By DJ Ramirez |

As a Mexican-American from north Houston, my first experience with music was largely linked to my Hispanic roots. From soulful rancheras, to rhythmic cumbias and fast-paced salsas, music is a huge part of the Latin culture. It’s the heart and soul of it. So in order to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, here’s a playlist with ten essential songs by some of the greatest Latin artists.

  1. “La Bamba” by Ritchie Valens

Ricardo Esteban Valenzuela Reyes was a songwriter from Paicomo, California. As rock n’ roll’s first Latino star, he was very influential in the Chicano rock movement. This 1958 hit combined Mexican folk and rock n’ roll styles to create one memorable and catchy song, which is why it’s one of my favorites. Tragically, Valens died in a plane crash in 1959 at the age of 17, along with tourmates Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson.

You can read more about Valens’s story here.

  1. “México En La Piel” (“Mexico in the Flesh”) by Luis Miguel

Known as “El Sol de México” (“The Sun of Mexico”), Miguel has been a Latin pop superstar since the early ʼ90s. In this song, he pairs with the Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, one of Mexico’s oldest musical institutions, for a performance that showcases the beauty of the Mexican nation by combining traditional mariachi and ranchera sounds. It sounds like a love letter to Mexico.

  1. “Quimbara” by Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco

Heralded as the “Queen of Salsa,” Cruz focused on elements of her Afro-Latina heritage during a moment in history when it was unpopular to do so. She is one of the pioneers of the salsa sound in America.

You can learn more about Cruz here.

  1. “Hermoso Cariño” by Vicente Fernández

In 1991, The Houston Chronicle called Fernández “the (Frank) Sinatra of ranchera music.”

“Chente” has been a household name in Hispanic homes since the late 1960s and he’s one of my favorites because we share an origin in the Mexican state of Jalisco. “Hermoso Cariño,” which translates into “Beautiful Darling,” is a song about the kind of love that makes you so happy you want to shout it from the rooftops.

To learn more about this iconic Mexican cowboy click here.

  1. “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” by Selena Quintanilla

This list would be missing something if I didn’t include “The Queen of Tejano Music.” Growing up, I wanted to be her. She was a powerhouse and continues to be a staple of Tex-Mex culture to this day. “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” is the perfect dance track because it’s so upbeat and fun.

If you haven’t seen the movie, which I recommend you do, here’s a brief recap of Selena’s story.

  1. “Se Me Olvidó Otra Vez” by Juan Gabriel

“El Divo de Juárez” (“The Diva of Juarez”) is another Mexican household name that you probably woke up to on Saturday mornings while your mom was cleaning the house, which meant you would be cleaning the house, too. Born Alberto Aguilera Valadez, he sold over 100 million records and penned over 500 songs in the span of his career. Although he wasn’t professionally trained in music, he became one of Mexico’s most beloved and popular singer/songwriters.

You can read more about JuanGa in this biography here.

  1. “Conga” by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine

Estefan and her husband, Emilio, have long been known as trailblazers in Latin American culture. As Cuban-American singers, the Estefans were recently named recipients of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2018.

You can learn more about Estefan here.

  1. “Por Una Cabeza” by Carlos Gardel

Yet another artist gone too soon, “The King of Tango” passed away in 1935 in a plane crash. Gardel, thought to have been born in France, was raised in Argentina by a single mother. “Por Una Cabeza” (“By a Head”) was one of Gardel’s last songs.

Learn more about “The King of Tango” here.

  1. “Cielito Lindo” performed by Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan

You don’t have to be Hispanic to know this song. Since it was written in 1898 by Mexican composer Quirino Mendoza y Cortes, it has become the unofficial anthem for Mexicans at many sports events and even at protests.

  1. “Oye Como Va” by Tito Puente

Known as “El Rey” of Latin music, Puente was born and raised in East Harlem, Manhattan, where he was influenced by the jazz, big band and swing music sounds of the era. Puente was influenced by Puerto Rican and Cuban sounds of “El Barrio.” He recorded over 100 albums and expanded the limits of Afro-Caribbean music throughout his career as a musician.

Read more about “El Rey” here.