Black artists have always stood at the inception of most genres of music or have been the ones to lay the foundation of its roots. But even more, overlooked are the Afro-Latinx artists who lent their talent to pioneer different genres of music. And more often times than not, credit is always given to their white counterparts who many times co-opt these genres and put their own “spin” on it, without giving credit to those who were at the forefront.
We’re here to highlight specifically Afro-Latinx artists and their achievements so that folks can learn the truth about where a lot of the music we enjoy today originated from.
Check out this list of 24 amazing men and women from the Afro-Latinx community who deserve way more credit and shine than they’re given when it comes to their contributions in the music industry. Learn a bit about them, feel inspired, and take a listen to their music. Oh, and don’t forget to share the knowledge!
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🇨🇺❤ #ARSENIORODRIGUEZ Leyenda de la música cubana. Infinidad de orquestas han tocado sus temas, muchas de ellas haciéndose populares en el mundo, ocultando quién era el dueño de todo eso. #HayFuegoEnEl23 Arsenio Rodríguez, se inició la era de los conjuntos y una nueva etapa en la sonoridad e interpretación del son cubano, con mayor riqueza sonora y armónica, posibilidad que le daba la inclusión de más trompetas, piano y tumbadora, así como el destaque del cantante como solista dentro de la agrupación. Su nombre oficial es Ignacio Loyola Rodríguez, pero nunca ha sido llamado por otro que el de Arsenio Rodríguez, "El Ciego Maravilloso". «Comencé a trabajar en mi música nueva en 1934, y ya en 1936 lograba mis frutos. Pero la consolidación de mis ideas novedosas dentro del género del son vino en 1938.» Y precisa: «Organicé un nuevo sistema de conjunto. Pensé que el antiguo formato de septeto, con la trompeta, la guitarra y el tres no tenía la armonía necesaria y le agregué un piano y tres trompetas. También le incorporé la tumbadora. Al año siguiente, desaparecieron los septetos y todo el mundo usaba las tres trompetas y el piano […].» «Los descendientes de congo tocan una música que se llama tambor de yuka y en la controversia que forman uno y otro cantante, siguiendo el ritmo, me inspiré y esa es la base verdadera del mambo […]. Lo primero que compuse en este estilo fue Yo son kangá; el primer “diablo” o mambo que se grabó en disco fue So caballo.»
Arsenio Rodriguez, a.k.a. “El Ciego Maravilloso,” was an Afro-Cuban composer, bandleader, and musician. He is credited with establishing the conjunto format (small musical ensembles), and contributing to the development of son montuno, which contains African sounds, and influenced the creation of salsa. Arsenio is also credited as the true inventor of mambo, something that he claimed himself. This is only further proof that Afro-Latinx artists are trailblazers from the start.
A lot of music genres, if not all of them, started with Black music and Black roots. Reggaeton’s roots can be traced back to Jamaica (Jamaican reggae and later Jamaican dancehall) and Panama before the music traveled to Puerto Rico. One of the OG’s of the genre is Tego Calderon. The Afro-Puerto Rican Latin Grammy and ASCAP Latin Music Award winner has had several hits, including “Intro Los 12 Discipulos,” “Amigo Mio,” and “Masucamba.”
Cuban powerhouse La Lupe is known as “The Queen of Latin Soul,” “ La Reina de la Canción Latina,” and “La Yi Yi Yi.” She was born in San Pedrito and moved to New York, where she was the top Latin singer in the 1960s, singing alongside Tito Puente. In addition to singing boleros, merengue, boogaloo, son montuno, bomba and plena, La Lupe sang Spanish and English covers of popular songs, and later, religious music. The Afro-Latinx star is known most for her explosive performances. La Lupe was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Toto La Momposina
Toto La Momposina, born Sonia Bazanta Vides in Talaigua Nuevo, Colombia, is a singer and songwriter whose music reflects her Afro-Colombian and Indigenous roots. She reached fame with her the release of her 1993 album La Candela Viva. Her music features a range of rhythms from cumbia, bullerengue, mapale, guaracha, rumba, and even bolero and bowls. Give her a listen next time you’re looking for new music to listen to!
Born Sheila Escovedo in Oakland, California, Mexican-American Sheila E is known as “The Queen of Percussion.” In addition to being a phenomenal percussionist, she is also a singer, producer, actress, and author. Sheila already had her own career before meeting Prince in the ‘70s, however, their collaborations skyrocketed her career. She’s been nominated for Grammys, American Music Awards, a Primetime Emmy, won for Best Video at the MTV VMAs and served as Prince’s drummer and musical director at one point.
El General is the Afro-Panamanian artist whose reggae en Español (plena Panameña) sounds you were most likely jamming to in the ’90s. Remember “Te Ves Buena” and “Muevelo?” Born Edgardo Armando Franco, he went on to record many platinum and gold albums. El General is considered by many to be one of the originators of reggaeton. You can thank this Afro-Latinx artist for all that perreo.
Afro-Cubano Perez Prado (born Damaso Perez Prado) is known as the King of Mambo. The animated bandleader, composer, singer-pianist, and organist is known for several songs, including “Mambo No. 5,” “Cherry Blossom Pink and Apple Blossom White,” “Patricia,” and “Mambo No. 8.” Perez’s fame in the U.S. contributed to the peak of the first wave of interest in Latin music outside of the Latino community.
Mellow Man Ace
Another Afro-Latinx bilingual rapper who made his mark in hip-hop, as well as being part of the creation of Latino rap, is Mellow Man Ace. Known as the Godfather of Latin Rap, Ace, born Ulpiano Sergio Reyes is an Afro-Cuban rapper, and brother to Cypress Hill’s Sen Dog. In fact, Mellow Man Ace was a part of the beginnings of what became Cypress Hill, before deciding to go solo. Check out “Mentirosa,” his Billboard Hot 100 hit here.
Mario Bauzá is known for being one of the first artists to introduce Cuban music to the United States. The Afro-Cuban also created the musical genre of Afro-Cuban jazz/Latin jazz (a fusion of Afro-Cuban music and jazz), which began with his song, “Tangá.” In fact, “Tanga” is considered the first true Latin jazz or Afro-Cuban jazz song and with the years was arranged with more complexity.
Rude Girl a.k.a. La Atrevida
With a name like La Atrevida/Rude Girl, this reggaeton pioneer wasn’t trying to mince words with her music. The Panamanian artist stepped on the scene in the early ’90s with the genre of music known as reggae en Español or Spanish reggae at the time. She appeared on the compilation album Dancehall Reggaeespañol in 1991 and released her own album, titled 100% Latina, in 1996. We are totally here for a La Atrevida/Rude Girl comeback. We have been seeing other female reggaeton pioneers emerging with new music or currently working on new material, and we can’t wait to see how the OGs bring their style into 2019 and beyond.
Afro-Uruguayan Lagrima Rios was known as “La Perla Negra Del Tango” and “La Dama Del Candombe.” Born in Durazno, she was known for her strong voice and for being the only black singer of Rioplatense tango. Lagrima was also an actress and president of the Uruguayan organization Mundo Afro.
Susana Baca from Chorillos, a district of the Lima Province in Peru, has been instrumental in the revival of Afro-Peruvian music. Her music features a mix of traditional indigenous and contemporary sounds using instruments such as the cajón (wooden box), udu (clay pot), and quijada (jawbone of a burro). The singer-songwriter, folklorist, and ethnomusicologist won two Latin Grammys, and in 2011 was both the Minister of Culture in Peru and the President of the Commission of Culture of the Organization of American States (OAS).
Known as “La Reina del Cantar Venezolano,” Magdalena Sanchez was born in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, and was a singer and composer. The genres she sang in include tango, bolero, and joropo.
Joseito Mateo is known as The King of Merengue, but his talent and musical experience didn’t just stop at merengue. The Afro-Dominican was the first singer for the legendary Puerto Rican salsa group, El Gran Combo, and also sang with another iconic band, La Sonora Mantancera.
Havana’s Xiomara Alfaro is a coloratura soprano, known as both “El Ruiseñor de la Canción (The Nightingale of Music)” and “La Alondra de la Cancion (The Lark of Music).” She was big in Cuban music during the 1950s, singing mostly boleros.
Milly Quezada, the “Queen of Merengue,” was born in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. She has won several awards, including multiple Latin Grammy Awards, and a Billboard Award for Best Tropical Album. Milly was also inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2002 and recently performed at the 2017 Afro-Latino Festival in New York.
Prince Whipper Whip
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#3 #LatinosInHipHop #LatinExcellence #PrinceWhipperWhip is the first #Latin #emcee to grace the mic from the Bronx N.Y. of #PuertoRican #descendant. In 1978, he joined the group The Mighty Gestapo Crew, alongside Dot-A-Rock, DJ Kenny B, Count D, and The Funky Phase Four MCs. Whip and Dot-A-Rock battled The Notorious 2 (Grandmaster Caz and JDL) at the Intersession Church in Harlem. Whip and Dot were original members of the Cold Crush Brothers and more well known as members of The Fantastic Romantic 5. The Fantastic 5 released the single “Can I Get A Soul Clap” in 1980 on Tuff City Records. They never recorded an album, but they appeared in the film #WildStyle #LegendsInHipHop #Pioneers #MicCheckas #HipHop #Rap #Rapper #OriginalEmcee #LatinMicCheckas @whipperwhip #Salute #ILLBEAST #BIGEARLPROMO
Prince Whipper Whip, born James Whipper II, was an original member of the rap group, Grandwizard Theodore & the Fantastic Five (as was fellow Puerto Rican Ruby Dee (Rubin Garcia); the group was also known as the Fantastic Romantic 5, and the Fantastic Freaks). According to Amoeba, Whip was also a member of The Mighty Gestapo, Salt and Pepper MCs, and the Cold Crush Brothers.
Also hailing from Puerto Rico is Afro-Latinx reggaetonera La Zista (also known as La Sista). Regarded as the “Mama Inés of reggaeton,” her first album, Majestad Negroide dropped in 2006. La Zista has been applauded for celebrating her Afro-Latina roots in her music and repping for the few Afro-Latinxs in the genre (although the genre’s roots are in Jamaica and Panama). Four of La Zista’s songs have appeared on the Billboard charts: “Se Le Ve,” “Se Desvive Por Ella,” “Stripper,” and “Anacoana.”
Carmen Delia Dipini
Naguabo, Puerto Rico-born Carmen Delia Dipini was a singer of boleros. She moved to New York in the 1940s, where she recorded music and performed. She eventually returned to Puerto Rico, after also having lived in Mexico, for seven years. She recorded music in both Mexico and Puerto Rico. Dipini also sang with La Sonora Matancera, and was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
Toña La Negra
Maria Antonia del Carmen Peregrino Alvarez, known professionally as Toña La Negra was a singer and actress from the La Huaca barrio in Veracruz, Mexico. She became famous in the 1930s singing the songs of Mexican composer Agustin Lara and later sang with La Sonora Matancera. She appeared in several movies, was honored with a Mexican stamp that was part of a series celebrating popular idols of the radio, and was posthumously inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Members of The Mean Machine
Mean Machine has the distinction of being one of the first bilingual rap groups ever and possibly the first Latino rap group, rapping in both English and Spanish. The Puerto Rican group is made up of Mr. Schick (Daniel Rivera), DJ Julio (Steven Santiago), Mr. Nice (Jose Semprit), and Jimmy Mac (James Mclean). The final lineup in 1979, released the first Spanglish rap song ever, 1981’s “Disco Dream.”
Glory a.k.a. La Gata Gangster
Also known as “La Gata Gangster,” Glory is the feminine voice you’ve heard on songs such as Daddy Yankee’s monster hit (and classic), “Gasolina,” and Don Omar’s “Dale Don Dale.” The Puerto Rican reggaeton artist also has had some hits of her own, notably “La Tracionera,” which featured Don Omar, “La Popola,” and “Perreo 101.” Can you believe that Glory has been recording music since 1995? Her latest album was 2005’s Glou and she appeared on nine reggaeton compilation albums from 2003 to 2006. We would really like to see Glory make new music and collaborate with the reggaetoneras of today.
Luz Esther Benitez
Luz Esther Benitez a.k.a. Lucecita is known as “La Voz Nacional de Puerto Rico.” The Bayamón-born chanteuse ditched the wigs and European look that she was forced to maintain, and instead wore her natural hair in an afro and celebrated her Afro-Puerto Rican roots. In the 1970s, she also dared to wear men’s suits and use male adjectives in her songs.
Next, on our list of the old-school Afro-Latinx and reggaeton artists we should all know about and thank for opening the genre’s doors for women, is Demphra. She is nicknamed “La Willa” and “La Diva del Reggaeton.” The Panameña had hit songs, such as “Tilin Tilin,” “El Muslo,” and “Ush,” off her debut 1999 album, La Willa Demphra. After that, she joined the reggaeton and Reggae en Español group La Factoria, which included fellow Panamanian reggaetonera Joycee Love, Goodfella, DJ Pablito, and Joey Montana. They had hits such as “Perdóname,” and “Como me Duele.” Demphra was the last member to leave La Factoria and did in 2013.