The early 1990s saw Latin music in the United States enjoy a profound expansion period that included increased record sales, a steady growth of Spanish-language radio stations and newfound crossover success by several artists. While the growing Hispanic population has helped drive the market's expansion in general, a major force fueling these changes is the nation's Hispanic youth, whose economic and political influence is now being watched, studied, and interpreted by major corporations.
In all genres, from tropical/salsa to Tejano to Latin pop, new young stars have entered the market with success. In Latin pop, excitement was created in the early 1990s by newcomers like the pop/dance/rap act the Barrio Boyzz, ballad singer Marcos Llunas, and children's pop group Roxie y Los Frijolitos.
Banda music gained a strong new foothold during the 1990s, particularly in California, where KLAX-FM in Los Angeles became the number-one radio station in the general market. Banda is a brass-heavy (akin to marching bands) take on polkas and cumbias. KLAX plays a heavy mix of banda and norteño music.
While it may seem that banda is relatively new, it is not. Actually banda has been popular in the northern states of Mexico for more than 20 years. However, the steady flow of Mexican immigrants from that area helped fuel the popularity of the music in Southwestern California. Again, it is the young banda artists that successfully blended the old horn-packed polka beats with a fresh sound and a modern, spiffy image to attract today's younger generation.
Grupo, the Spanish word for "group," describes musical bands, as opposed to solo artists. The styles of music covered by grupos varies, from the pop ballads of Los Bukis or Los Temerarios, to the norteño/ranchera mix of Bronco or Los Tigres, to the Tejano polka/cumbia/ballad blend of La Mafia or Mazz.
The vocal harmonies of the Barrio Boyzz and Las Triplets have found a strong, loyal following — enough to drive both groups to the top of the charts in 1993. Similarly, Jon Secada had a phenomenal success in 1991 and 1992 with his pop singing style. But what was significant about Secada was that his smash debut album was recorded with Spanish lyrics and also scored big on Billboard charts.
It was Gloria Estefan who really brought Spanish-language songs to a national audience with her albums evoking the tropical rhythms of her parents' generation in Cuba. The other largely successful crossover act was Los Lobos from East Los Angeles, which continued to produce cuts in Spanish and tour both Anglo and Latino nightclubs and concerts throughout the country.
In the late 1990s, Latin pop music exploded onto the U.S. music charts like never before. With Ricky Martin's unprecedented success and the popularity of actress Jennifer Lopez's new album, there seems to be a more direct path to the top for Latin pop than in the past. Another notable to watch in the genre is Colombian singer Shakira, who adds Latin touches to her Spanish-language dance pop, but in general takes a global approach to music. Members of the successful band Los Lobos have started new music projects that are worth watching as well, such as the Latin Playboys, a band that fuses new sounds from pop to avante garde with promising results.
Source: Hispanic American Almanac, Gale, 1997; DISCovering Multicultural America, Gale, 1999.