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2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Latin Music
As the world began to rebuild from COVID-19 in 2021, Latin stars used their experiences to inspire art that made a lasting impact. On the one hand, the unavoidable ripples of the pandemic encouraged many artists to channel their feelings into song; on the other, the reopening of concert halls unleashed an infectious wave of creativity.
While chart-topping stars in the urbano field had the entire planet listening, artists in other facets of the genre — from rock and electronica to Regional Mexican, folk and Brazilian — emerged with luminous creations that pushed the music forward. Here are some of the notable Latin trends that emerged during the past 12 months.
For Today's Hitmakers, Stylistic Diversity Equals Musical Bliss
If the new albums by hugely successful artists such as Puerto Rico's Rauw Alejandro and Spain's C. Tangana have something in common, it is their stubborn refusal to confine themselves to the parameters of their expected genres.
Rauw's blockbuster hit "Todo De Ti" begins with the countdown of acoustic drums, then blends its urbano sensibility with touches of disco and new wave, evoked through the warm prism of childhood memories. Tangana's El Madrileño is the majestic manifesto of a rapper desperately in love with music — all kinds of music — who infuses his compositions with multiple points of view: neo-flamenco, Mexican corridos and introspective rock anthems.
Latin Rock Retained Its Power to Generate Epic Albums
Undeniably, rock has become more niche than ever following the mainstream domination of música urbana. Still, 2021 found a number of seasoned rockers releasing some of the best albums of their career.
With Sonidos de Karmática Resonancia, Mexico's Zoé demonstrated their ability to channel both The Cure and Soda Stereo through highly melodic, bittersweet tracks. On Origen, Colombian singer/songwriter Juanes paid loving tribute to a wide array of influences, from the confessional pathos of Fito Páez ("El Amor Después Del Amor") to the scorching tropical fever of Joe Arroyo ("Rebelión").
Psychedelia Returned With a Vengeance
From rockers like Babasónicos and Liquits to late '60s tropicália in Brazil, psychedelia has always had a profound effect on Latin music. Perhaps mirroring the trippy qualities of quarantine life, neo-psychedelia experienced a triumphant resurgence in 2021 through hazy, atmospheric masterpieces by Spain's Unidad y Armonía, Brazil's Glue Trip and Mexico's Daniel Quién.
Unidad y Armonía — the sextet led by singer/songwriter Miguel Martín — released a remarkable third album, Un Verano Invencible, that evokes the sweet nostalgia of summers past. From the cinematic grandeur of opening instrumental "Rayos de Sol" to the Pink Floyd-like soundscapes of "Poderes Sensoriales," this is a band that honors classic psychedelia while echoing the present.
Glue Trip’s single "Água de Jamaica" (from the Paraíba quartet’s forthcoming third album) is a wondrous psychedelic artifact, complete with cosmic keyboard effects and ethereal vocal harmonies. Hailing from Mazatlán, 25 year-old Daniel Quién creates bedroom-pop miniatures that belie his young age — evidenced this year by his second album, Aroma a Nostalgia. Equally influenced by Mexican torch song and alternative rock, his songs are enveloped in the slow-mo twilight of early Pink Floyd.
The Beauty of Folk Continued Nurturing Chilean Pop
The mystical energy of Andean folk has permeated Chilean music since the emergence of the nueva canción movement and iconic artists like Violeta Parra, Inti Illimani and Quilapayún. The same aesthetic — soaring vocal choruses, restrained arrangements, the purity of acoustic string instruments — informs the work of young Chilean musicians who move freely between electronica and pop, rock and the avant-garde.
Singer/songwriters Diego Lorenzini and Niña Tormenta brought those folk elements to their first original release together, the affecting "El Demonio del Mediodía." The pair previously collaborated on a 2020 cover of Parra's "Miren Cómo Sonríen."
The Afro-Caribbean Groove Is Truly Pan-American
Until recently, a number of tropical formats were confined to their country of origin. Most bachatas were recorded by artists from the Dominican Republic, plena was celebrated in its native Puerto Rico, and Peruvian cumbia blossomed in, well, Peru. But as reggaetón and trap continue to globalize Latin culture, more artists are writing and recording authentic samples of Afro-Caribbean genres.
It's almost hard to believe that Juan Ingaramo, a singer/songwriter from Argentina, created "El Fenómeno del Mambo," an authentic slice of merengue. Similarly, Mexico's brilliant Marco Mares gave us one of the best bachatas of the year with "Alboroto," complete with danceable chorus and syncopated bongo beats.
Old School Reggaetón Can Still Deliver The Goods
With superstars like J Balvin and Rauw Alejandro updating the urbano genre with intriguing new twists and turns, it's a good moment to celebrate the reckless fun of old school reggaetón.
This year found genre godfather Don Omar returning to the recording studio, and he did so with a bouncy, wickedly funny duet featuring fellow Puerto Rican Residente. The former Calle 13 MC is in rare form on the sinuous "Flow HP," placing his distinct flow at the service of a sonic gem that celebrates the movement that changed the essence of Latin.
In Brazil, Ladies Reigned Supreme (As Always)
It is impossible to think of Brazilian music without the contribution of literally hundreds of female legends. From Elis Regina, Sylvia Telles and late bossa nova icon Maysa to Gal Costa, Maria Bethania and Marisa Monte, women have always played a leading role in the country’s percolating sounds.
This year was marked by the appearance of many singer/songwriters with talent to spare. Vicka's "Cafeína" is funky and soulful; "nada contra (ciúme)" by Rio-based actress and singer Clarissa anchors its groove on a darkly hued alternative edge; Magi's "Bossinha" pays loving tribute to the silky song format that started it all — complete with a whistling interlude.
Against All Odds, Tango Continued to Evolve
The last stylistic development that shook tango to the core happened a good 20 years ago, when ensembles like Gotan Project and Bajofondo caused a stir by mixing the venerable rioplatense genre with electronic beats. Tango has continued to grow through incredibly sophisticated arrangements and crisp sonics.
Led by keyboardist and composer Max Masri, Tanghetto emerged during the first wave of electro-tango with a cheeky cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" in 2005. Fifteen years later, Tanghetto's 2021 album Reinventango presents a rugged masterpiece of melancholy melodies and sharp beats. Relentless in the purity of its vision, it sets a gold standard for all tango records to follow.