Reggaeton is a fascinating genre of music. The history of it, spanning from Puerto Rico back to Shabba Ranks Dem Bow for the essential beat, and even further back to Cuban, Caribbean African rhythms is well worth investigating. But with the lyrical themes of reggaeton sometimes being a little too much for some, and the beats sounding repetitive to others, it’s also worth exploring Spanish bands and singers to learn Spanish that don’t do reggaeton. Here’s 12 to get you started.
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Let’s get the big ones out of the way first that you may be thinking, “Hey! Isn’t that reggaeton? You promised me no reggaeton!”
Ok, ok, I know. So Residente was in the band Calle 13, and some of their stuff might be classed as reggaeton.
But Residente’s first solo album (also called Residente) is one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard.
Here’s the story…he took one of those DNA tests to see his origins. Then he made an album inspired by the music in those places. It’s awesome.
My favourite is Somon Anormales but the video for that is a little on the NSFW side. So we’ll start with Desencuentro, which you’ll love if you love language because there’s French in it too.
Told you we’d get the big glaring obvious ones out of the way first. And again, a disclaimer. So yes, yes, I know. Rosalía has collaborated with J Balvin, who is undeniably reggaeton. But…Rosalía is different.
Inspired by her studies of flamenco music in her home country of Spain, her first album does not quite prepare you for what’s to come. A pretty pure flamenco record, in a modern context.
Her second album, El Mal Querer, I mean, wow. This is where it gets interesting.
Again, still drawing from those flamenco rhythms and sounds and claps, but this time bringing in much more modern and experimental sounds too. Even sampling Justin Timberlake’s Cry Me A River on BAGDAD.
But if there’s one song you need to draw you in from the get go, it’s MALAMENTE. (Again with the capital letters, just like those Kool Koreans)
iLe is the sister of Residente. And totally deserves to be here in her own right.
Her debut album iLevitable is pretty cool. Maybe a litte jazzy, maybe a little acoustic-y, maybe a little Norah Jones-Latin lovechild.
Her second album is one of my favourites so far of 2019. It’s called Almadura – a play on words of ‘alma dura’, hard soul, and ‘armadura’, armour. It will make you feel ready to take on the world. And win.
And there’s still some heavy drawing from traditional Latin rhythms which makes my heart happy. Here’s Tu Rumba.
Old School Shakira
I’m never going to tire of Shakira. And I bet you probably already know Shakira. But, have you ever gone back and listening to her pre-Laundry Service stuff?
¿Dónde Están Los Ladrónes? is the Shakira you never knew you needed. It’s full of instruments, full of joy, and definitely one of my favourite albums ever. (Because it’s basically the reason I learnt Spanish)
Ojos Así also adds a total Middle Eastern vibe to that whole album with some Arabic lyrics in there as well.
I was introduced to Kchiporros at Asuncionico in Paraguay back in 2018. They were so good live!
There’s like this Latin rock vibe going on with some serious ska influence too. So I’m down.
Unlike anything else on this list.
Cada Día is my favourite. Plus the video is fun too.
Going from one ‘guay’ to the other, next up is Jorge Drexler. He’s from Uruguay. (See what I did there? I could totally present a TV variety show with weak segues…)
He has quite a snappy acoustic sound that your mum would approve of.
Silencio feels like a good place to start if you’re new to Jorge Drexler.
If it’s fun, sunny sounds you’re after then this one’s for you.
Hailing from Colombia, Systema Solar make playful music with fun and sometimes experimental sounds and beats.
It’s not one of their most famous songs but I trained for an ultramarathon to this song so I’m sharing ‘Aló?’.
If you love Systema Solar, you’ll probably like Bomba Estereo too. Both from Colombia, both have these fun, ridiculously cool hooks. In fact, they actually did a song together, Carnavalera.
Also, Bomba Estereo have collaborated with one of my favourite bands, Sofi Tukker, who don’t sing in Spanish but do have some Portuguese lyrics.
This song from Bomba Estéreo is called Soy Yo, and pretty much the only self-love anthem you need.
Femina is an Argentinian band hailing from Patagonia but sounding more like they’re from some sweet, tropical Caribbean island.
There’s a toughness underneath the floaty, folk-inspired harmonies that’s reminiscent of R’n’B around the Lauryn Hill era.
And yes, that’s a lot of adjectives for one band so I guess I should let you listen now.
Buena Vista Social Club
Ahh. There has to be a Cuban band or singer on this list somewhere! Music just floats with the breeze in Cuba that it would be a crime not to include something from the island on this list. If we’re excluding Gente De Zona because they’re basically reggaeton (although you should check out La Gozadera because it is pure joy and Latin American pride), then it has to be Buena Vista Social Club.
Celia Cruz, Antonio Machin, Beny Moré…there’s lots to choose from but what’s great about Buena Vista Social club is that it’s actually a “band” combining some of the most successful living Cuban musicians. So it’s a bit of a cheat for this list because it gives you multiple musicians to go on and discover!
It’s also hard to ignore the significance of the band, emerging worldwide in the late 90s, during what’s known in Cuba to some as “The Special Period” following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Their best song is debatable but Chan Chan reminds me so much of being in Cuba and not knowing the lyrics. I thought he was talking about going to ‘MaccyDs’, as in McDonalds. I know, right. Couldn’t be more wrong.
Hailing from Colombia, Monsieur Periné won a Latin Grammy in 2015 for Best Newcomer.
They’re a little jazzy with some Latin rhythms. Perfect evening music!
I’m going to share a popular one from them, as I’ve not explored their whole back catalogue yet.
From Chile, Mon Laferte’s music is best described as Latin-indie-rock with a 50s style twist and a side order of Regina Spektor. So yeah, another one with lots of description, which means the best thing to do is listen.
You probably already know Juanes, right? The La Camisa Negra guy? Well, Amárrame features Juanes so that’s probably a good place to start.
Your Spanish Music That’s Not Reggaeton Playlist
To save you some time, I’ve put together these artists and plenty more on a Spotify playlist you can enjoy.
Free Spotify Study Pack
Ready to take music and language learning even further? I’ve made you a little something: the Spotify Study Pack.
This Study Pack gives you worksheets to use before, during and after listening to your new favourite song. So you’ve supported throughout. And it’s totally free.
Click the image below to download your free Music Study Pack.
Find More Music!
Not found enough new music here? Watch this video to learn how to find new music to help you learn languages.
What’s your favourite Spanish language song that’s not reggaeton? Share in the comments!