Approaching Miami I let the radio sing to me. Every time it sings differently. Gone are the days when Dr. Rumba would regale me on WDNA with a whole set of La Original de Manzanillo. Gone also are the days of Julio Iglesias, el Puma and Jose Jose. The beat has kicked up, way up. Everything is uptempo, including Latin Pop, many of whose interpreters I now hear in other swinging genres.
Hard to escape the vocalization and tinny guitars of bachata, once a marginalized genre you would never hear on the radio unless it was in the art-pop mode of Juan Luis Guerra. I didn't catch Juan Luis on my drive into the city, but I'm sure he's somewhere on the playlists. I did hear Shakira's Middle-Eastern inflected yodeling, mixed with hip hop. And also hip hop fused perico ripiao, the rapid-fire accordion driven cousin of merengue. Accodions were all over Latin radio, in fact, and it was hard for me to discern whether they came from Dominican perico ripiao or Colombian vallenato, that's how far removed I am from Latin music these days.
Bachata. And reggaeton, also once marginalized. All of it sounding urban, modern. One song I heard was so urban I didn't understand the lyrics at all, ostensibly in Spanish. We're a long way from the careful enunciation of the romantic balladeers of my generation. In fact, sometimes I had trouble figuring out if I was actually on a Latin station, for what I was hearing was more like a Caribbean patois.
Miami does have stations that play music from non-Spanish-speaking countries, and on them the music is less produced, for you can bet that anything Shakira records, no matter how close it tries to get to the street, will be heavily produced. And why not? Even street genres that used to be sold outside clubs from the trunk of a car will go for the full studio Monty when they get a break, never mind a superstar who I first caught wailing rock and wearing jeans.
So it was a respite when I landed by chance on a station playing Jamaican dancehall, the mother genre of reggaeton. In English not Spanish, of course. Well, no English I understood, but certainly no connection to Spanish. Production was minimal. Lyrics were hypnotic. I liked it after the bombardment I'd been through. But, as with so many genres I understand but that's all, it wasn't my music.
Closest I came was a Christian salsa number on another random station. Traditional orchestration and vocals, even if they were about the Lord. I wanted to testify but since I was alone in the car I just danced in the driver's seat (I don't know if Evangelicals dance but this was both pious and irresistibly danceable). Next number was a more traditional alabanza that began with a long-drawn aleluya. It wasn't Leonard Cohen's. I turned the radio off.
Welcome to Miami.