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Latin music? What does that sound like?

August 27, 2016


The 17th edition of the annual Latin Grammy Awards is scheduled for November 8th 2016. It seems difficult to imagine a time when the term Latin music was not a household word in North America and, indeed, worldwide. The populous Latin American countries themselves are quickly becoming, in the words of a reporter from the British newspaper, The Guardian, “the music industry’s new frontier.” The establishment of the Latin Grammys by the American National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is proof of what is at stake for the so-called mainstream music industry as it attempts to woo the staggeringly growing number of consumers of Latin music.


Success of the commercial type, however, usually also raises skepticism. The question is whether it has done away with the authenticity and cultural value of Latin music. Regardless of how one may be tempted to respond to this question, the indisputable fact is that Latin music and its political legacy of a Pan-Latin American identity lives on stronger than ever. Yet, sorting out the virtues from the evils of the Latino banner is an exercise prone to carry anyone into contradictions and inconsistencies. The history of Latin music is rife with these.


The term Latin America itself was coined by the French around the mid-19th century. It was their way ‘to make nice’ to Spanish and Portuguese-speaking American countries which had begun to achieve independence from Spain. France’s pitch was that romance (Latin) language-speaking countries had an inherent connection and should be suspicious of English-speaking British and Americans with whom they had little in common. It was the dawning of the era of “post-colonial” expansionism. France was simply attempting to compete for a piece of the pie with Britain and Anglo-America as the Spanish empire languished in the throes of decline. The French did not fare well in their coveted Latin America. Their only incursion into the continent was their short-lived invasion of Mexico where they installed Archduke Maximilian of Austria as a monarch in 1864. Only three years later, the French were deposed with Maximilian dying in front of a firing squad.