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Playlist: The music of Latinx History Month

Latinx Heritage Month playlist artwork
Latinx Heritage Month playlist artworkNatalia Toledo | MPR

by Natalia Mendez and Natalia Toledo

September 15, 2023

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, referred to by some as Hispanic Heritage Month, we offer up a celebration of important and influential musicians. This deep, curated playlist — featuring picks from Minnesota musicians Maria Isa, Tearra Oso, and Nicolas Muñoz of Alma Andina; KFAI program director Miguel Vargas; The Current’s Natalia Toledo, and regular contributor Natalia Mendez — spans style, feeling, and genre.

Read below to find out more about reggaeton, punk, pop, rock en español, bachata, salsa, hip-hop, soul, mariachi, Tejano, electro-pop, bossa nova, and so much more by artists with Latino and Hispanic backgrounds. Latinx Heritage Month runs from mid-September to mid-October, but this playlist sounds great any time of year.

Natalia Lafourcade - “Que he Sacado con Quererte”

I have a distinct memory of hearing this cover of Chilean singer-songwriter Violeta Parra's song on the radio in my friend's garage. It was a whole segment dedicated to Parra's music and legacy as a performer, artist, and folklorist. I only speak a little Spanish, but I could tell by Natalia Lafourcade's delivery — her sharp and clean soprano ringing out stopped us in our tracks — that she was singing was about love and longing. It gave me chills, and still does to this day. -Natalia Mendez

Selena - “Amor Prohibido”

Selena is an idol to me and countless other Chicanx people. As a child, I struggled to find a story similar to mine. I was an American-born kid of Mexican descent growing up not speaking Spanish and navigating the feeling of being in-between until I discovered Selena. She sang and learned the language and represented many of us positively at a time in America when many were at odds with the influx of Mexican immigrants. She was not a monolith, but she was a hero to so many of us. I love this joyful song about forbidden love and casting off the words of naysayers. If you're a Selena fan, I highly recommend the "Anything for Selena" podcast about her lasting legacy paired and the cultural analysis of her impact on Latinos in America. -NM

Mula - “Nunca Paran”

Dominican three-piece Mula is one of the most danceable bands I've heard in a while. They combine reggaeton's younger, faster sibling dembow music with bursts of airy keys and soaring synths. Soft, sometimes glitchy vocals balance out their songs, and it creates a musical texture I hadn't heard before the first time I encountered "Nunca Paran." As a queer Latinx who falls under the genderqueer umbrella, I also love their song “Espejos en las Aoteas” (1965), a song about Dominican revolutionaries that fought for the rights of sex workers, queer, and trans folks. -NM

FEA - “Pelo Suelto”

"FEA" means ugly in Spanish, and I appreciate the riot grrl attitude of not focusing on the looks of the four women that make up the Chicana punk band from Texas. The music they make speaks for them enough without appearances getting in the way. "Pelo Suelto" is a cover of a song originally recorded by Gloria Trevi, known as the "Mexican Madonna." Already an empowering song about young women being true to themselves, I love the grittiness it gets when it's punkified by FEA. -NM

Mon Laferte - “Amárrame”

Mon Laferte is an incredibly well-rounded Chilean singer, songwriter, and visual artist. She can rip out an indie, pop, or rock song as well as compose cumbias, salsas, and more. She is also a survivor of thyroid cancer that almost took her life and career, and speaks openly about her issues with depression. "Amárrame" is a song off her La Trenza album that features Colombian performer Juanes. The cumbia rhythms and bright horns on this song add an extra layer of fun to an already approachable pop track. I won't touch on the lyrics because that may be demasiado picoso (too spicy) for public radio. -NM

Arca - “Machote”

A friend sent me this song last year, and I've been obsessed with Arca ever since. The Venezuelan performer, producer, and rapper blows me away with her layered, textured, atmospheric genre-crossing soundscapes. From industrial hip-hop to EDM, hyper pop to reggaeton, her versatile sound is one that often gives me chills. She's impressed others too and has worked with the likes of FKA Twigs, Björk, Frank Ocean, and Kanye West. As a trans, non-binary woman, she frequently uses gender as a theme in her music, and that kind of representation is a great comfort to me. -NM

Flor de Toloache - “Dicen”

Latin Grammy-winning band Flor de Toloache is an all-female mariachi band that features women from many different Latinx backgrounds and is based in the United States. Mariachi music is historically a male-dominated genre of music, so I was enchanted when I saw them paving a path for women in the genre. I appreciate their willingness to honor the history and sound of mariachi music and their daring in adding a more modern spin to some songs, too. I highly recommend their Tiny Desk Concert to fully appreciate the mastery of their instruments and voices. -NM

The Mars Volta - “L'Via L'Viaquez”

The Mars Volta is a progressive rock band with roots in the El Paso post-hardcore scene. Founding members Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala are known for their captivating stage presence and Rodriguez Lopez's blistering guitars. I am a huge fan of this band and their preceding group, At the Drive-In. As a Brown kid who grew up going to hardcore and punk shows and not seeing anyone who looked like me at the shows I would attend, it made such an impression on me as a teenager to hear Afro-Caribbean and cumbia rhythms in prog-rock and punk music. -NM

Selena Gomez - “Hands to Myself”

I'll admit I was skeptical of the Disney pedigree of Selena Gomez. I'd never gone out of my way to investigate her music, assuming her musical angle just wasn't going to be for me. Imagine my surprise when I came across this song and realized the husky voice and sexy lyrics were coming from Gomez! I love a good pop song, and this one is playful, flirty, and fun. It identifies the relatability of a frisky new physical connection, and so many of us know the desire to want to touch. -NM

Xenia Rubinos - “Hair Receding”

Xenia Rubinos is an Afro-Latina from Connecticut whose music crosses between R&B, jazz-funk, and hip-hop. Rubinos' voice is as much an instrument in her arrangements as any instrument in her songs. Her vocal range is broad and can shift from pushing her talking voice to soaring, airy vocals and powerful cries. The first song I heard by her was "Hair Receding," and I loved the arrangement of this song. The syncopation of the keyboards, drums, and guitar provide a gritty backdrop for her cooly-clean vocals to cut through like a knife. -NM

La Doña and Sueuga Kamau - “Dembow Y Sexo”

San Francisco-raised La Doña likes to keep a queer and feminist spin on the music she makes, a counter to the male-centered gaze of the hip-hop and reggaeton that influences her sound. She even coined the term "femmeton," a portmanteau of feminism and reggaeton, to describe the music she makes that combats misogyny. The talented trumpet player also teaches kids how to play the traditional Latinx music she heard and played growing up but never experienced in school. I love that she is carving out safer spaces for women and young Latinx kids in music and in schools. -NM

Juan Luis Guerra - “Bachata Rosa”

Before Romeo Santos, there was Juan Luis Guerra. Bachata is a genre born in the Dominican Republic. It was originally from "rural areas" with lyrics considered too vulgar by the mainstream. Bachata Rosa was released in 1990 and earned Juan Luis Guerra his first Grammy. The album was a huge success all over Latin America and Europe, and features a fusion of styles from merengue, salsa, and, of course, bachata. Guerra continues to make music to this day and has since collaborated with Santos, who has become an international bachata icon. One of their songs together is "Frío, Frío." -Natalia Toledo

Los Enanitos Verdes - “Mi Primer Dia Sin Ti”

Argentinian rock band Enanitos Verdes formed in 1979 and gave the Spanish-speaking world one of the greatest breakup songs ever. A karaoke classic. Translated as "My First Day Without You" was released in 1994, and captured broken hearts all over Latin America. Los Enanitos Verdes have many other hits under their belt, and are considered one of the biggest rock acts of Latin America. Earlier in September, their frontman Marciano Cantero died at age 62. -NT

Gustavo Cerati - “Puente”

Gustavo Cerati was an extremely important and beloved artist from Argentina. He founded the '80s new wave group Soda Stereo, the country’s best-selling rock band. Cerati went on to have an incredibly successful solo career right up until his passing in 2014. "Puente" comes from his 1999 solo album Bocanada. I recommend watching Break It All: A History of Rock in Latin America on Netflix to learn more about his and Soda Stereo's legacy. -NT

Control Machete & Ana Tijoux - “Como Ves”

Control Machete is a hip-hop group from Mexico that peaked in popularity during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Known for hits like "¿Comprendes, Mendes?" and "Si Señor," they brought a fresh, eerie feeling to the Spanish-speaking hip-hop world. It’s reminiscent of Cypress Hill, but with a little more boom bap rawness. This single features Ana Tijoux, one of the most iconic hip-hop artists from Chile. She began her career as part of Makiza, a hip-hop group of exiled kids from Chile who moved back from other parts of the world. They had a lot to say politically and socially. Their 1999 song "En Paro" that took critical aim at Chile’s political climate was banned from radio for being too "controversial.” She continued her solo career and has collaborated with artists of all genres from all over the globe. -NT

Cultura Profética - “La Complicidad”

Puerto Rican reggae band Cultura Profética is one of my all-time personal faves. The band formed in 1996 and is still active. They bring a super mellow, chill vibe, and cover topics ranging from love to criticism of the political climate in their homeland of Boriquén. -NT

Renata Flores - “Qam hina”

Renata Flores is a Peruvian artist who rose to fame rapping and singing in Quechua. Spoken by the Quechua people of South America’s Andean region, the language remains the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Latin America. Flores is part of a movement of young Indigenous artists in Latin America, bringing their language and culture to the forefront, and blending rap, Latin trap, and reggaeton beats. Her 2019 single "Qam hina" remembers her grandmother, who had to walk extremely long (and dangerous) distances and wasn’t able to finish school due to her rural upbringing. The story resonates throughout Latin America, and the issues still exist. -NT

Polimá Westcoast, Pailita, Paloma Mami, Feid & De La Ghetto - “Ultra Solo Remix”

I wanted to include this song because it had such a huge impact within Chile’s reggaeton scene. Polimá is an Afro-Chilean artist who rose to fame in 2018. This collaboration with Pailita, another Chilean reggaeton artist, was already big in Latin America, but this remix has crossed borders for different reasons. One, this remix includes Paloma Mami, Chile's first reggaeton artist to cross over and have huge hits all over Latin America and the rest of the world. Also it features Feid, a well-known name from Colombia, and De La Ghetto, an iconic and legendary reggaeton artist from Puerto Rico. -NT

Lido Pimienta - “Te Queria”

Colombian Canadian Lido Pimienta is unapologetically queer, Afro-Indigenous, outspoken, and unafraid of her creative expression in all forms. She was really great live and unexpectedly hilarious at a Turf Club show back in March, and she stole my heart. She recently announced a new variety show called Lido TV, where she is the creator, writer, producer, and host. It is a show inspired by children's programming, but not necessarily for children, as it will discuss colonialism, feminism, beauty standards, and many other topics. -NT

Buscabulla - “Nydia”

Puerto Rican married couple Luis Alfredo del Valle and Raquel Berrios formed the band Buscabulla in 2014. Their sound is sometimes described as electro-Caribbean and tropical synth. Think Tame Impala with a Boricua flavor and ethereal whispery vocals. Buscabulla has caught the attention of artists like Kali Uchis and Bad Bunny, welcoming them to a more mainstream crowd in the last few years. For their Tiny Desk concert from two years ago, amidst quarantine, they share their music from the back of a van on a lovely beach, with the ocean sounds in the background. -NT

Shakira - “Hips Don't Lie” feat. Wyclef Jean

The song’s iconic trumpet intro is known around the world. Shakira was able to break through to the English-speaking world with her 2005 hit "Hips Don't Lie" featuring Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean. The single reached number one in 18 countries. But Shakira already had an important career under her belt that began back in 1990 in Colombia, where she was born. She was known in Latin America for her long dark hair, unique voice, vulnerable song lyrics, and the way she honors her Lebanese heritage with her dance moves (see Ojos Asi). Shakira has experimented with many different genres throughout her career, progressing from rock to pop to reggaeton, and trying everything in between. Never afraid to try something different and new, she continues to explore and evolve in her career and will always be a beloved icon in the music world. -NT

Jorge Ben Jor - “Mas Que Nada”

I have always considered Jorge Ben Jor underrated. He’s the mastermind behind a lot of your Brazilian faves, such as "Pais Tropical." The original "Mas Que Nada" was released in 1963 and later covered by Sergio Mendes in 1966. His version is the one that made it to the charts and was much later remixed by the Black Eyed Peas. Jorge Ben Jor has been called the "father of samba rock" and I think he deserves more credit for his genius. If you are a fan of bossa nova and samba, check out his discography. -NT

Victor Jara - “Manifiesto”

There is so much to say about Victor Jara. Victor Jara was not only a musician, but also an educator, poet, and social activist. His music uplifted the working class and highlighted his dreams of living in a world where there is justice, love, unity, and harmony. Victor Jara was brutally tortured and murdered by the Pinochet regime shortly after they overthrew the elected president at the time, Salvador Allende, in 1973. Victor Jara has become a symbol of struggle and human rights, and a sad reminder of Chile's brutal history. In late 2019, there was a collective social uprising where Victor Jara's songs once again brought hope of change and unity, specifically his song "El Derecho de Vivir En Paz" (The Right to Live in Peace) which was covered by several Chilean artists. -NT

Thee Sacred Souls - “Weak For Your Love”

This sweet soul trio on the Daptone label is popular with lovers of oldies and record collectors. They are currently touring behind their recent self-titled debut album, and are coming to the Turf Club on Friday, September 23. -Miguel Vargas. Vargas is the program director at KFAI, host of Cedar Sunrise, and the creator of the legendary Radio Pocho.

Combo Chimbita - “Memoria”

This New York-based, Colombian-rooted band Combo Chimbita has been quite the emerging band to follow over the past five years, and they gave an amazing performance at the Turf Club in March while on tour with Lido Pimienta. "Memoria" demonstrates their sonic innovation in genre-crossing, with psychedelic beats between hip-hop and cumbia sonidera. -MV

Dos Santos - “City of Mirrors”

Over the past decade, Chicago's Dos Santos has transformed from a hardcore baile band into a blooming artist collective hub. In addition to releasing the cinematic City of Mirrors as a group, they have also released notable side projects over the past year: drummer Daniel Villareal's solo album, Panama '77, to studio projects with Austin, Texas, artist Beto Martinez that includes The Los Sundowns and Caramelo Haze. -MV

Kali Uchis - “In My Dreams”

Kali Uchis is an international superstar following her 2020 release Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios), but this 2017 track from Isolation still goes hard. It’s an anthem for the introverted. -MV

Esteban "Steve" Jordan y Pura Jalea - “Squeeze Box Man”

My grandparents migrated from South Texas to the Midwest in the 1950s, and what came with them (along with Texas families that migrated north) was their love for conjunto and orquesta styles of Tejano music. Throughout the ‘70s, many Tejano artists experimented with crossing disco music with standard genre styles like polkas, cumbias, and boleros. So it's no surprise you might hear some accordion with some funk. Many of the most mind-blowing recordings of the 1970s Onda Chicana era of Tejano music are not easily accessible (unless you’ve got the OG vinyl pressings), and so I'm grateful that I can stream Corpus Christi's "Squeeze Box Man" by Esteban Jordan in decent quality. -MV

Eddie Palmieri - “Vamonos Pa'l Monte”

This song is epic. It follows the explosion of salsa to the world by way of the Nuyorican Spanish Harlem streets to Puerto Rican and beyond. It was awesome to see Eddie Palmieri at the Dakota a couple of years back in February 2020, right before the COVID pandemic shut down the world. -Maria Isa. Maria Isa is a Boricua singer, songwriter, actress, rapper, activist, and youth worker raised on the West Side barrio of St Paul.

Bad Bunny - “El Apagón”

Benito, aka Bad Bunny, created an anthem for Puerto Ricans surviving without power through the blackouts after Hurricane Maria’s devastation of the island five years ago — along with the abandonment of US government aid, and corruption on the island. -MI

Héctor Lavoe - “El Cantante”

Hector Lavoe is the legend that will forever live through his music as THE SINGER OF ALL SINGERS, aka "EL CANTANTE DE LOS CANTANTES," of Salsa music. Even 28 years after his death, the Puerto Rican singer from Ponce is recognized internationally for his influence on storytelling, Abuelita quotes, and jokes of real life in Latin America and Barrios across the globe. One of the most classical Salsa songs ever, “El Cantante” is written by Panamanian icon Ruben Blades as a biographical anthem for Hector Lavoe. -MI

Celia Cruz - “Bemba Colorá”

One of my favorites by the QUEEN of SALSA Celia Cruz! She knows she's a guerrera informing the player man she's directing the song to with an attitude of "I'm cool with you hollering at me... you stick to your ‘Bemba Colora’ aka the one with the big red lips.” -MI

La Lupe - “La Tirana”

La Lupe is known as the Queen of Latin Soul. Her lyrics in “La Tirana” are a reflection of letting go of a relationship where the ex is playing victim, and she recognizes letting go of this lover is the best thing to happen to her. "EL DIA QUE EN QUE TE DEJE, FUI YO QUE SALIÓ GANANDO” / “The day that I left you is the day that I ended up winning!" -MI

Maria Isa x YMMI - “La Raza”

This one’s an original by yours truly. Letting you know everything we do and continue to do in leadership is to uplift our community, remember our history, our culture, and our PEOPLE. The saying "Para la Raza" became a popular slogan in the Chicano and Latino political organized movements of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, such as the Brown Berets and the Young Lords. This song serves as an anthem to feel proud and amplify all power for the people. -MI

Bad Bunny feat. Bomba Estéreo - “Ojitos Lindos”

Puerto Rican singer/rapper Bad Bunny is one of the biggest artists in the world right now. He mixes Latin trap with reggaeton and other Latin influences like bachata. Bomba Estéreo is a Colombian band that has had breakout songs like, “Soy Yo.” They mix cumbia with psychedelic pop. -Tearra Oso. Tearra Oso is a singer, dancer, healer, storyteller and Bomba drummer, an Afro Puerto Rican art form created by the enslaved West African people on the sugar cane plantations of Boriquen.

Héctor Lavoe & Willie Colón - “Aguanile”

Héctor Lavoe was a Puerto Rican salsa singer who inspired most Latin pop artists today. “El Cantante” (see above) and “Aguanile” are two of his most popular songs, and were probably played in every Puerto Rican household since the 1970s. Willie Colón is an American musician, singer and activist who has played salsa and bolero music since the 1960s. -TO

Rauw Alejandro - “Enchule”

This is a fun song that can lift you up and make you dance any day. Rauw Alejandro is a Puerto Rican singer mixing reggaeton with Latin R&B. -TO

Ozuna feat. Rosalía - “Yo x Ti, Tu x Mi”

Ozuna is a Puerto Rican singer and rapper who has written many songs and collaborated with many artists like Cardi B and Daddy Yankee. He’s one of the top-selling Latin artists of all time. Rosalía is a Spanish singer/songwriter who has mixed Spanish traditional music with Reggaeton and collaborated with many top artists like Bad Bunny. -TO

Sofia Reyes x Jhay Cortez - “A Tu Manera”

Sofia is a crossover Mexican pop star who has incorporated pop with reggaeton, cumbia, bachata, and other Latin genres while singing in English and Spanish. She has had a long career with many songs, this is one of my favorites. Jhay Cortez is a Puerto Rican singer and rapper who has many songs and awesome collaborators like Bad Bunny and Karol G. -TO

Tearra Oso - “Ahora Yo Lo Sé”

Showcasing traditional call and response song structure, this song is about not wanting to assimilate to white washed culture like my grandparents did, while a chorus of women repeat, “No sabían nada mejor, pero ahora yo lo sé” in Spanish which means, “they didn’t know better, but now I do” in English. Traditional instruments of barrel drums or barriles, a wooden box called a cua, and Indigenous Borinquen maracas play the traditional West African rhythm, Yuba. -TO

La Yegros - “Viene de Mi”

This is La Yegros from Argentina. I fell in love with her music after meeting this group in person. My band Alma Andina, back in 2012-13, had the honor to share the stage with them at the Cedar Cultural Center. Their mixture of live looping, plus the slow steady cumbia, the amazing live percussion they had, and the fact that they were only four musicians on stage making this live, there was just no way to not keep following them. -Nicolas Muñoz

Santaferia - “Si te Marchas (En vivo)”

So this band, as well as this style of music, is from my homeland of Chile, more specifically from the north part of Chile, AKA the Andes region. These guys have a tropical influence playing cumbia, some fast reggae, bits of salsa here and there but they do all that using a lot of Andean instruments such as pan-flutes, quenas (a type of flute), charango (small, stringed instrument), as well as more “modern” sounding instruments like the electric guitar, synthesizer, horns, electric bass, making their sound is potent, clean, danceable, unique and catchy. Enjoy! -Nicolas Muñoz

Joe Vasconcellos - “Ciudad Traicionera”

This tune, in particular, has been most impactful to me now because I recently moved to Chicago and it speaks about a “betraying city.” “You lied and deceived me / you got me in a pickle / that shouldn't be done,” and boy did Minneapolis-St. Paul make me feel like that at times. But after 23 years of growing up there since I was 10, it makes you miss what felt like home for decades. Like the song insinuates, the “betraying city” will always call to me and have my heart, as well as all my secrets. -Nicolas Muñoz

Eddie Palmieri - “Justicia”

“Justicia” (justice) talks exactly about that, using the same thing we are all asking about in these last few years: WHERE IS THE JUSTICE? It’s a very impactful yet danceable tune. It is a salsa nonetheless, but the great thing about these salsas from the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s is that they were innovators in every way. Eddie Palmieri was one of the first, if not the first, to have a front line of trombones rather than the traditional trumpet lead. The lyrics — not only in this tune but again, older salsa — had deeper, more impactful messages. Hector Lavoe of course is another salsa icon alongside, Willie Colon, Ruben Blades, and many more from that era. Check out Fanta All Stars and you’ll find all those names and more. -Nicolas Muñoz

Alika y Nueva Alianza - “Yo Tengo el Don”

Another Argentinian cumbia, but this is a more modern-sounding cumbia with a lot of funky rhythms like hip-hop here and there. It’s obviously cumbia, but heavy on the synth sounds and electronic build-ups. Plus the lyrics are still deep: “I have the gift / I don’t have the fame but I have the gift / I don’t have a lot of money, but I have the gift.” Cool tune to jam out in the car or at a party, especially if this will be the very first cumbia of the night. -Nicolas Muñoz