complicated. In spite of this, there are three basic elements that can help us to define a Latin music artist.
The Meaning of Latin
As an adjective, Latin is commonly used to make a reference to people coming from Latin America. The reason why Latin America is named like this has much to do with the European powers that dominated the region after Columbus. Spain and Portugal were, in fact, considered Latin because of their languages, which developed from the original Latin language of the Roman Empire. Because of this, the concept of Latin music extends to artists with Spanish and Portuguese backgrounds. Recently, an Italian background is sometimes treated as an element that relates to Latin music.
Defining A Latin Music ArtistTo be considered a Latin music artist, an individual or group must have at least one of the following three features:
- Rhythm: Play musical genres that are original from Latin America or a Latin European country.
- Cultural background: Have a cultural background related to Latin America or a Latin European country.
- Language: Play melodies either in Spanish and/or Portuguese.
When an artist has all the features mentioned above, it is easy to place that artist into the Latin music world. Let's consider an artist like Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, who falls into this category. Celia Cruz was a Cuban artist (cultural background) who used to sing Salsa (rhythm) in Spanish (language).
Most Latin music artists fall into this category. However, the problem arises with the increasing crossover trends and the confusion created by recent award nominations to artists who barely meet any of the elements previously discussed.
Recently, there is so much buzz about crossover artists who combine different rhythms into their music. However, from a historical perspective, Latin music is the result of a never ending crossover style that reflects the cultural diversity of the region.
Let's look at someone like Shakira, a crossover artist whose only fixed Latin music feature is her cultural background. If you think about a song like "She Wolf," the only feature she meets is her cultural background because the rhythm of the melody does not belong to Latin music and the language is English. However, if we take her song "Loca," she meets all the features: A Colombian artist (background) singing in Spanish (language) a song, which is based on a Merengue beat (rhythm).
Latin Music Awards
Lately, the most famous Latin music awards have created some sort of confusion about the concept behind a Latin music artist. How do you explain, for example, that Lady Gaga has been nominated to a Billboard Latin Music Award? The reason is because of Gaga's Italian origins. The same situation happens to Italian singer Laura Pausini who, unlike Gaga, has built a significant portion of her career singing in Spanish.
Something similar happens with other artists like Nelly Furtado and Christina Aguilera. In a way, the inclusion of these artists within the Latin music world is good because it brings attention to Latin music. However, it would not be good for Latin music to increase the amount of awards given to artists whose only relation to Latin music is a distant ancestry related to the Latin world. A good balance in this way will surely help to define in a better way the concept that surrounds a Latin music artist. In the meantime, we could use the elements exposed in this article to make more sense of a definition dealing with a Latin music artist.