On the Pure Joy of Latino Music

There’s a certain happiness and state of mind we enter when listening to foreign, and hence unintelligible, music. Unburdened by sense and meaning, the purest elements of music march their way into the receptive mind: rhythm and tone appear in their full force. And thereby the soul, the seat of passions and desires, shines forth stronger than if we understood the language word by word. The closest analogy in literature is the modern reception of Shakespeare: his words obscure, his phrases artfully and circuitously constructed, the pure sounds, rhymes and metre impress on the mind unforgettable feelings and emotions which each individual word does not.

Stripped of odious rules and conventions, or at a loss for those conventions, we meet the singer soul-to-soul: two emotional beings expressing the full spectrum of the human experience. Love, heartbreak, lust, happiness, forlornness, hope, despair. There is no need to understand exactly what the singer means because his or her deepest emotions are intuited. It is this fact which most starkly confirms the universal nature of human experience, which is often obscured by the sounds and words, i.e. languages we have constructed in countless different geographical locations for communication. Through listening to an unintelligible language, one can peek behind language to the original forms language seeks to map.

One problem with this form of listening might be something akin to a mirror effect. Because the communication of emotions are so deeply rooted in conventions of a culture and society, what may sound like sadness in one culture is actually joy in another, and therefore when I hear a singer expressing his joy in that language, I am actually feeling my own interpretation. It is this sense of intimacy with oneself that makes listening to a foreign language doubly enjoyable. Since I feel both connected to the singer, whose real emotions might be obscured, but whose felt emotions are identical to my own. It is like singing to a mirror, except the mirror is often a professional and immensely talented artist.

So far I have outlined the general philosophy of listening to a foreign language. Listening, however, to the particular music of Latino cultures, their soulful and joyous tones and beats, their ocean-wide happiness and sexy rhythms it is hard not to be overwhelmed with a deep, and lasting sensation of bliss. As a South African, raised and cultured by the polite stiffness and shy Anglo-Saxon conformism, I find it striking to hear the freedom and passion of Latino music: a reflection of the sexual and love-liberated cultures of Latin America.

One song which has a special place in my heart is Colombian singer Cabas’ “ Enamorandonos”. In fact, this song has me, like its title, so enamoured that if you have the fortune, or misfortune, of finding me on Tinder you’ll notice it as my anthem. His rich, textured voice rings out the joyous spirit of the Latino soul to the sounds of dancing drums and a chorus of trumpets. It is impossible not to feel the undiluted bliss and love that Cabas feels, even though I have no fucking clue what he is saying . I just want to dance along. And if you watch the youtube video, you can see the exact same thing happening to strangers.

Another favourite is the ultra-famous Marc Anthony. Born in New York but of Puerto Rican heritage, his song “Vivir Mi Vida” has over 200 million listens on Spotify. And for good reason. You can almost touch with your hands the joy and happiness he bursts out into the world, without knowing any Spanish. If ever there were a culture which so mimicked the joy and glory of the human soul, it has to be Latino music and Marc Anthony its favorite son.

When I was living in West Harlem in New York, I would listen to Spotify’s “Viva Latino!” playlist every morning while making eggs. I would blast it out loud to the boisterous neighborhood, dancing and singing in the living room. (This, or the playlist of Mamma Mia, my guilty pleasure).If you ever want to let go and enjoy yourself, I highly recommend listening to this playlist.

I love the joy of non-understanding so much that a part of me never wants to learn Spanish, so I can forever nod my head and throw my hair, oblivious to language or sense, and live always in the realm of pure love and emotion which the Latinos know best of all the peoples on earth.

Below is a list of some of my favorite songs. Let me know what Latino music gets you going, and what I should be listening to!

Enamorandonos- Cabas

Adicto ( with Anuel AA and Ozuna)- Tainy, Anuel AA, Ozuna

Callaita — Bad Bunny, Tainy

11PM- Maluma