Latin Musicflourishes in chicago
Latin music came to the United States with large waves of Latin American immigration that began around the 1940s. During World War II, the Bracero Program, an agreement with the Mexican government, brought much-needed laborers to the United States to work on farms and on the nation’s infrastructure. The program ensured rights and extended visas for Mexican workers, and many put down roots in Chicago, Aurora, and Northwestern Indiana. Puerto Ricans became naturalized U.S. citizens in 1917, but the 1940s labor shortage motivated thousands to relocate to the mainland.
Some of the earliest recordings of Latin popular music were made in Chicago, one of few places where the necessary technology was available. Conjunto bands recorded in Chicago, though most ultimately settled in Texas. One exception was Silvano R. Ramos, whose prolific output suggests he stayed in Chicago from 1927 through 1931. Banda Mexicana of South Chicago, led by Cirilio Lopez, a refugee from the Cristero War in Mexico, was active in the 1920s. In the 1940s and 1950s, Chicago-based ensembles performed sones, polkas, marches, and mariachi, the popular, celebratory style of the Mexican state of Jalisco.
Chicago’s most infamous contribution to Mexican popular music is the style of norteño music known as duranguense. Although its name refers to the Mexican state Durango, the music originated in Chicago before being exported. Using similar instruments to norteño, including numerous horns and drums, it replaced the tuba with a synthesizer that allowed the performers to increase the tempo. Duranguense lyrics emphasize tales of sex, violence, and narcotic trafficking, in some cases so much that they are banned from radio play. Paraiso Tropical De Durango and Patrulla 81 were at the forefront of this cultural shift, but Grupo Montez de Durango, also from Chicago, is the world’s most popular duranguense act.
Interest in Mexican folk music in Chicago swelled over the last fifteen years, due largely to the Sones de Mexico Ensemble. The band’s leader, Juan Díes, moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and discovered fertile territory for a small folk group playing sones and jarochas. Díes and Victor Pichardo founded the Sones de México Ensemble in 1994 to preserve and promote traditional folk songs, bringing them out of restaurants and small parties and into concert venues and cultural institutions. Since then, their popularity has spread nationwide, and they have been nominated for both a Grammy and a Latin Grammy.
Chicago’s Puerto Rican community is smaller in number than the Mexican community, but its vibrant culture resonates just as strongly. During the 1940s, local festivals were imported from Puerto Rico, along with popular performers. Orchestra Director Mario Dumond and singer Ángel Santiago visited Chicago to fill huge venues like the Merry Garden Ballroom, and other esteemed artists like Rafael "Congo" Castro and Quique Orchard stayed to take residency at Caribbean clubs like Mambo City, El Mirador, and the Cuban Village. Their orchestras played a range of Cuban and Puerto Rican styles including mambo, salsa, and Latin jazz. Chicago held its first major Puerto Rican festival in 1956 to celebrate El Día de San Juan, a major event in the commonwealth’s capital city. A decade later, the first Puerto Rican parade marched through downtown Chicago, the first citywide event for a Latino community.
The incipient Nuyorican culture was becoming influential outside New York in the late 1960s, with acts like Willie Colon, Ray Barretto, Eddie Palmieri, and Joe Cuba showing up in Chicago to play Puerto Rican clubs like Habana Madrid, Café Olé, and Coco Loco. Radio deejays
like Raúl Cardona, Carlos Uribe, and Rey Rubio pushed records from New York’s Fania and Tico labels, amongst others, where they could be bought at Puerto Rican stores like La Voz Hispana. Chicago artists like La Mafia del Ritmo, Tipica 78, and Shorty Ramírez & Orchestra adopted this popular new style, a combination of salsa, boogaloo, and jazz with the traditional bomba and plena styles mixed in. The energy of this movement gave way to disco in the late 1970s, but nearly thirty years later it is being revived by Angel Melendez and his 911 Mambo Orchestra, as well as the Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble.
Puerto Rico’s traditional music has also been rejuvenated over the last decade, through the efforts of Tito Rodriguez and his AfriCaribe organization and Carlos Flores’s Ensemble Kalinda. They focus on the music’s African and indigenous roots, with percussion-heavy forms like bomba, plena, and decima. The Latin music available in Chicago is nearly as diverse as the city itself.