If you’re reading this, you’re probably like me in some regard. Someone who has 1,000 songs on one playlist from a plethora of different albums, which includes a distinct collection of different genres. From this expansive library, there will always be extremely memorable songs from a few different genres. Those genres might even include some you wish you could stow away for good — mainstream country, for me personally. Regardless, they are a part of your life. Here’s a question, though: Aside from the occasional inspiring anime opening that might be on your playlist, how many of your songs are in a different language?
Having a Spanish family who anxiously awaits the day that I wake up bilingual made me realize how little I listened to anything in Spanish. Having grown up in the United States, I more readily define myself within the American identity and can more easily steep in media that is immediately available on my internet feed. Those choices to flow with the inertia of the environment around us are a part of what defines people, but those choices can also entrap us. We might find ourselves listening to the same things made by people similar to us, with little to no insight of the outside world. It is another way to perpetuate our tunnel vision and assume that everyone has more or less the same experiences.
I’d love to say that my thought process regarding broadening my media intake was this profound to begin with, but that would be a lie. I selfishly resented every time I had to step foot in a Spanish class and felt completely blindsided by how much I couldn’t understand, despite my background. The easiest way I thought to go about upping my speaking comprehension without sitting through hours of soul-crushing news programs was through music.
My process was simple at first. I typed “Spanish songs” into the YouTube search bar. What came up were the top 50 Latin hits that didn’t appeal to the music styles or topics that I generally liked to listen to. Luckily, with a little help from Spotify, I started delving into the music of the Spanish-speaking world. I admit, it took a while to find artists that I resonated with and I wished I had a few bands to start my journey off with. So, whether you’re looking for ways to take your Spanish to the next level or are just curious and want to broaden your musical horizons, here are my top five Spanish-speaking bands I have listened to religiously over the past year.
Calle 13 is a Puerto Rican group that has garnered criticism from both left and right-wing parties across Latin America. Across their time as a band, they have evolved in style, as well as theme. Their later releases, to which I was introduced first, focus on Latin American empowerment, justice and political commentary, a stark difference from their raunchy beginnings.
Accompanying this thematic shift, their style also delved deep, taking sounds from across Latin America into their releases and growing out of strictly rap and club music. If you’re looking at getting a raw, controversial perspective on Latin American politics in an engaging way, I highly recommend researching them and garnering conclusions for yourself. Two of my all-time favorites from this group are the songs “Los Idiotas” from their album “MultiViral” and “Latinoamerica” from their album “Entren los Que Quieran,” both of which are unapologetic in what they have to say.
Cariño is a girl band centralized in Spain and has taken the country by storm very early in their career. They have a pop-centric style, though at times they delve into punkish territory. Nevertheless, their songs tend to have an edge that reveals itself no matter what the style. Most of their popular songs are about love, but they also address sexuality and the less fantastical sides of relationships. “Mierda Seca” and “Bisexual” — both from the album “Movidas” — are my favorites. The music videos for both are also entertaining to watch and can give you greater insight into each song’s story. If you like The Regrettes, a mainly female pop-punk band, I highly recommend Cariño.
Disco Ruido is an electro pop band from Mexico that formed in the late 2000s. Their songs range from discussing themes like nature, the universe and abstract ideas to more dancing and party songs. Their song “Amorfos” from “Radiofutura” reminds me a lot of Passion Pit in style. Passion Pit, for reference, is an electronica band that more aligns itself with indie or alternative genres. Conversely, “Pulso Animal,” from the same album, immediately resembles club music but with a lo-fi twist. I recommend this song specifically for writing or stargazing. It has a simple beat and entertaining melody, but the lyrics aren’t so abrasive that it’s distracting. Overall, their work is spectacular and has enough variation in style that people with all sorts of genre preferences should find something they enjoy.
Café Tacuba, or stylistically written, Café Tacvba, is a band that came together in the late 80s in Ciudad Satelite in Mexico. If you are a LittleBigPlanet fanatic like I was, you’ve heard the song “Volver A Comenzar” from their album “SINO.” I first heard the song as I played LittleBigPlanet in the dim light of the evening, warm meal on my lap, after a day that I would have said was one of my worst otherwise. As I took refuge at my sister’s apartment, wholly engrossed in a world of innovation and imagination, their song at that specific moment was the key factor that whisked me away from reality. I’ve been in love ever since.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this band, they have an alternative rock theme but expand into different genres, such as hip hop and heavy metal, across their works. “Volver a Comenzar,” as well as their other songs, are no exception to this trend. Other songs I highly recommend, especially as a pick me up, are “El Metro” from 1994’s “Re,” and “Pájaros” from 2012’s “El Objeto Antes Llamado Disco.”
Maná is one of those bands I’ve known since childhood, listening to their songs in passing or on road trips with my mom, but had no idea who they were. Maná is a rock band from Guadalajara, a metropolitan area in Mexico. Unlike some of the bands previously mentioned, they are primarily a rock band, but their style specifically draws from many other genres as well, including some Caribbean genres like calypso, reggae and ska. They have topped Latin charts several times with their hits. Three songs close to my heart are “Mi Verdad” from their album “Cama Incendiada” — which features Shakira, fun fact — “Pobre Juan” from “Revolucion de Amor” and “Labios Compartidos” from “Amar es Combatir.” “Labios Compartidos” in particular immediately takes me back to the times I listened to Green Day, in all the best and worst ways. Either way, if you’re looking for low-key rock about relationships and even social issues, Maná is worth checking out.
In the end, consuming media in different languages — like Spanish in this case — gave me a glimpse into another world from an intimate and somewhat universally experienced way: music. For those readers who are only looking to listen, there is no shame in that, music is awesome! For those like me who are learning, jaded by textbooks and clunky curriculum, take it one step at a time. Though I find myself not understanding most songs at first, the music is a cushion to fall back on. I don’t have to know everything right away, I’m enjoying the moment and a part of how these artists are expressing themselves. Remember to be forgiving of yourself, and delve deep into both the music and the lyrics. Gradually, you might find a perspective that you hadn’t heard before or learn something new. With those little realizations over time, the world can start to feel just a little bit smaller and not quite so strange.