Latin house is an electronic dance music genre that blends house with Latin American music. Styles explored from the latter include Bossa Nova, Samba, Rumba, Beguine, Mambo, Merengue, Tango, and Reggaeton.
Latin rhythms and percussion elements were part of the fabric of house music from the outset. This, is thanks to the disco recordings that served as the foundation for the creation of house. In fact, influential African American artists and producers like Norman Whitfield, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder were all introducing musical language from the Latin tradition in the early 1970s, prior to disco. This language includes cowbells, shakers, bongoes, and so on, which added polyrhythms to the music.
The Latin Freestyle genre was another Latin element in the pre-house early 80s. Shannon’s “Let The Music Play” or Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam’s “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” defined it. This style has been described as the soulful side of electro. It includes melodies and vocalists paired with Latin-inspired electronic beats and bass. It was a big deal in New York in the mid-’80s, with musicians like The Cover Girls, The Latin Rascals, Denise Lopez, and Judy Torres. They produced recordings with futuristic drum programming a la Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock,” but with soulful vocals.
The golden period of Latin house
The early to mid-1990s were a golden period for Latin house music. Artists such as Armand Van Helden, Antonio Ocasio, Louie “Lou” Gorbea, Davidson Ospina, Frankie Feliciano, Norty Cotto, Louie Balo, Erick Morillo, and Danny & Victor Vargas flourished in this genre. Also, labels such as Cutting Records, Strictly Rhythm, Tribal Winds, Nervous Records, Aquaboogie, Eightball, and Digital Dungeon produced a continuous stream of outstanding Latin-inspired house music.
MAW began its era-defining Nuyorican Soul project in 1996. It introduced Latin music to the mainstream with an album frequently cited as one of house music’s best moments. According to Doug Gomez, “That album and following releases elevated house music to new heights”.
By the late 1990s and early 2000s, dance music had fragmented as genres such as Drum & Bass, UK Garage, Electroclash, Minimal Techno, and Dubstep splintered off. This took the spotlight away from Latin house.
Latin house’s percussive sound is derived from traditional African and South American indigenous music. It has a structure and tempo similar to deep house’s. The style makes considerable use of bongos, shakers, cowbells, and a variety of other percussion instruments. It has minimal swells and brief drops, and its rhythm sits at a very danceable 120 bpm. Funky horns and harmonious vocals also characterize it.