(L-R): Michael Salgado, Kat & Alex, The Mavericks, Veronique Medrano, and Leah Turner
5 Latinx Artists Reimagining Country Music: Kat & Alex, The Mavericks, Leah Turner, Michael Salgado & Veronique Medrano
As Americana as country music is, the genre has roots in the region of Mexico closest to the borders. Many country music crooners have romanticized the U.S.-Mexico border in their lyrics as a place for partying or for banditos. In fact, Latinx country music artists are woven into the fabric of country music history, particularly the Tejanos from Texas. Among the greats, Tejano singer Freddy Fender scored a No. 1 on Billboard's country music chart and all-genre Hot 100 chart in 1975 with "Before the Next Teardrop Falls." Over 20 years later, another Tejano, Rick Trevino topped the country singles chart with his song "Running Out of Reasons" and the Spanish-language version "Se Escapan Mis Razones." Latinx artists in country music isn't a new phenomena, but instead fertile ground to explore deeper, less stereotypical expression in the genre.
As Latin music has become a global force in the past decade, country music artists have taken notice and tapped the market for crossover collaborations. Blake Shelton worked with Cuban-American superstar Pitbull on "Get Ready," Kane Brown collaborated with Mexican-American singer Becky G on a reggaeton remix of "Lost in the Middle of Nowhere," and Carrie Underwood sang in Spanish alongside Spanish artist David Bisbal on "Tears of Gold." Country music is becoming more inclusive, allowing more Latinx and Black artists into the fold that are redefining the age-old sound. Lil Nas X really shook things up with his 2019 hit "Old Town Road", and now Mickey Guyton is reclaiming an important place in the Black-rooted genre.
Long after the reign of Fender and Trevino, there's a new generation of Latinx artists proudly embracing country. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, here are five more Latinx country artists to look out for.
Kat & Alex
Married couple Kat Luna and Alex Garrido first made an impression as standouts on the 18th season of "American Idol" in 2020. Now going under the name Kat & Alex, the Miami-born singer/songwriters auditioned with the song that brought them together: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow" from A Star Is Born. sSince then, Kat & Alex have made a name for themselves in country music while leaning into their roots — Luna's in Cuba, and Garrido's in Puerto Rico. The duo have released English and Spanish versions of songs like "How Many Times" and "Heartbreak Tour", tracks that shine thanks to the chemistry they share as a real-life couple. They're able to recapture the passion and fire behind the lyrics of their English songs in Spanish while maintaining that traditional country twang. Kat & Alex's TikTok offers further highlights, including Spanish translations of songs by Little Big Town, Rascal Flatts, and Tim McGraw.
The Mavericks have long been a staple in the Americana music scene, and have Cuban roots from Miami by way of frontman Raúl Malo and guitarist Eddie Perez. Malo formed The Mavericks in Miami and later relocated to Nashville in the late '80s, and the group earned their first Grammy Award in 1995 for Best Country performance for "Here Comes The Rain" (with seven other nominations to their name). Over three decades into their career, The Mavericks decided to tap fully into their Latin roots on their first Spanish album, En Español. Malo sounds amazing in Spanish, as he translates the band's soul and blues into his family's native tongue in songs like "Recuerdos" and "La Sitiera" — showing that Americana music is not just tied to the U.S., but the greater Americas as well. They give the genre a colorful kick of Latin music influences through layers of additional percussion and royal horns. The Mavericks have performed their songs in Spanish at festivals like Austin City Limits and the Latin Alternative Music Conference.
Mexican-American singer/songwriter Leah Turner has been making noise in the country music scene for nearly a decade. Hailing from the country music capital of the world, Nashville, Tennessee, Turner made her debut with the release of her self-titled EP in 2014. In 2019, she explored her Latinx roots with the release of the "Vaquera Mix" of her single "Blah Blah Blah." Last year, Turner reclaimed the age-old country music trope of the South of the border escapade in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico." This month, she blended her country and Latin music roots in her new single "Vaquera and the Cowboy." She trades the steel guitar that's typical of country music for a Spanish guitar while never losing the twang in her voice. Turner is ending off Hispanic Heritage Month with the release of her EP, Lost in Translation on Oct. 15.
A longtime staple of the Tejano music scene, Michael Salgado built his career on crossing the genre with the Norteño music that's typical of Mexico's northern states that border Texas. In 1995, he launched his career with the release of his debut album, Reina de Mi Vida. At the 2011 Grammy Awards, Salgado received a nomination for Best Norteño Album for No Vengo A Ver Si Puedo... Si Por Que Puedo Vengo. He also has two Latin Grammy wins to his name, including Best Tejano Album in 2016 for Por Cielo Y Tierra. After decades of fans demanding a formal country music album, Salgado released Blame It On The Beer earlier this year — with highlight "Honky Tonks and Cantinas" best exemplifying the collision of country and his Latinx roots. He brings out the steel guitar while drawing lyrical allusions to his life as a Mexican-American. Salgado has soul in his music in English or Spanish, and his success proves Tejano music is country music.
Read More: 5 LGBTQ+ Latinx Artists You Need To Know
Veronique Medrano is a proudly Tejana singer/songwriter from the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Through her Tejano and regional Mexican music, she proves that there's an overlooked intersection between those genres and country music. Medrano released her first album, Encantadora, nearly a decade ago in 2013, and has since been nominated at the Tejano Music Awards four times. Last year she released La Novela, an EP which touches on the experience of a Latina growing up close to the Texas and Mexican border. Earlier this year, she released another EP, Crying, in which she sings the title country song in both English and Spanish. "Crying" gets an extra Latin touch on the banda version, featuring Omar Sanchez Omi. She brings together the steel guitar and accordion that's typical to Latin music while belting out her multicultural heart. The emotions in her voice are tangible in any language. Akin to a historian, Medrano excavates and honors the Latinx and Tejano roots in country music..