Thursday, April 9, 2009

Different Types of Latin Music

There are plenty of different types of latin music out there. Here are samples of the ones that I run into the most. Of course, of all the styles below, you can get mixes/fusions as well, such as Samba-Reggae and Cha-Pop (*shudder*)...

Here are a few of the pages that helped me compile this list:
Click the links below to hear a sample of each. Over time I will add more song types (as I learn what they are), and also add titles, etc.


Note the 3/2 rumba clave, which can easily be confused for a 2/3 son clave. Rumba has three flavours: yambo (slow), guaguanco (meduim), and columbia (fast).


Son is a more traditional style of music, of which salsa is derived from. Note the emphasis on the 1 and the 4 (across each two bars)... very characteristic of Son.

Cha Cha (Volver A Verte, Oscar De Leon)

No clave, and when the cowbell comes in, it usually hits all four beats in the bar. There is often a half beat on the 'cha cha cha' bit as well. Note how clear the guiro is when it comes to cha cha.

Guajira-Son (Amor Verdadero, Afro Cuban All-Stars)

Guajira is a syncopated country/folk style of music, which fuses 6/8 and 4/4 time signatures. It is often played by a single vocalist accompanied by a guitarist. When mixed with Son and played in slow 4/4 time, it is known as Guajira-Son. I personally have trouble distinguishing between some guajiras and cha cha, and happily dance cha to both styles :)

Son-Montuno (Dundunbanza, Sierra Maestra)... thanks to Andrei for this sample!

Not everyone agrees on what Montuno ('comes from the mountain') actually means in terms of music, or what Son-Montuno is. Montuno could mean the fast, semi-improvised section of the music near the end of the song (what musicians sometimes refer to as the mambo section), but it can also mean an accompanying piano melody as well. Either way, Son-Montuno is a fairly fast version of Son, and I can personally feel a slight cha-cha influence as well. Again, I find a cha cha feel in many son-montunos, and some people will even dance on-2 to son-montunos as well.

Cuban Salsa

Nice to listen to, damn hard to dance linear salsa to!

Linear Salsa (La La La, Direct Latin Influence)

Note how simple linear salsa is... everything is constructed over a two bar phrase, with simple baselines, melodies and lyrics. Very well suited to slot-styled dancing (a quick-quick-slow or light-and-shade dance pattern, as opposed to the circular pattern of Cuban styled salsa).

Salsa with English Lyrics

Note how even though this song is sung in english, it still has been constructed/played with the clave at the heart of the music. That's why it works!

A Latin Pop Song

This is a nice song to listen to, to dance to, just don't dance salsa to it, as it doesn't have the clave as its heartbeat!


Reggaeton is a fusion of west-indian/jamacan reggae and dancehall with latin american styles such as salsa, bachata, cumbia and the like. It also has a strong rapping/hip hop influence as well. You can hear the bongos slightly in most reggaeton songs, and there is a faint implication of a clave at times too.

Salsaton (Sueltame, DLG - Deep Latin Grooves)

This is a fusion between Reggaeton and salsa. In some cases, Reggaeton will switch out for Salsa (so, less rapping, more montuno, clave, etc), and then back again (back to stronger beats, more of a hip hop feel, etc), yet in other salsaton songs, there will be a complete fusion of reggaeton and salsa throughout the entire song. Other flavours similar to Salsaton include Cumbiaton and Bachaton.

Salsa Romantica (Herida, by Brenda K Starr, from the album Te Sigo Esperando)

Salsa romantica is just a style of salsa. It tends to be quite light, with a lot of bongos and not so much jazz. The lyrics are always romantic!


Samba has a 2/4 signature, but the syncopated beats make it feel more like a 1-2-3 sort of a song (there are three steps in the samba basic). I love the big drumming in the background... it is intoxicating if you ever catch samba being played live.

Mambo - 40s/50s Style

Mambo of this style is a groovy kind of dance/music (done in the 40s, 50s, ...) which marginally resembles the salsa/mambo that is done today. However, it is slower, more centered, and can quite easily be danced entirely as a solo or as a group of individuals, as opposed to salsa which is usually a partner dance (shines excluded).

Mambo 1970s onwards

Mambo of the "new" style is a contentious issue (see this article from wikipedia). There are quite a few different terms for mambo, but when the music is referred to today, I define it as salsa music that is jazzy (New York influenced), and is fast paced from beginning to end - as if the entire song is one big mambo section of a salsa song (i.e. the section after the chorus where everyone is playing louder and faster). As for Mambo the dance (the modern version that is), well, I just classify that as salsa being danced on 2 in a linear style (so the use of "light and shade" instead of round Cuban circular turn patterns). Simple really! :)


Zouk is a fairly new kind of dance style, with music to match. However, it looks very much like a laid-back version of Lambada, which I am sure it gets its roots from. To me, zouk has roughly the same 1-2-3 feel as Reggaeton, Samba, etc.

Another dance/musical style closely related to Zouk is Kizomba. There is far too much hip movement in this dance for me to tell you anything about it. Sorry!


Note how Bachata has the same bongo pattern as salsa... it is just slowed down (and of course the congas, clave, etc are not played).


A 2/4 timing signature. What your grandparents danced to before getting married. Enough said.


To me, cumbia feels jumpy, as if we were riding a horse. I have heard that cumbia might have been named after the Andes, which themselves are very "up and down". Makes sense to me! Interestingly enough, one particular type of basic conga pattern is called "Caballo" which translates to "horse" in English. If the caballo pattern is used in Cumbia, then it is all starting to make sense as to why it feels like a jumpy style of music.


Lambada (in its modern form) grew in popularity along side salsa in the 1980s and early 90s. The dance style is similar to salsa in terms of leading and following, but the footwork is a three-step (a bit like slow samba) as opposed to a forward and back basic that salsa employs. Lambada music, in the 80s and 90s, however was bit more up-and-down compared to salsa... perhaps a little closer to cumbia. Again, anything with 2/4 or 4/4 timing works though, although in the early 80s, lambada was only really being played with 2/4 time signatures (a bit closer to merengue).


  1. what is the name of the rumba song? thanks!

  2. Hi! The song is called "Mis Cantares (Yambu)" from the album Cuban Drums (Percussions Cubaines) from the band Iluyenkori. It is track #11, and you can check out the album here:

  3. what is the name of the 'Linear Salsa' song? thanks! :)

  4. Hi! I am trying to work out the name of that song... will know soon! I think it is from Tito Puente Jr, from the album Sientelo, but I am not 100% sure just yet. Once I know I will post the name onto the blog!

  5. Aha... that song is La La La, by Direct Latin Influence. Thanks to Chris from for help with that one!

  6. Ok, another Song - what is the title of the song used for "Salsa romantica"?

  7. Hi... the song is called Herida, by Brenda K Starr, from the album Te Sigo Esperando. :)

  8. Very Informative. Thanks for a wonderful compilation.

  9. Hi (to the poster above)! You are welcome... I hope it helps people out there... putting this compilation together certainly helped me!!

  10. I recognize your Son song as "Chan, Chan", but I've never heard of this version before, do you know who the artist is?

  11. Never mind, just found a number of them like this on iTunes, under "Chan Chan".

  12. Hey, how about throwing in a mention of bolero music while you're at it?

    1. Yeah, I am just starting to discover Bolero... beautiful genre.

  13. What is the song Salsa with English lyrics called?

    1. The American artist that sings this song is Chris De burgh. The title of the song is "The Lady in Red." I don't know who the Latin artist is that performs this song in Salsa with English lyrics.

  14. You could also mention boogaloo as a subgenre of cha cha, and latin music's influence on rock & roll, such as through Santana.

  15. Song Bachata is in fact: Aventura - [1999] Cuando Volveras from album Generation Next.
    Song Reggaeton is in fact: Daddy Yankee - Gasolina, album Barrio Fino.
    What about extension of examples in that list? ;)

  16. Love this stuff. But there's no such thing as CHA-CHA. It has always and will always be CHA-CHA-CHA.

    And that piece you stuffed under CUBAN SALSA is actually called TIMBA.

    1. True about calling cha-cha-cha cha-cha... that's just me being lazy.

      Good point about the timba song being classed as cuban salsa. I'm still learning... :)

  17. Can anyone help with the names of some of the other styles? Samba, Zouk, Cumbia, Merengue and Lambada?

  18. Sorry I meant names of the songs above for the other styles.

  19. You should add Bomba y Plena to the above list, since so many songs on salsa albums don't have the tumbao conga pattern, but are actually bomba y plena, with a "carnival" like feel to them. Examples, Ghana'E, El Dia de Suerte, La Murga, all by Willie Colon.

    1. Thanks for the comment... I'd never heard of Plena before. Another common percussion pattern found in salsa (or at least parts of salsa songs) is called Caballo... and does sound a bit like a horse walking along!

  20. Hi! As a brazilian girl myself, just wanted to let you know... The samba song you chose is not exactly samba, it´s a music style from brazil called "Axé"...

    Try this one, a very classic samba song: Adoniran Barbosa - Samba do Arnesto

    Hope that helps, this selection helped me a lot!
    Thank you

    1. Thanks... I have always been confused about the difference between Axe and Samba!

  21. Very nice article!
    But here is a slight correction, my friend...

    "Cuban salsa" is called Timba.
    "Salsa" is not much of a real term, but a commercial term invented in new york in the early 70's to help sell the music to the masses, and also to comply with the embargo, and not call Cuban music Cuban music...

    There is no such musical style as "linear salsa"; mostly linear salsa is danced on Son Montuno, Salsa classica, and Salsa Dura.

  22. Since you mentioned merengue, zouk, etc, you should probably mention Konpa :)

  23. Hi there, I was wondering were you would suggest to some reggaeton/salsa music samples. I have really do into my latin music and would like to start making my own tracks.


  24. Can someone update the songs in this post? It's magnificent!

  25. I wish the links were working :(
    This is great resource