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Photos (L-R): Matt Baker, Jen Rosenstein, Hollis King, Pachy Lopez, Kim Fox, Shervin Lainez, courtesy of the artist, Herminio, Claudio Napolitano, Christopher Drukker
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“Latin jazz” is not — and will never be — a single, easily-defined entity. “I think it's still constantly unfolding,” one visionary artist says. “I think we are still looking into the question of who we really are.”
If you're interested in investigating Latin jazz, two issues materialize from the phrase itself: both "Latin" and "jazz" can be interpreted as wildly freighted, reductive words.
"Jazz" is worth examining at the outset: many of its chief architects hated the word. Historically, it has connotations in the ballpark of sexual, low-down, dirty; saxophonist Gary Bartz considers it tantamount to a racial slur. That's where the alternative descriptors come in — like "modern music"; "creative music"; and "Black American Music," or "BAM."
Then there's "Latin," which refers to "Latin American"; that blanket of a word is generally understood to cover the entire South American continent in addition to Mexico, Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean whose populace speaks a Romance language.
It's human nature to categorize, to designate, to compartmentalize. But when "Latin jazz" becomes a genre tag, a marketing term, a music-industry silo, that's arguably when problems begin — first and foremost among the musicians thought by many to belong to that sphere.
Not all of them, of course. Some "Latin jazz" artists are generally fine with the genre tag, or consider it a necessary evil. Others prefer "Latinx" or "Ibero American" — the former, an inclusive neologism; the latter, an attempt to amalgamate countries and territories where Spanish and Portuguese are predominantly spoken.
But others — including some of the 10 musicians interviewed for this article — have concerns about it.
"I feel like it's the pure definition of a business to put people in categories," says Claudia Acuña, a vocalist, songwriter and arranger from Chile. "It's a very, very vast umbrella," notes Magos Herrera, a singer/songwriter and producer from Mexico. "The term 'Latin' never really feels comfortable for us," vocalist and composer Roxana Amed states, speaking to her Argentinian background.
Others push back a little harder.
"I don't really feel like that term represents me or my friends," says Leo Genovese, a pianist and composer hailing from Argentina. "I consider myself a jazz musician who happens to be from Latin America," clarifies Miguel Zenón, an alto saxophonist and composer born and raised in Puerto Rico. "Latin jazz is a way for the jazz industry to deal with those of us that have Hispanic surnames," declares Arturo O'Farrill, a Mexican, Cuban and Irish composer, pianist and educator.
Cuban pianist and composer Gonzalo Rubalcaba cites an album with vocalist Aymée Regla Nuviola, which was nominated for Best Latin Jazz Album at the 2023 GRAMMYs. While Rubalcaba heavily deals in Afro-Cuban influences on other records, "I don't see [it] as an Afro-Cuban album at all," he says.
Yet others consider the "Latin jazz" designation to be anywhere between a benign business reality, a point of debate and a positive challenge.
"[As] Argentinians, we never felt comfortable saying that we were Latin," Amed says. "It was almost weird to call myself a Latin jazz artist, because of that conception that the world had of Latin music," adds Camila Meza, a vocalist, guitarist and composer from Chile, noting the term's gradual reduction into Afro-Cuban and Brazilian rhythms.
"I'd rather not sit in any definition," says singer-songwriter Magos Herrera, "because [with] every single album that I record, I just push boundaries all the time."
Herrera's comment captures the reality of so many artists nominally within the "Latin jazz" world: They're far less interested in conforming to preconceived notions than expanding, blending, and furthering the sounds of Latin America — all with a jazzy approach.
Here are 10 artists who embody that spirit of transcending and often exploding the easy designation of "Latin jazz" — all with deep-rooted respect for their various heritages and the multiplicity of idioms in each.
Leo Genovese performing in 2014. Photo: Andy Sheppard/Redferns via Getty Images
Born and raised in Argentina, pianist and composer Genovese may be most visible right now as the touring keyboardist for reunited progressive rockers the Mars Volta. But it behooves anyone who catches that show to plumb Genovese's miles-deep back catalog. 
Since his early classical tutelage and graduation as a Progressive Music Major at Berklee College of Music in 2003, he's played with everyone from Esperanza Spalding to Wayne Shorter to Jack DeJohnette, and released a sizable handful of inspired albums as a leader or co-leader.
The New York Times once called Genovese a "polyglot," and that tracks when you ask him about the musicians who galvanize him — past and present. The answer is: everyone he encounters in his artistic journeys — even if he doesn't connect with their work.
"I love to listen and I love to see what people are into and what people are doing. And I think that all of that influences you, [whether] you want it or not," Genovese tells GRAMMY.com. "[At times], I'm like, "That gets me thinking, and gets me rolling, and gets me going, and gets my machine oily." (Lately, that's applied to sets he caught by saxophonist Kenny Garrett, Mexican heavy metal band Molotov, and Argentinian rapper Trueno.)
"I think I became more interested in the music that blew [or, had improvisational qualities] and that represents either Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, or Paraguay," Genovese says, as opposed to just the music of his home country. "You name it — any of the nations."
When asked what recent project of his interweaves Latin American influences in an especially unique way, Genovese points to Ritual, his 2022 album with bassist Demian Cabaud, drummer Jeff Williams, and on four tracks, vocalist Nadia Larcher — who hails from Catamarca in northwestern Argentina.
"There is some Argentinian folkloric DNA element in there," Genovese says. And that entails influences from all over — ones listeners might not immediately think of, but that harmonize with sociocultural and anthropological history.
"Cousins and sisters and far-away relatives of this music were merging in different parts of the continent with the mixture of African people, Indigenous people, and European people," Genovese explains. "All of this is something that's still giving fruit — and it's kind of new in the history of the whole universe, in a way. 
"I think it's still constantly unfolding," he adds. "I think we are still looking into the question of who we really are."
Luciana Souza. Photo: Kim Fox
Born in São Paulo to bossa-nova musician parents, the dynamic singer/songwriter Souza has been around long enough to remember the days of Tower Records — and where they slotted her releases.

"I was Latin jazz, or Brazilian; it was just so it was easier," she tells GRAMMY.com. "I never found it stifling. I just thought, 'OK, you call it that.' And then within that, I'll just keep pushing the boundaries."

Souza doesn't try to hedge or obfuscate her Brazilian heritage; it permeates virtually everything she does. (She still cites Antônio Carlos Jobim as "the most important musician in my life.) From there, what makes her work porous, pliant and mutable is that she fused Brazilian musics with jazz.

"What I love about the word 'jazz' is that it opens everything. Jazz can be anything, right?" Souza says. "It can be hip-hop; it can be soul; it can be funk; it can be Brazilian; it can be Latin." 
Long ago, she made the decision to not feel put-upon by the "Latin jazz" label: "It doesn't advance the cause of anything. What's important about the title for me is the 'jazz' word. The fact that somebody called me a 'jazz' anything: I'm happy about that, because jazz is the one that's breaking all the walls and boundaries."
A native Portuguese speaker who sings in Spanish, Souza has been nominated for seven GRAMMYs over the years; she won one, for Album Of The Year, at the 2008 GRAMMYs for her work on Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters. (She sang Mitchell's Hejira cut "Amelia.")

For a recent example of her inclination to "push the boundaries," Souza cites 2020's Storytellers, her collaborative album with American producer, arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza and the WDR Big Band Köln — a German ensemble.
"It's Brazilian music, but it's not being played by Brazilians," Souza explains. "The only Brazilian on the record is me, so the other folks have to translate this music."
Storytellers consists of well-known material by luminaries from Chico Pinheiro to Edu Lobo to Chico Buarque to Gilberto Gil, but Souza's unique execution and blending of perspectives makes these songs personal — reaching toward an entirely new zone.
"That's the great thing about music, is that we don't speak the same language," Souza says. "One is speaking English, one Portuguese, one German — but in the end, we all come in together."
Magos Herrera. Photo: Shervin Lainez

Tracing the taxonomy of "Latin jazz" in detail, through time and place and sound, would be a lifelong proposition. Magos Herrera is acutely aware of the oceanic nature of this subject, and notes how simple genre tags can fail in summarizing or encapsulating it all.<em></em>
"To find definitions is not too clever," the Mexican-born singer-songwriter and producer tells GRAMMY.com. "Let's just say that jazz these days is taking such a vast direction."
Herrera tries gamely to unpack the Latin aspect of the genre tag, and notes how it comes up short. "Are we talking about just the Caribbeans? Are we talking about the whole continent? Are we talking about the Ibero Americas, Spain, Portugal, and Latin America? My relationship with it is: no definitions."
Through all the divergent cultures and musics of Latin America, Herrera says, there's an ineffable, binding spirit. That spirit magnetizes her: although she was influenced by American vocalists like Carmen McRae, Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughan, she identifies more with singers like Elis Regina, from Brazil.
"Jazz artists are either revisiting the jazz standard repertoire — The Real Book — or they're embracing the contemporary jazz repertoire by the scene that's going on right now, or singers are adding lyrics to jazz classics, or they're taking pop songs and rearranging them into a jazz context," Herrera explains.
"For a Latin American artist, we're doing exactly the same," she adds. "But our popular music are all these incredible folk artists that wrote a very prolific songbook during the last century."
Herrera's artistry partly involves imbuing said works with jazzy approaches — like a livewire sense of interplay, fresh harmonic sophistication, and the introduction of new meters and tempi.
"It's very easy, if you're a jazz artist, to get lost in translation and just do something that surpasses the nature of the song," she explains. "So you have to be very careful and very tasteful, so you don't lose the weight of the song."
One window into Herrera's unique approach is 2018's Dreamers, her collaborative album with string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Dreamers focuses on selections from what she calls the "Ibero American songbook" — like those by João Gilberto and Gilberto Gil — as well as pieces written to texts by Octavio Paz, Rubén Darío, and Federico García Lorca.
What partly binds these poets and songwriters? According to a press bio, "they came from places that have endured brutal state violence." Herrera and company also chose jazz and classical arrangers from a Latin American background, like Jaques Morelenbaum, Gonzalo Grau and Guillermo Klein.
"The arrangements have the harmonic richness of jazz. The lines, how they're written, are a conversation all the time," Herrera says. "Sometimes I use my voice as an instrument as well; I have all these conversations going on with the quartet. But also there are these little moments when it opens up, and I'm able to improvise."
"My next album," she teases, "is going to be something like that too."
Arturo O’Farrill. Photo: Jen Rosenstein
Right off the bat, O'Farrill brings up a crucial point: Latin America isn't some sort of sidestream or tributary of the jazz tradition. Rather, without its primary and essential influence, it would be unrecognizable.
"'The term 'Latin jazz' is a way to program this or that artist into this or that single slot on the festival to write this or that artist into the one chapter — or paragraph — of the book," O'Farrill, a five-time GRAMMY winner, tells GRAMMY.com.
"But in a way, Latinos — or Latinx people — have been taking part in the jazz experience since the beginning," he adds, citing the foundational 1800s pianist and composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk.
O'Farrill was born in Mexico City to musical parents — Mexican singer Lupe Valero and pioneering Cuban jazz trumpeter and composer Chico O'Farrill.
"In a way, I was very resistant to the music of my father," O'Farrill says regarding his early life, "because it was Latin and in an Anglo country, feeling ostracized and even self-deprecating."
But that connection proved foundational to O'Farrill, who was already communing with the "African conversational practice" via musical moments like Herbie Hancock's solo on "Seven Steps to Heaven."
Plus, the elder O'Farrill's close friendship with Dizzy Gillespie — who did a tremendous amount to bridge the spheres of modern jazz and Afro-Cuban music, thus helping codify Afro-Cuban jazz — set the stage for his son's life's work.
"Dizzy was also a big part of my entrance into the idea that Latinos could take part in the jazz experiment," O'Farrill explains. "Like Wynton, like Louis Armstrong, he understood that jazz was a natural Latino experience — that the music that we call jazz has also been filtered through Cuba and Columbia and Peru and Mexico."
All these traditions and more coalesce throughout his work; and O'Farrill cites 2015's "The Afro Latin Jazz Suite," which won a GRAMMY in 2016 for Best Instrumental Composition.
"I embraced festejo; I embraced mambo; I embraced djembe patterns," he says about that piece. And in general, "I have no qualms about mixing Colombian rhythms with Peruvian rhythms, with reggaeton and hip-hop.
"All of these things are fair; they're beautiful; they're fair game," O'Farrill continues, citing the 2008 book Secular Devotion and its assertion that virtually all music derives from African religious practice.
"I get to mix all these rhythms, and I don't do it in a sloppy way," he says. "I really try to be genuine about it."
Camila Meza. Photo: Christopher Drukker
When Camila Meza first absorbed the American jazz guitar greats — ranging from George Benson to Pat Metheny to Wes Montgomery — she noticed an unexpected thread through their works.
"Several of the first guitarists I got super-interested in were actually using elements of Latin music in their compositions," the Chilean vocalist, guitarist and composer tells GRAMMY.com. "So, I got into jazz through the connection that some American musicians had with Latin music."
Tracing that thread deeper and deeper into the heart of the music, Meza began incorporating Latin American compositions into her repertoire — just as stateside musicians pull material from the Great American Songbook. Simultaneously, this material influenced her writing and arranging.
"I would pick, for instance, a rhythm — let's say an Argentinian zamba, with a z, not with s — and then kind of experiment with that rhythm as well," Meza says. "I like to take cells of these rhythms, or the general feel, and then incorporate my own voice and experiment with them."
This mixing and matching, she explains, could apply to the meter, the instrumentation, or any number of other musical components.
To hear this approach in action, check out Ambar, Meza's 2019 album with the Nectar Orchestra. Therein, Meza juxtaposes material by American artists like Elliott Smith ("Waltz #1") and David Bowie with the Pat Metheny Group ("This is Not America") with originals like "Kalifu" and "Awaken." It also contains Latin American classics, like Jobim's "Olha Maria" and Tomás Méndez's "Cucurrucucú Paloma."
In crafting their arrangements, Meza was influenced by certain string parts on Latin American albums that are "very, very intense and dramatic and lyrical." She also reharmonized some of the well-worn compositions to render them fresh, personal and forward-thinking.
"Every time I take a song from anywhere, really, it goes through that process of experimenting with its harmony, experimenting with the rhythm, and making it so that it fits the message and the spirit that I want to put into the song," Meza says.
"I have inherited all this knowledge and these sounds from the folklore of both South America and the United States," she continues, "but at the same time, I have developed a sound that I consider my own."
Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Photo: Pachy Lopez
Gonzalo Rubalcaba, an esteemed pianist and composer who hails from Cuba, stresses that his home country's music is highly distinctive in and of itself.
"We can see a lot of common things between Cuba and many of the islands around. But at the same time, we see a huge contrast in many different aspects," the three-time GRAMMY winner tells GRAMMY.com. "[Historically], Cuba has been really, really well-defined in the way that musicians there produce the music."
This unmistakable tradition is inseparable from much of Rubalcaba's work — like 2015's Suite Caminos, which earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Latin Jazz Album. "I went directly to the Afro-Cuban roots in terms of the rhythm, chantings, melodies, and history behind that music," he says.
But then there are Rubalcaba offerings where he "injects himself" a little more — like 2011's XXI Century.
"Even when we can definitely find some aspect of Afro-Cuban music on this record, this is not an Afro-Cuban recording because it is not the main subject," he says. "I'm trying to do something totally different… this record is not coming directly from Afro-Cuban [tradition] in its totality."
Whether or not he hews closely to said vocabulary, Rubalcaba's works wind up consistently personal. This is partly due to how he conceptualizes each work, which runs counter to many of his fellow composers.
"I don't feel able to put a name on top of [my works at the outset], because I'm not thinking about that when I make music or compose my music," Rubalcaba says. "I'm not saying that this is good or bad, [but] I'm not working like that. At the end, I see the whole picture and then I can realize what the record is about."
Each resulting record could reveal any combination of the influences in his wheelhouse, but one through-line is certain: like every artist on this list, regardless of deeply into the past he reaches, Rubalcaba's works represent something new forward-thinking because he made them.
Lauren Henderson. Photo: Matt Baker
An American-born singer-songwriter deeply informed by her Afro-Latinx heritage, Henderson experienced dissonance growing up in the decidedly non-diverse town of Marblehead, Massachusetts.
"It wasn't diverse socioeconomically, either. There were people who were very fortunate and had certain privileges that many other people around the world do not," Henderson explains to GRAMMY.com. "I think you have to do a lot of work in all social situations and all types of relationships that you have." She adds that she didn't feel "completely accepted or enough of this or enough of that — Black enough, Latinx enough, what have you."
Henderson, whose family can be found all over Panama and the Caribbean, identifies as Afro-Latina. She also personally embraces the term "Latinx," citing it as a counterweight to "the lack of representation in a lot of the entertainment industry, historically — especially for artists who look like me, or who will be recognized for their contribution to Latinx music."
"Bending and being open to flexibility" is crucial to her artistry, Henderson says: "I'm always open to the fact that my image, my self, sense of self, my identity, and all of these things grow with my personal view on my voice in this community and in this music."
In Marblehead, Henderson became more and more curious about her background and identity. Traveling fueled that urge toward self-exploration: "I would come across different people, and they would see different things in [me], or ask me different questions about my background. I didn't have the answer to some of these things, so I delved deeper. It happened to coincide a lot with my passion for music and languages emerging and bubbling."
This came to a head on 2021's Musa, which features first-call accompanists in pianist Sullivan Fortner, bassist Eric Wheeler, and drummer Joe Dyson, and braids jazz, R&B, soul, and flamenco. "I felt like I've been melding these things and then paying homage to all of the influences that I've had that have helped shape me," Henderson says, pointing aheads to future works that deepen this communion with her background.
"I'm excited to learn more about my heritage all across the world," she adds. "Music has been a vehicle to do that."
Claudia Acuña. Photo: Hollis King
Growing up under the authoritarian military dictatorship in Chile, vocalist, songwriter and arranger Claudia Acuña had a friend help set up an antenna to other countries. This way, she heard Frank Sinatra, AC/DC, and the Jackson 5 — along with tangos, folk music, and cumbias.
This planted the seed in Acuña's mind that music didn't have to be one thing — and jazz, which she heard in the musicals she watched with her mother, was the prime vehicle for evading easy designations.
"[More than] any other music, it gave me those wings," Acuña tells GRAMMY.com. "Not having access to things like music school or being in a band, you start creating these things in your head and singing on your own and creating this sort of language and voice, learning from records and whatever I could get my hands, or ears, on."
As Acuña continued to develop, she established herself in the Santiago jazz scene; upon arriving in New York City in 1995, Acuña rapidly established herself there, with the legendary West Village club Smalls as a hub of creativity and activity.
Within the NYC scene, Acuña went on to collaborate with everyone from O'Farrill to trumpeter Avishai Cohen to the late pianist Harry Whitaker. And in recent times, she's worked with leading lights like pianists Fred Hersch and Kenny Barron, and bassist Christian McBride.
Acuña's catalog as a leader, ranging from 2002's Rhythm of Life to 2009's En Este Momento, is imbued with an exploratory spirit, whether giving Great American Songbook standards a South American spin or expanding upon the Afro-Caribbean rhythmic toolbox.
Lately, Acuña's been in a place of gratitude and joy, reveling in the "unapologetic" freedom she's afforded herself in this artistic space. "When you're doing the music that you love, it's like being in a lavender bubble," Acuña says. "It's an amazing tool and opportunity to document a moment that is going to live beyond my own life."
Miguel Zenón. Photo: Herminio
The cerebral, fiery and lyrical alto saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón wouldn't describe what he does as "Latin jazz." But that doesn't mean he's in some way disconnected from his roots — it's the opposite.
"I'm very connected to what I am and where I come from. I try to represent that in what I do physically as a person," Zenón tells GRAMMY.com. "It's a big part of my music — being from Latin America, being from Puerto Rico."
Zenón's work has long been characterized as straddling the traditions of American jazz and Latin American idioms, and those of tradition and innovation — and these tendencies were partly initiated when he arrived at Berklee School of Music in Boston.
"My main thing was I just wanted to play like Charlie Parker and Coltrane and Cannonball," he told The New York Times in 2021. "But I quickly came to understand that I really didn't know my music, the music of Puerto Rico. If I wanted to play something slow, instead of playing standards from the Great American Songbook, I'd rather go into my world, you know?"
This rapprochement between stateside jazz and the music of his home country has led to an eclectic and rewarding discography — which features some of the most dynamic and head-turning alto playing on the New York jazz scene.
These include 2011's ethnomusicological Alma Adentro: The Puerto Rican Songbook and 2021's El Arte del Bolero, an intimate, jazzy take on boleros with his longtime musical partner, pianist Luis Perdomo. He's also recorded album-length tributes to Ornette Coleman and Puerto Rican singer and composer Ismael Rivera.
And all of these big swings feel earned, as Zenón is something of a lifelong student — and all you need to do to behold the fruits of his explorations is pick up one of his records or check him out live.
"I do the research," Zenón says. "I try to delve into the information, and be as well-versed as possible, and have as much information to deal with as possible. And then, I find common threads, common elements and things that work well together."
Roxana Amed. Photo: Claudio Napolitano
Amed, a vocalist and composer originally from Argentina, remembers the press cycle for her 2021 album Ontology as something of a crossroads. The album had been nominated for two Latin GRAMMYs — and Amed wanted to avoid being pigeonholed as a result.
"Don't expect me to be doing big-ensemble music, or strong, loud music, or brass music, or music for dancing — the uptempo thing that in general, Latin jazz suggests," Amed tells GRAMMY.com, paraphrasing her expressions during one interview. "I can speak Spanish, but still, the approach of this album is not exactly as any other Latin musician would use."
Amed's care and detail in her self-presentation certainly applies to her music; therein, she pays sharp attention to how Argentine and American musics have commingled throughout history.
"Those musicians approached their music using some American jazz tools," she says. "It was not only our own blending in each country, but it was the Black influence — like in Peruvian music."
Amed's ongoing analyses in this regard have informed her ability to gracefully walk between worlds — whether in her original work; interpreting the work of luminaries like Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter; or paying tribute to giants like tango composer, arranger, and bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla.
"I think the best we can do — Latin jazz musicians, or whatever — is really know the language, know the American tradition, and know very well your own and try to see if that blending doesn't kill anyone in the process," Amed says. "Because sometimes you say, 'Oh, I will play this as if it were some other thing. And then you kill it; you kill the heart of the song."
Amed is in no danger of doing this; thanks to her acute artistic vision and understanding of her place in the canon, Amed helps them take root, grow and propagate into a matrix of fresh inspirations. The songs are safe with her.
The Recording Academy and GRAMMY.com do not endorse any particular artist, submission or nominee over another. The results of the GRAMMY Awards, including winners and nominees, are solely dependent on the Recording Academy's Voting Membership.
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Maluma
Photo: C Flanigan/Getty Images
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Cast your vote. Who will voters choose for Record Of The Year at the 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards?
Including the likes of Shakira and Carlos Vives to Natalia Lafourcade, Marc Anthony, Jesse & Joy, and Alejandro Sanz, the previous Latin GRAMMY winners for Record Of The Year reads like a who’s who of Latin music. This year’s nominees are no different.

With Rubén Blades‘ sensual “La Flor De La Canela,” Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee’s song of the summer “Despacito,” Residente’s impactful “Guerra,” Ricky Martin with Maluma’s Vente Pa’ Ca,” and Jorge Drexler’s “El Surco,” among others, this year’s class of 18th Latin GRAMMY Awards nominees for Record Of The Year is loaded.  
Which song do you think will take home the Latin GRAMMY for Record Of The Year? Cast your vote below.


Marc Anthony
Photo: Todd Plitt/Hulton Archive
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Singer/songwriter takes home the first Latin GRAMMY ever awarded for Song Of The Year
Thanks to the crossover popularity of Latin artists such as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Shakira in the late ’90s, salsa master Marc Anthony was soon to join the Latin hot flash with his first English crossover album, which was self-titled.

The result of Marc Anthony was not only his first Billboard Hot 100 Top 5 hit, “I Need To Know,” but it also landed the singer his first-ever Latin GRAMMY Award, and the distinction of earning the very first Latin GRAMMY for Song Of The Year in 2000 for the Spanish version of the catchy tune, “Dímelo.”

Anthony has gone on to win an additional four Latin GRAMMYs and two GRAMMY Awards. In 2016 he was honored as the Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year for his outstanding achievements as an artist and for his philanthropic work.

Source Photos: Jim McHugh © 1994, Gladys Vega/ Getty Images, Marco Ovando, Jean Paul Aussenard/Wireimage.com, Flo Ngala
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In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, GRAMMY.com highlights the riveting, celebratory sounds of Latin music in a genre- and era-spanning playlist featuring iconic songs from Jennifer Lopez, Karol G, Maná, Marco Antonio Solís, and many more.
Latin music isn't a genre — it's a culture. And 80 years of thriving Ibero-American sounds spanning across the Americas, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal are evidence of its ever-growing prominence. That's reflected in our 61-track playlist celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month 2022.
Unbeknownst to nearly no one, Latin music, in both the Hispanophone and Lusophone styles, exploded onto the global mainstream in the last five years. When Luis Fonsi's and Daddy Yankee's GRAMMY-nominated global hit "Despacito" broke the internet, the sound crossed into international borders — and markets — like never before. Today, Bad Bunny is one of the biggest stars on the planet, with his glorious, record-breaking, chart-topping, and hit-making streak still going strong.
Read More: 11 Essential Bad Bunny Collaborations: Drake, Rosalía, Cardi B, Bomba Estéreo & Others
Yet formidable contributions Stateside have continued since the golden age of boleros: New York's Mexican/Puerto Rican trio Los Panchos pioneered the romantic, nylon-driven ballad style in the '40s. In 1958, 17-year-old Ritchie Valens turned a son jarocho song into a rockabilly classic ("La Bamba"); Carlos Santana has played a key role in the evolution of Latin rock since Woodstock in the late-'60s; New York Latin troupe Fania All-Stars globalized salsa and Caribbean-rooted rhythms in the late '60s. Lest anyone forget Tejano icon Selena and her techno cumbia or the so-called "Latin explosion," led by Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Shakira, and Marc Anthony, both in the '90s.
Read More: Latin Music's Next Era: How New Festivals & Big Billings Have Helped Bring Reggaeton, New Corridos & More To The Masses
Although reggaeton and música urbana superstars like Bad Bunny, J Balvin and Karol G continue to reign almighty on the global Latin pop scene, there is a growing number of promising, diverse voices within the Latin music soundscape bubbling up today. Honduran-born SoundCloud creator Isabella Lovestory is spearheading a provocative neo-reggaeton style of her own; Colombia's Ela Minus is giving her defiant electronic sound an exciting darkwave edge; and Mexican viral rapper Santa Fe Klan is resurrecting cumbia sonidera within the rap en español circuit.
The Latin beat goes on, and you can explore its ongoing sonic evolution in our Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Pandora. Playlist powered by GRAMMY U.
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Bad Bunny
Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
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The young Puerto Rican rapper is bringing Latin trap to the mainstream with countless hits, many of them big collabs, all before putting his first album out
There’s a lot of buzz around Bad Bunny, whose been putting out hit after hit the last two years, several alongside pop heavy hitters, and has successful toured across the U.S., all before releasing a debut album. The Puerto Rican rapper born Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio is taking on the world by storm with his punctuating deep voice, playful style and ultra-catchy brand of Latin trap, a Spanish-language take on Atlanta-born trap music.
Bad Bunny has put out several solo hit songs of his own, but his raps, all of which are in Spanish, can be heard all over, including on Cardi B‘s No. 1 hit—and one of the biggest songs of the summer—”I Like It.” The 24 year old star is clearly a master collaborator, with the lists of artists he has worked with ever-growing, he will keep spreading his sound and his name far and wide.

It almost seems as if Bad Bunny has magically appeared center stage over the last few months, taking over the U.S. airwaves with no prior warning, gaining new fans and new collab partners at blazing speed. The truth is that he has been putting out plenty of hit songs, primarily with Spanish language artists since 2016, primarily in the Latin trap and reggaeton spaces, but it was his feature on GRAMMY-nominated rapper Cardi B’s “I Like It,” which also features Latin GRAMMY-winning reggaeton star J. Balvin, that really put Bad Bunny center stage in English-language music market.
The song, released in May as the 4th single from Cardi B’s debut album, Invasion of Privacy, earned all three stars a No. 1 hit, and has remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for the past 26 weeks. The hit may have been the first time many English-speaking Americans were exposed to Bad Bunny, and the collab has no doubt helped grow his English-language fan base. The rapper is growing momentum at a time where Spanish-language music has been increasingly penetrating American pop music, as we saw with “Despacito” in 2017. Now that he has gotten everyone’s attention, Bad Bunny is not slowing down.
The buzz around the rapper started in 2016 when one of the self-produced songs,”Diles,” he uploaded to his SoundCloud, gained popularity and launched a loyal following, including from Puerto Rican reggaeton artist DJ Luian, who signed him to his label Hear The Music. After getting signed, he released a remix of the track featuring established reggaeton artists Arcángel, Farruko and Ñengo Flow, along with up-and-comer Ozuna.
Bad Bunny continued to gain momentum in the Spanish-language market, working with more heavy-hitters, including GRAMMY nominee and Latin GRAMMY winner—and all-around reggaeton-legend—Daddy Yankee, on Yankee’s 2017 DJ Luian-produced track, “Vuelve.” Bad Bunny has been at the forefront of the growing Latin trap and reemerging reggaeton music scenes, with the music continuing to gain popularity among both Spanish speaking and non-Spanish speaking music listeners in the U.S. and around the world.

On Sept. 27 Marc Anthony, Will Smith and Bad Bunny formed a somewhat-unlikely yet very enticing trio with their upbeat single “Está Rico.” The song features passion-filled Spanish language singing from GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY winner Anthony and playful English language rapping from GRAMMY winner Smith, parsed with Bad Bunny’s deep baritone Spanish language raps. This song is fun and playful and shows not only the versatility of Bad Bunny, but that everyone, even long-established artists like Anthony and Smith, want to work with him. It also made fans hope for more collabs with the Latin trap star.

On Oct. 11 many dreams came true when Bad Bunny released a track, “Mia,” with the one and only GRAMMY winning rapper Drake. Just a day after its release the song is already trending big, with over 2.5 million views for the music video on YouTube. Drake surprised fans by delivering his ever-smooth raps all in (impeccable) Spanish, making the song completely Spanish language. We will have to wait and see if “Mia” can earn Bad Bunny another No. 1 hit, but it seems like signs point towards yes.

It is quite impressive how much momentum the young Latin trap star has made without having released his debut studio album yet. And while it feels like pretty much everyone wants to collab with him now, he is a strong, vibrant artist in his own right, and has put out several big solo songs, including his breakout hit “Diles” and “Estamos Bien,” which he released this June. “Estamos Bien,” which translates to “we’re good” is a triumphant, celebratory track that gained almost 100 million views in several weeks.
In September he performed the song on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon and dedicated it to the Hurricane Maria victims in his native Puerto Rico, asking others to follow him in supporting the still-recovering island. Even as Bad Bunny rises to the top he stays 100 percent himself, standing proudly in his Puerto Rican and Latino identity, paving the way and making space for other young Latino rappers.

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