Once you live in Mexico awhile, playing your old music can seem just.... wrong. Listening to my standard fare of alternative rock only provoked unwelcome nostalgia. What I decided I needed was a new soundtrack to my new life.
Many of my friends gave up the pursuit of new music when they began to have families. (Oddly enough, in Spanish to say you have left behind something you like, the verb is a "false friend," "renunciar.")
Music has remained very important to me. When you're single and often have no one to play off of, nothing else can change your mood so instantaneously.
In coming up with a new playlist for my expat life, I had a little problem. Between you, me and my friends who speak only English, I hated regional Mexican music, which is characterized by Mariachi, banda music and ranchera.
Surprisingly, Mexican music has an awful lot of German polka influence. I'm not a big accordion fan.
My second problem, and this is a pretty big one when you live in Mexico, was that I had the type of aversion to music in another language that only a redneck from Oklahoma (me...kinda) can have. Clearly this aversion would have to be addressed.
The first thing I learned about breaking into new music from my forays in to hip hop and rap was not to expect to much from my ears too soon.
I found that by starting with music that has characteristics that I already like, I could build on them into liking new sounds, in this case the sound of a new language.
For example, with hip hop I listened to duets, rap's testosterone-heavy male vocals countered by soft female voices. The best example of all time is the Roots and Erykah Badu, "You Got Me."
(the late) Gustavo Cerati
If you're trying to get used to music in another language, try to listen to it as background music first. Little by little, the songs will soak in. It can help you learn Spanish too.
The first Latin American singer whose music I fell in love with was Gustavo Cerati and his songs “Paseo Inmoral,” and “Lago del Cielo. I was heartbroken to hear Cerati had passed away in 2011. His band Soda Stereo is still very popular in Latin American.
Even American audiences know Alejandro Sanz, a Spaniard whose almost pornographically sexy voice was first introduced to many of us in Shakira’s video “La Tortura.”
If you like his smokiness, you really should listen to his recent "Deja Que Te Bese," that he does with Marc Anthony. If it's the Shakira side of the "La Tortura" equation that you like, try "La Bicicleta" with Carlos Vivas.
La Mala Rodriguez
In scouring playlists for music, a key obstacle for me was sometimes Latin America’s apparently insatiable appetite for romantic lyrics. In fact, it’s difficult to find songs in Spanish that aren’t about love.
We are so isolated from Latin Music in the States that I hadn't even heard the fabulous songs from Ricky Martin and Gente Zona, "La Gozadera," and "Bailando," the latter of which I defy you to get out of your head once you've heard it.
Probably my overall favorite of Spanish-language singers is Miguel Bosé, a love that started with his hit "Encanto" that would have the perfect opening for the Game of Thrones series. The song is non-translatable - no one in Mexico or Spain can even tell me what the refrain's “intimo encanto” means.
That song, part of his 2014 album “Amo” made me fall in love with a “new” artist’s music like I hadn’t been in a decade.
It's "Solo Si," is a tearjerker whether you understand the words or not. The way it's sung, you don't need the words (or maybe one, "solo") to start bawling.
My friends in Spain tried to ruin my discovery of Miguel Bosé by sending me videos of him in his twenties, a beautiful young man, dancing around the stage with streamers singing party songs.
They seem genuinely upset that he's older now. I'm glad I don't carry that baggage because his more recent songs are clearly better, and they can't see that.
Another hit from his duet phase was “Aire Soy, “ (I’m the Air) with Ximena Sariñanais, (think Alicia Keys), is a sweet, beautiful duet that was another a hit in Spain, along with another plaintive song, "Corre" by Jesse & Joy.
These are just a starter list of the obvious songs that everyone in Latin America loves and a good place to start if you're new to songs in Spanish.
Are there some Latin or Spanish singers you like? Share them with us!
Hi, I'm Kerry Baker and a partner with Ventanas Mexico which provides insight and resources for those considering expat life in Mexico.
I also wrote the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a curation of the best Spanish language tools on the web. Are you planning a move in a few years? It takes time to become conversant. Get started today and improve your brain while preparing for expat life.
Recently released, "If Only I Had a Place,"is on how to rent luxuriously in Mexico for less. More than a how-to, this books gives you the cultural advantages and disadvantages you have as a expat, and a listing of local rental concierges to preview your place at t distance.