Crossing Musical Borders

crossing musical borders

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.” – Plato

            Music is driven by emotion, and emotions do not recognize boundaries – or borders. You can be in San Antonio, Texas, listening to a Monterrey, Mexico, radio station that is playing a pop song from the U.K. With no limitations on whom music reaches, or where, every culture can touch and influence the melodies and lyrics of any genre.

            When your favorite jam comes on during your daily commute, you probably don’t think about the singer’s cultural background. All you really understand is how the song is making you feel and the emotion attached to the experience you are having. When you hear Billionaire, you most likely aren’t thinking, “Bruno Mars’ birth name is Peter Hernández and he’s part Puerto Rican.” Instead, you might be thinking, “Yeah, what would it be like to be on the cover of Forbes magazine, and in a photo shoot with Oprah?” When country music artist Scotty McCreery’s baritone voice graces the airwaves, your first thought isn’t that his grandmother is Puerto Rican. And Selena Gomez? You don’t care that she’s part Mexican and part Italian, you’re just thinking, “When you’re ready, come and get it…”

            Though a singer/songwriter’s culture can potentially influence the content of a musical piece, culture doesn’t restrict the genre. In our multicultural America, the infusion of different cultures across genres enhances the emotions and experiences a song will evoke. We’ve become used to hearing “mainstream” music infused with Latino culture.

            Enrique Iglesias earned his 25th No. 1 spot on the Hot Latin Songs chart in May with Bailando. That you might expect, since he holds the record for most songs to ever top the chart. But in August, something even more incredible happened: Bailando became the first top10 song not available predominately in an English mix since Macarena. Released initially in Spanish, Bailando later came out in a cross-cultural version featuring Sean Paul. The song’s Billboard spot demonstrates that people across cultures can relate to Latin rhythms and beats and… emotion.       

            R&B singer Usher collaborated with rising bachata star Romeo Santos, who has no trouble with filling the arena during his own tours. Romeo’s most recent collaboration was with hip-hop artist Drake in Odio, in which Drake makes his Spanish-language singing debut. George Strait sings in Spanish and even has a song called Vaya Con Dios. Lady Gaga’s song Americano is not only bilingual, but incorporates traditional Latino musical elements. In fact, her producer says, she “wanted to make this song really Mexican, with the struggle the Mexican people have gone through for freedom, for a better life, and so those ideas are directly implemented in the song.” These non-Latino artists were influenced and touched by the Latino culture surrounding them in California.

            Music, no matter the genre, has always been born from emotion and personal experiences. What has changed, perhaps, is the meshing of cultures around us — and an increasing willingness to accept and appreciate cultural cues and sounds as part of our shared American experience and our collective soul.