A Comprehensive List of the Essential Latin Music Genres

An Overview of Today's Most Popular Genres, Rhythms and Styles

Mariachi crossing the street Beatles style, Mexico
Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Latin music encompasses a huge universe of sounds and styles, and subsequently, music experts have developed an extensive list of subgenres within the Latin category. If you are just venturing into this universe, the following article will provide you with a brief introduction to the most popular Latin music styles.

From the vibrant beats of salsa to the never-ending innovation of Latin rock and alternative music, the following are today's most influential Latin music genres.


Ruben Blades

Eduardo Pavon/Wikimedia Commons


Salsa is one of the most popular Latin music genres in the entire world. This vibrant rhythm is the result of several musical influences, which include traditional beats from Cuba and Puerto Rico and other styles such as mambo and Latin boogaloo.

Salsa owes its names to this amazing combination of sounds. Although the birthplace of salsa has been always an issue of debate, we can say with confidence that New York City was the spot where the original sound of salsa finally achieved commercial success.

Important artists include Celia Cruz, Fania All Stars, Ruben Blades, Hector Lavoe, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Gilberto Santa Rosa, La Sonora Poncena and Marc Anthony.


Prince Royce opening for Pitbull, Newark, NJ


Originally from the Dominican Republic, bachata is one of the most popular Latin music genres today. Although the making of Bachata music started back in the 1960s with the songs produced by Jose Manuel Calderon, this rhythm was not able to compete with the popularity that Merengue used to have.

That, however, changed in the 1980s when Blas Duran reshaped the sounds of Bachata with more appealing lyrics and the addition of electric guitar. In the 1990s, Bachata finally took off thanks to the romanticism that was incorporated into its music.

With the arrival of artists like Hector Acosta, Aventura, and Prince Royce, Bachata music has exploded into a mainstream phenomenon that has captured audiences all over the world. Other important artists include Juan Luis Guerra and Romeo Santos.

Regional Mexican Music

Vicente Fernandez Y Paquita la Del Barrio, Pepsi Center 07.10.09

 Julio Enriquez/Flickr.com

Considering everything that is included in it, regional Mexican music is one of the most generic terms in Latin music. You can find all kinds of popular and traditional expressions within this subgenre, ranging from norteno and banda to ranchera and corrido.

Regional Mexican music is one of the best-selling genres of Latin music in the United States with such artists as Vicente Fernandez, Espinoza Paz, Los Tigres del Norte, Gerardo Ortiz, Banda El Recodo, Jenni Rivera, Selena, La Arrolladora Banda El Limon, and Marco Antonio Solis collectively bringing in millions of record sales.


Tango dance

Carlos Luque/Wikimedia Commons 

Thanks to its intensity and sensuality, tango has become one of the favorite Latin music genres in dance halls all over the world. Originally from Argentina and Uruguay, tango evolved during the 19th century in the immigrant communities of Buenos Aires.

At the beginning of the 20th century, tango moved into a mainstream phenomenon thanks to the music produced by Carlos Gardel, the King of Tango. Later on, a talented bandoneon player named Astor Piazzolla added to tango elements from jazz and blues creating the so-called nuevo tango. Today, tango remains one of the most distinctive ingredients of Latin music.


Juan Luis Guerra, Estadio Olimpico 2012

 Acancino/Wikimedia Commons

Merengue is another of the musical gifts that Latin music has received from the Dominican Republic. A favorite genre to play in any Latin music party, merengue is one of the most exciting genres in Latin music.

The origins of Merengue can be traced back to the 19th century, but throughout history, the sounds of Merengue have been modified with the incorporation of different instruments. In the 1980s, Wilfrido Vargas changed the tempo of the traditional rhythm shaping the sound that has characterized Merengue ever since. For the past several decades, the songs of Juan Luis Guerra have become a point of reference for Merengue music.

Other important artists include Eddy Herrera, Los Hermanos Rosario, Elvis Crespo, Olga Tañon and Los Vecinos.

Latin Pop

Shakira Rio '04

Andres Arranz/Wikimedia Commons 

Latin pop is one of the most popular Latin music genres today. Some of the biggest Latin music stars in the world belong to this genre. However, before the arrival of artists like Shakira and Ricky Martin, Latin pop was defined by the romantic music that legendary artists such as Julio Iglesias and Roberto Carlos produced back in the 1970s.

Latin pop represents the biggest chunk of the popular Latin music enjoys today as a mainstream phenomenon with artists like Enrique Iglesias, Juanes, Ricardo Arjona, Paulina Rubio, and Luis Miguel.

Latin Urban Music and Reggaeton



Borrowing influences from music styles such as hip-hop, rap, and reggae, Latin urban music has experienced significant changes during the last two decades. From the original sounds of the reggae fusion created by Panamanian artist El General to the reggaeton fever of the late 1990s, Latin urban music has continued to evolve into a complex genre that includes all kinds of tropical rhythms, pop and dance music.

Some of today's best Latin urban artists are also some of the most popular Latin music stars in the world. Latin urban music is definitely one of the most exciting Latin music genres today.

Important artists of the genre include Daddy Yankee, Calle 13, Don Omar, Wisin y Yandel, Ana Tijoux, Pitbull and Chino y Nacho.

Brazilian Music

Caetano Veloso -- Primavera

 Bene Riobo/Wikimedia Commons

If I previously said regional Mexican music was a generic term, Brazilian music is probably the most generic term that exists in Latin music. Brazilian music is, in fact, as big as the country itself.

From samba and bossa nova to sertaneja and Brazilian popular music, Brazilian music has delivered some of the most famous Latin music songs in the entire world. Top Brazilian artists include legendary stars like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilberto, and Marisa Monte.

Latin Rock and Alternative Music

Mana - Rock in Rio 2012

 Carlos Delgado/Wikimedia Commons

In general terms, the development of Latin rock has been influenced by the development of rock music. However, it was only until the 1980s that Latin America was able to come up with a defined musical expression associated with rock music.

Back in the time, it was known as rock en Español. Since then, however, Latin rock artists have started to incorporate all kinds of traditional Latin music rhythms into their music. As a result of this, Latin rock has become the force behind the development of today's Latin alternative music.

Latin rock has influenced Latin alternative music in the same way reggaeton and hip-hop helped shaped Latin urban music. Today, Latin alternative music offers the most interesting non-mainstream music in the Latin music world.

Important artists in the genres include Mana, Calle 13, Soda Stereo, Cafe Tacvba, Andres Calamaro, Aterciopelados and Juanes.