Breaking barriers through musica Latina


Image of a music mic. Graphic courtesy of Samantha Ceballos/The Paisano

One of the most profound things about music is its universality− the language of music can easily transport anyone to a time, a place, or a feeling. I first heard of the Mexican singer Natalia Lafourcade six months ago, and she is now one of my favorite artists. Lafourcade’s ability to transcend language and connect with audiences all around the world is something not to be taken lightly. While I highly regard Lafourcade, she is not the only one who transcends language through music.

I wasn’t always into Latina/o music. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I became more active about exploring Latina artists. As a Salvadoran Mexican-American, I’ve always felt a disconnect to the Spanish language and Mexican/ Tejano music.

Growing up, my parents would play Tejano/ Mexican music, but I didn’t necessarily like it. In retrospect, it was partly because I didn’t allow myself to open up and actually try to understand the music. It all sounded the same.

As I continued in higher education, I was able to come into consciousness about an ignorance I had of my culture, including the music. Coming into consciousness for me was an integral step in my growth as a person. I became more aware about my identity and the different intersections I inhabit, including my cultural/ ethnic identity as juxtaposed to a mainstream seeking to homogenize people of color and their experiences. Because of my self-awareness, I became prouder of my heritage and sought to be more intentional about the music I listened to.

When listening to music, understanding the language is not all that matters. Listening to the way the music is composed, the instruments used, and the way the singer inflects her voice are just as important as knowing the words.

Some of my other favorite artists are Mexican singer Lila Downs and Costa Rican-Mexican icon Chavela Vargas. Both have such emotionally charged and powerful voices that speak to your soul.

While I appreciate their artistry, I also appreciate their ability to be true to themselves. Downs has a dynamic vocal range and unique ability to merge Latino/ Mexican music with world influences. She purposefully emphasizes elements of her Mexican and indigenous cultures while also including messages of social justice.

Aside from Vargas’ emotive performances, she was also unyielding in other aspects of her life. In the earlier part of her career, she was unprecedented by dressing how she wanted (i.e. wearing pants in the 50s and not hiding her sexuality.

Although these artists differ in various ways, they come together as part of a larger narrative. These women have not only shaped my expanding musical repertoire, but they have helped break down the cultural barriers within myself.