One of the best parts about traveling is being exposed to new music genres and musicians. And if Latin America is famous for one thing, it’s got to be its music. The region is bursting at the seams with rhythm and it’s here I’ve been introduced to some of my favorite groups. Some of these are super old school, some unknown, and some topping the charts in their respective countries – and all are worth a listen.
When someone mentions El Chocó in Colombia, they are likely talking about its extreme poverty, its guerrilla violence, or the devastating flooding that engulfs it during rainy season. But ChoQuibTown changed all of that. A modern day rags to riches success story, this band has acted as a catalyst to change the negative reputation of its region through its music. Since coming onto the scene in 2006, the trio has won a Latin Grammy and gone on a successful world tour. Their music consists of a cool mix of hip hop with a splash of Caribbean flavor.
Favorite song: De Donde Vengo Yo
I’m a huge fan of reggae, and Cultura Profetica tops my list of best Spanish reggae bands around. Hailing from Puerto Rico, their songs cover a range of topics from love to politics (No Me Interesa) and the sorry state of pop music (Nadie Se Atreve). Their songs are mostly mellow and always have a socially conscious message.
Favorite song: De Antes
I first heard El Gordo in Guatemala when I was living in Xela. His voice is soulful and his songs are mostly sad, so you have to be in the right mood to listen to him. If you’re in Quetzaltenango, I highly recommend sticking around for one of his live shows – he plays in bars pretty often.
Favorite song: Testigo
Gondwana ties for my favorite Spanish reggae band. Founded over 20 years ago, Gondwana are true kings of their genre. Even if you’re not a Rastafarian, you can still get down to their music.
Favorite song: Sentimiento Original
Toto la Momposina
Toto la Momposina comes from Mompos (hence the name Momposina) in Colombia. She describes her music better than I could: “The drums make your body vibrate and make it react in an instinctive and spontaneous manner. That is when you come out of yourself and forget everything around you. Nothing matters anymore.”
Favorite song: El Pescador
Honorable Mention: Manu Chao
A backpacker in Latin America is bound to hear Manu Chao’s everywhere. With French and Spanish roots, Manu Chao sings in several different languages and his music fits in several different genres. Even though he’s not technically from Latin America, he deserves a spot on the list due to his legendary status here. Plus, his songs appeal to the traveler’s heart.
Favorite song: Desaparecido