21 Days of Música Latina: World Cafe celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with a parade of playlists - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Did you know it’s Hispanic Heritage Month? The period from September 15th to October 15th is dedicated to elevating Latinx identities, in culture and especially in music. Overshadowed yet resilient, Latinx artists and their music lack discoverability on streaming platforms compared to their American counterparts. When searching for Latin or Hispanic music, it’s difficult to come across genre variety; it’s even more challenging to find artists representing more than just three Latin countries. To combat this, World Cafe started a segment on the first day of the month-long celebration called 21 Days of Musica Latina. Every weekday throughout Hispanic Heritage Month, World Cafe is sharing playlists highlighting the musical heritage of a different Latin American country. You can follow these playlists at World Cafe’s Latin Roots page; so far, we’ve gotten the cultural richness of Argentina, Ecuador, Paraguay, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Mexico, Haiti, Bolivia, Honduras, Uruguay, Cuba and more in the form of a playlist that weaves the ancestral with the contemporary.

“I wanted to do something special for Hispanic Heritage Month that highlighted just how diverse music in Latin America really is,” says World Cafe producer Miguel Perez, who is spearheading the project. “Putting these mixes together has been an incredible exercise in musical discovery for me personally, and I hope that people who tune in learn as much as I have about all of the different stories, styles and rhythms that have come out of Latin America.”

With a week left to celebrate, there is a lot to look ahead to, as well as a lot to catch up on, so here’s an overview to make it easier. Hispanic Heritage Month commenced on September 15, beginning in the southernmost part of South America, we had Argentina kick the segment off.

Bridging The Traditional and Modern

In Argentina, the robust legacy of rock resonates deeply. With influential figures like Gustavo Cerati and Luis Alberto Spinetta, World Cafe’s Argentine playlist honors the varied forms of Argentinian rock — classic, alternative, and indie — embellished with contemporary electronic and experimental pop. “La Muralla Verde” by Los Enanitos Verdes is a particular song on the playlist that is rich in tradition, invoking nostalgia and demonstrating the enduring appeal of rock in Argentina’s musical soul.

Neighboring nations echo with their distinct melodies. Ecuador’s playlist serenades listeners with the melancholy pasillo, a down-tempo style of music played on guitar and a rondador — which you can find carved by hand at the artisan markets. The sentimental and poetic lyrics of pasillo continue to echo through the nation’s highlands and valleys, while alternative/indie tracks like Paola Navarrete’s “Van a Construir al Lado” are blowing up and Reggaeton tracks, like Neoma’s “Lento” play at the discotecas. Ecuador’s playlist features the traditional and the modern sides of the music scene.

Neoma - Lento (Video Oficial)

Different Countries, Different Narratives

Every country’s playlist tells a distinct musical story. Paraguay’s rhythms Guarania (slow and melancholic) and Polka (ternary and binary), are intertwined with the pulsating beats of contemporary urban and indie rhythms, painting a diverse soundscape. In contrast, the vivid Costa Rican music weaves traditional folk melodies and rhythms of Punto Guanacasteco (a popular folk dance of Costa Rica) with modern rock, punk, and electronic tunes. “Awakening” by Las Robertas exemplifies the nation’s vibrant, eclectic musical character.

Venezuela’s narrative is melodically rich. Joropo pieces echo the nation’s soul, while contemporary rock and avant-garde tunes, exemplified in La Vida Bohème’s “Control” and Okills’ “Amigos.” Joropo is a style of music claimed by Venezuela but also Columbia in its own respect. Like many of the countries that will show up on this list, Venezuelan music represents a melting pot of identities whom influence the core foundations of Joropo music, which began as an ordinary activity that joined people around music and dances, food and socialization, and later on, it developed into popular music self-expression for Venezuelans.

In Mexico, the soulful ballads of Ranchera (a genre that means “from the countryside”) follows themes of a love affair gone awry and narrative tales of woe. Ranchera exists in harmony with contemporary rock, pop, and electronic tunes. Natalia Lafourcade’s “Hasta la Raíz” encapsulates this fusion, an ode to the timeless allure of traditional melodies.

Natalia Lafourcade - Hasta la Raíz

Haiti’s playlist explores the spiritual and temporal, a dance of Vodou (a Haitian rhythm) and Kompa (a jazz-based dance) work in tandem with contemporary hip-hop, electronic, and R&B influences. Haitian artist Leyla McCalla deserves a distinct mention. She was among the select few who graced the WPXN stage on the third day of XPoNential Music Festival, presenting her latest record, Breaking The Thermometer is a collection of songs that delves into the profound legacy of Radio Haiti and unravels the tragic assassination of its owner, Jean Dominique. In this introspective journey, McCalla intertwines the historical and personal, offering listeners a glimpse into her nuanced experiences as a Haitian-American woman. In Bolivia, the rhythmic cumbia and haunting folk melodies merge with modern indie sounds, echoing a nation where the past and present coexist harmoniously.

In the age of globalization, where cultural assimilation often erases nuanced identities, these playlists stand as guardians of diversity.

Each playlist unveils a chapter of a grander narrative that underscores the importance of Latin American music and Hispanic Heritage Month. They are representative of the rich cultural, historical, and artistic diversity that defines every Latinx identity. Every song, from the Afro-Caribbean beats of Honduras’s Garifuna to the introspective candombe acoustic melodies of Uruguay and the fiery son and salsa rhythms of Cuba exemplified in Buena Vista Social Club’s “Candela.” The importance of these playlists lies in their ability to uplift and celebrate these identities. They counter a monolithic narrative, highlighting each nation’s distinct cultures, histories, and musical traditions. In the age of globalization, where cultural assimilation often erases nuanced identities, these playlists stand as guardians of diversity.

Hispanic Heritage Month is a celebration and an affirmation of the rich differences and the beauty of culture blending in Latin America. Each playlist, a curated symphony of sounds, invites listeners to learn more about every nation individually, not putting all Latin countries in a box. As listeners immerse themselves in the melodies of “Candela” by Buena Vista Social Club or “La Muralla Verde” Los Enanitos Verdes, they realize the transformative power of music.

Los Enanitos Verdes - La Muralla Verde (Official Video)

As someone with Ecuadorian roots, it’s enriching and comforting to have a playlist that pays homage to Ecuador, a place I consider a second home. The collection combines songs I’ve found looking through my abuelo’s record collocation, like Julio Jaramillo’s pasillo ballads with songs my cousins would recommend to me when I visit. Every note, rhythm, and lyric brings me back to Quito, either sitting in the kitchen with my abuela or driving around the city with the radio on in the background. Every song is a tribute and echoes the ever-evolving spirit of Latin American music.

This week, the World Cafe team curated playlists for Chile, Panana, Nicaragua, Peru, and Puerto Rico. On Monday, Santiago-rooted rock/pop band Los Prisioneros was represented on Chile‘s playlist. The band played a big role in igniting the rock en español movement throughout Latin America during the 1980s. “Tren Al Sur,” a single they released in the ‘90s earned a prestigious nomination for an MTV Video Music Award. Panana’s playlist packed a punch of tropical funk and folk rhythms from bands such as Entre Nos, Mecánik Informal, and Los Rabanes. Nicaragua‘s music scene retains a smooth and alluring quality these days. Back in the 80’s artists Dúo Guardabarranco and Carlos Mejía Godoy shined as socially conscious voices for a nation rallying against the Somoza dictatorship during the Nueva Canción movement of the ’80s.

In the Peru playlist, we heard traditional music featuring the ethereal and earthy tones of flutes and wankaras – a traditional double-headed skin drum. This particular sound is showcased in Jorge Rico’s “Cacharpaya De Indio,” the second track on the playlist. Los Mirlos, infuse cumbia with psychedelic Amazon-inspired energy into their music showing us how unique Peru’s music scene is. Aldo-Peruvian singer-songwriter Susana Baca has been a major contributor to the revival of Alfo-Peruvian music in Peru. Her song “Maria Lando ” was included on David Byrne’s compilation record, The Soul of Black Peru. On Friday, the Puerto Rico playlist was released, and it’s available for your listening pleasure at the bottom of this post.

Starting on Monday, we get the final five countries in the 21 Days of MusicaLatina tour: Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Colombia.  I highly recommend exploring a few of the playlists before Hispanic Heritage Month concludes. It’s a golden opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich, vibrant sounds of each country’s unique musical heritage and experience a melting pot of identities and influences. For a comprehensive experience, visit the Latin Roots section of the World Cafe page on NPR, where you’ll find the most recent playlists ready to transport you through a journey across Latin cultures.

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