It’s necessary to begin a guide to Latin music by noting that Latin music isn’t a thing, really. Rather, that which we call “Latin music” is a multifaceted amalgamation sounding vastly different–and signifying many different things–to many different peoples. Caribbean Latin music is different from Mexican Latin music, which is different from Brazilian Latin music, which is different from Tejano Latin music. It’s a nebulous concept, at best.
To begin a guide to Latin music in Dallas, it’s also necessary to mention that Dallas’ Latin music scene isn’t huge. According to Christian Valdes, a pianist from Cali, Colombia who now lives and works in Dallas, the number of Latin musicians in town is very low.
“There are not that many,” he says, “which makes it kind of hard, in one way, for producing really good Latin music. It’s a little complicated, just because there are not enough good Latin musicians.” That said, there’s still enough music for everyone to enjoy.
Take, for example, reggaetón. Born in Panama, reggaetón has become the pan Latin American genre, for better or for worse. While Valdes considers it to be “musically empty,” he admits, “the only style that puts all these different Latin heritages together, the only style that we all share, is that—is reggaetón. Because the Mexicans, they listen to reggaetón, Central Americans listen to reggaetón, all the Caribbean countries listen to reggaetón, Brazilians listen to reggaetón, and even now the Americans also listen to reggaetón.”
Dallas boasts a bounty of reggaetón. Both Taboo Lounge and Sweet Bar Dallas host weekly Latin Wednesdays. Theory Uptown also has a weekly Wednesday party where DJ Chamo mixes everything from reggaetón to electronic dance music. As for the weekend, Medusa Dallas offers a Rumba Room every Friday, while Candleroom hosts International Friday with DJ Smooth mixing “mainly Latin.”
But if you’d rather dance with someone than dance on someone, try more traditional Caribbean music–i.e. salsa, bachata, and merengue. Two prestigious Latin bands perform live in Dallas every weekend. Havana NRG, led by Cuban native Mariela Suarez, plays Fridays and Saturdays at Gloria’s in Addison.
Fusión Latina plays Saturday nights at Stratos Bar & Grill. Starring the enchanting voice of Mariana Dominguez, Fusión is led by Valdes, who played piano with the band Grupo Niche (widely regarded as “the kings of salsa”), and studied music at both the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Arlington.
While it’s much more popular in San Antonio than in Dallas, we mustn’t forget Tejano, a facet of Latin music that’s totally Texan. According to Dominguez, who grew up across the Rio Grande from Brownsville in Matamoros, Mexico, Tejano music “has roots coming from everywhere. It has a lot of influences, like, rock-pop influence, jazz influence, it has conjunto influence – in a way – [and] norteño influence, which is more northern of Mexico with accordion and bajo sexto.” Not to mention the influence of waltz, polka, and country.
Tejano is the musical expression of a proverb Dominguez grew up saying: “No importa de que lado estás, tomamos agua del mismo río, un río que nos une.” It doesn’t matter which side you’re from, we drink water from the same river, a river that unites us. Tejano is a reminder that Texas and Mexico are not neighbors but brothers.
New West is Dallas’ premier venue for live Tejano music. Shows usually occur on Fridays, so get your boots on and go step some corridita.
While Tejano music has been around for as long as Texas has existed, there’s another genre of Latin music that’s far older than Texas, but much newer to Dallas’ music scene: Latin folk. Two DFW venues offer live Latin folk. Venezuelan restaurant Hola Café hosts musicians playing and singing música llanera (folk music from the Venezuelan plains). Order a paperon (fresh-squeezed lemonade sweetened with sugarcane and mixed with Venezuelan Santa Teresa rum) or a Cerveza Polar and enjoy.
For a more intimate and diverse experience, pop into Revelers Hall on any Thursday night for Encuentros Latinos. Peruvian guitarist Pepe Valdez leads a quartet with Dominguez singing boleros, serenatas, and other traditional song forms from Mexico, Peru, Cuba, and beyond. Valdez, who has a master’s degree in jazz studies from UNT, explains that Encuentros Latinos is all about tradition.
“Across Latin American there are these places – they have different names, in Peru we call them peñas, in other countries they are like ‘social clubs,’ which are these bars where they only have folk music,” he said. “For example, in Lima, depending on which district you were from, you would go to a specific one. And you go there Friday and Saturday, you meet with the same people and there’s a band and people would sing, dance, eat food, drink. It’s really kind of a listening room. So, we tried to shape Revelers and this residency around that.”
In Dallas, it really doesn’t get more traditional than Encuentros Latinos. So, head down to Bishop Arts, order a drink from the friendly bartenders, find a seat, and allow the passion and skill of Valdez and Dominguez to bewitch you as they both preserve and reinterpret tradition.