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Uno-dos-tres, 13 Latin Rhythms That Make Us Bust A Move!

Most stereotypes about Latin American culture tend to be hurtful. We are not lazy, promiscuous or a bunch of free-loaders (quite the contrary: we are hard-working, committed and believe in a fair go for everyone). However, there is a stereotype that is kinda true and certainly amazing: most of us love to hit the dance floor!

Music is essential to Latin American culture and is one of our main cultural exports (just look at Ben Stiller on the above image!). The origin of some of our rhythms are quite interesting. Read the juicy details below and surprise your primos in the next family party. 

1. Salsa

Credit: 8.jpg. Digital image. Latino life.


Like many music genres salsa is a hybrid. Salsa was popularized by Cubans and Puerto Ricans in 1960s New York, who fused Cuban son with popular rhythms like swing. The rest is history. The sinuous moves and catchy songs (based, like soul, on repetition) spread like sunshine in the whole American continent.

You gotta listen to: Rubén Blades (but of course)

Credit: ruben-blades-salsa-768×432. Digital image. Sounds and colours.


We hate to be a bit cliché here, but no one better than the Panamanian salsa master to be the ambassador of this music. His love for culture and music is eternal. 

2. Mambo

Credit: West Side Story. Seven Arts Productions.


Its origin dates to the early twentieth century, when son and danzón Cuban masters started to speed up the tempo and delve into African music territory. Where danzón ends and mambo begins is unclear…. 

You gotta listen to: Dámaso Pérez Prado

Credit: p04xg66j. Digital image. BBC.


1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8 maaaaambo. The Cuban from Matanzas was the original Maestro del mambo and revolutionized this music genre by incorporating big band style ensembles. He made his career in Mexico, where he was a common feature in films and popular culture.

3. Lambada

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous.


This is the infamous dance that made thousands of abuelitas cross themselves in the 80s and 90s and proclaim “Jesucristo Salvador!”. This dance has an African origin and was popularized in Brazil. It is a bothered and sweaty joining of bodies. The word means “strong slap” in Portuguese.

You gotta listen to: Aurino Quirino Gonçalves a.k.a Pinduca

Credit: 0306va03pind1. Digital image. O POVO Online.


He is the father of lambada and his quick rhythms popularized the genre even if other groups mixed it with…

4. Bachata

Credit: Tenor. Anonymous.


This type of music originated in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation where Spanish, indigenous and African rhythms collide. Bachata is slow and suave, a mix of son and traditional boleros, romantic songs generally accompanied by guitars. The dance is slow and up close. Sabor! 

You gotta listen to: Prince Royce

Bachata has become a source of identity for Hispanos in the East Coast, where the rhythm is hugely popular. This boy from The Bronx (represent!) is a proud representative of mainstream Latino culture. 

5. Banda

Credit: Rudo y cursi. Warner.


Originally for norther Mexico, this music makes us think of deserts, cowboy hats and boots. However, its origins are quite interesting and actually European. If you listen closely, you will realize that it is very similar to polka! Yes, the music imported by German migrants who made this region of Mexico lindo y querido their home. 

You gotta listen to: Intocable

Credit: IntocableHighway-1500×1000. Digital image. Grupo Intocable.


The Mexican-American band is simply amazing: their lyrics are melancholic and their music is pure kitschy delight. Best of all, you can share it with your amá, tías and abuelas in the upcoming family posadas.

6. Ranchera

Credit: Tenor. @j_m_19


Originally Mexican of course. Ranchera music emerged from the ashes of the Mexican Revolution and was the cornerstone of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, where figures such as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete became idols. The music touches on the universal themes of loss, rural life and love. Ay, ay, ay. 

You gotta listen to: Chavela Vargas

Credit: Giphy. @remezcla


A Costa Rican dynamo who became a symbol of queerness in a male dominated world. La Vargas could outdrink the most macho mariachis and legend has it that she bedded some Hollywood starlets. She was a true legend. She continued performing well into her old age. 

7. Corridos

Credit: Giphy. @CorridosMX


During and after the Mexican revolution, corrido singers composed troubadour-style songs in which they told the stories of robbers and soldiers. In recent times, corrido singers have used the drug cartels and dealers as their main source of inspiration, which has led some states like Chihuahua to forbid narcocorridos. This is a huge industry in the United States as well. 

You gotta listen to: Los Tigres del Norte

Credit: Tenor. @AntonioLopezGC


This legendary band has been involved in controversies due to the way they seem to glorify narco culture. They have sung about lost love among smugglers, criminal masterminds and Mexican identity. Their accordion and catchy lyrics will such have you dancing. Una camioneta gris, con placas de California

8. Merengue

Credit: vicini-merengue-identity-and-magic. Digital image. folkdancesdr.com


This rhythm is synonym of the Dominican Republic. When it became popular in the 19th century newspapers described it as a threat to high moral standards. Later dictator Victor Trujillo made it the national music and dance of the country. It is happy, fast and catchy as hell. 

You gotta listen to: Juan Luis Guerra

Credit: Tenor. Anonymous.


This amazing musician is simply the ambassador of merengue. His “Bilirrubina” spread all throughout the continent like a happy virus and he has remained at the top for three decades. Sing with me: qusiera ser un pez

9. Cumbia

Credit: Cumbia-2WEB. Digital image. Making Music Magazine.


Its origin is Colombian of course. Like most genres, it is a mix product of processes of colonization. It was originally a courtship dance among indigenous groups, but when it came face to face with African and European rhythms  and instruments such as drums, magic happened.

You gotta listen to: Celso Piña, El maestro del acordeón

Credit: celso-pina-oakland-2. Digital Image. Latin Bay Area.


Colombian cumbia has become popular the world over, and Monterrey, in northern México, is one of the epicenters of cumbia culture. Celso Piña is a master accordion player who has toured the world making gringos, europeans and la raza dance.

10. Tango

Credit: Giphy. @sonymusiccolombia


Tango is the epitome of South American sensuality. Cultivated mainly in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires and the Uruguayan Montevideo, this music’s popularity is credited to the great Carlos Gardel, who was in fact born in Tolouse, France. Story goes that the accordions that were used in churches in Germany found their way to bars and brothels in Argentina, where musicians experimented with their high pitch and sustained melancholic notes. 

You gotta listen to: Astor Piazolla

Credit: homenaje-a-astor-piazzolla-en-el-cck-03-695×477. Digital image. Saddler Wells’ Blog.


Sure, Carlos Gardel is the go to classic, but Piazzolla wrote sexy classics in his own right with a much more contemporary sensibility. Find him on Spotify, make yourself some mate tea and relax. 

11. Reggaeton

Credit: Giphy. @am85


Vilified by some due to its often aggressive misogynist lyrics, reggaeton comes out of Puerto Rico. It is a mix of Latin music, hip hop and genres such as reggae (that’s where its name comes from, actually). This rhythm has become perhaps the most popular in the world, even outside Latin America. 

You gotta listen to: Calle 13

The duo from Puerto Rico is as sabroso as it gets, but can also be politically assertive. Even though they know how to set the dance floor on fire they can also sing about migrant rights, US interventionism and boricua identity.

12. Samba

Credit: Giphy. Anonymous


Images of the Rio Carnival in Brazil come to mind. Thousands of people moving their hips to the sound of drums. Samba originates from the forced and illegal migration of African individuals who were sold as slaves. The music originates from current-day Angola and Congo. 

You gotta listen to: Carmen Miranda

Credit: Giphy. @boomunderground

Oldie but goodie Carmen Miranda is perhaps not the best samba singer and dancer, but she had a key role in spreading this rhythm beyond Brazil by migrating to Broadway and Hollywood and becoming one of the first latino icons of US popular culture. 

13. Bossa Nova

Credit: 790248030623. Digital image. Putumayo Music.


This very slow and sensual rhythm became popular in Brazil in the 1960s. It uses instruments such as acoustic guitar, electrical guitar and piano not generally associated with Latin music. Its perfect for slow dancing and relaxing. 

You gotta listen to: Caetano Veloso

Credit: Tenor. Anonymous.


The Brazilian classic singer has a voice that sounds like a smooth piña colada on a steamy Río afternoon. Just so sensual and lush. 

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