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Why don’t the Brits buy Latin Pop?


Written by Jacob Brookman
10 Monday 10th February 2014

So, I’ve been developing a new sound which channels Latin rhythms into blue-eyed soul - a Simply Red-meets-Shakira kind of thing.

I schlepped around the Caribbean when I was meant to be at Uni and was blown away by the music. But it never seems to get traction in the UK outside token spots on Jools Holland and the occasional global hit. 

Michel Télo: Unknown in the Anglophone world.

Yet acts like Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin, Michel Télo and Pitbull kill it across Europe. 

Alongside the major markets of Spain and Portugal, Télo got to number one two years ago in Austria, Benelux, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Germany (10 weeks), Greece, Israel, Italy, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland. The song  - 'Ai Se Eu Te Pego' - barely registered in the UK charts. 

And Stateside, hispanic hubs like Miami and LA are early adopters for truckloads of Latin musicians; there are TV networks dedicated to Latin music, a Latin music hall of fame, and their own Latin Grammy Awards.

Marc Anthony: Banging someone from TOWIE or something.

There are also notable stars who simply don't make a dent here. Manu Chao is one - Marc Anthony is another. Ever heard of Selena? Best selling Latin Artist of the 90s who was murdered by the former president of her fan club?

No? Let’s see why not...

No Latinos, stupid

This one is pretty straightforward - the UK’s hispanic population is small;  around 220k in a population of 63m. But think about the massive impact of reggae against the fact there are only 150k Jamaican-born residents in the UK. It suggests there is not a direct correlation between a music style’s popularity and the size of the immigrant community.

British Asians are the largest ethnic minority with around seven per cent (4m), yet the integration of sub-continental musical styles is limited to a handful of bands from the 90s (Cornershop, Asian Dub Foundation) and George Harrison.

This is why radio stations like the BBC Asian Network and Radio 1Xtra are vital. They act as a mouthpiece for otherwise under-represented musical styles; building a following from the grassroots up. Latin music has no such presence. 

Top down, not bottom up

The way in which Brits hear Latin pop tends to be via global releases by major labels - not grassroots releases indicative of a cultural movements, drugs or new music tech (like rock 'n' roll, acid house or dubstep).

Because Latin music has always been around, it struggles to look new to early adopters.

Therefore, we are occasionally fed a song like ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ or ‘Hero’ which is a worldwide hit, but which is not really a Latin pop song. It’s a pop song with Latin influences. This is why interest in Latin music ends up being fairly superficial - and the interest in the culture dissipates with the song.

J-Lo keeping it real with Masterchef's Gregg Wallace

The language barrier, estúpido a factor, but it’s also a bit of a red herring. The major Latin exports; J-Lo, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira etc. all sing in English - as do the ‘flops’ I mentioned - Manu Chao and Marc Anthony.

That said, Brits have an unusually low tolerance for non-native lyrics. The last non-English speaking UK number one was Gangnam Style (2012) and previously, it had been a TEN YEAR wait since the last one (The Ketchup Song) - which was in Spanglish anyway.

Finally ‘Latin music’ covers a wildly disparate group of styles.

Latin music can be smooth lounge (Bossa Nova), jiggly jiggly (Merengue), saucy two-step (Salsa) or shitty farm-folk (Tejano). It can be fast, slow, loud, soft, sparse, textured, hyper-emotional or… super-hyper-emotional. It's a massive area and one which can intimidate new listeners. I think Brits subconsciously assume that each genre has its own dance-steps that require time, space and a partner to learn. 

The reality is that after the fourth tequila suicide, nobody gives a shit.

Selena: Queen of Tejano Music


New music releases must have a currency outside mere recital. The best gigs are cultural events, and Latin music struggles to appear relevant to UK audiences because its culture feels impenetrable.

But it needn’t. The UK has one of the most neophilic music scenes in the world, so Latin music could be presented in a way that feels ‘hot’ or ‘fresh’ and it will flourish.

How do we do that? Maybe some kind of manifesto for a UK Latin sound? Or a DJ who can champion the music with the same charisma as David Rodigan or a Trevor Nelson? Not Zane Lowe though, please God no.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on my own version. By the way - check out Luis Enrique, Ottmar Liebert and Rhythm of the Saints by Paul Simon (if you haven’t already) - jumbo tonk tunes all round.

Harry Styles: Drowning in poontang whatever he wears.


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