The Latin Music Continuum for Expats

Latin music. There’s all kinds.

There may be more Latin genres than gringo genres because each country has its own homegrown styles, and then they copy all the gringo genres and develop Spanish versions. Reggaeton, despite any claim that it came from reggae, is basically hip-hop en español, and an example of a remixed gringo genre that works. Rock en español, on the other hand, is an example of a fusion gone wrong.

The most popular Latin music genres are reggaeton and salsa. Regional genres include ranchera, bachata, vallenato, llanera, samba, tango, huayno, a cumbia variant from every country and too many more to list here.

Gringos in Latin America vary in their embrace of the local music. There’s a full range and they come in all types. In my opinion, everybody should at least dig the two Latin party basics: salsa and reggaeton.

I’d understand if you have some high-browed snob who refused to get down to reggaeton, but he would have to adopt a different genre to make up for it. And if he didn’t like salsa either, it’s very likely this particular expat would fall on the far right of our Latin Music Continuum for Expats: the Idiot Abroad.

Idiot Abroad

Inspired by Ricky Gervais-produced show, Idiot Abroad. I used some McDonald’s clipart because there really isn’t any way to depict an idiot abroad listening to rock. And there’s a similar vein in the gringo who comes down here and doesn’t like any of the food. Even in Colombia where the food sucks, there are some good dishes. I mean, if you can’t throw down on a bandeja paisa or pescado pacifico then you simply have no soul.

But there are loads of expats like that. Not just in Colombia but everywhere, eating McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut every chance they get. It makes you wonder, what’s the point? Why are they even here? Saving lives?

The first and foremost Idiot Abroad that comes to mind is Christopher Kavanagh, a.k.a. “The Mick” and subject of my book, Mad Outta Me Head. Christopher arrived in Bogota in 1986 and has never left Colombia since.

After 30+ years, including one of which he lived with a sultry salsa songstress, he listens to absolutely nothing in Spanish. It’s 100% classic rock and traditional Irish music. He only hangs out at the rockola bars in Chapinero when he’s on a bender. He doesn’t even like any bands that have come out since the 1980s like Guns N Roses or the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

But at least Christopher will get down on an ajiaco or chiguiro platter.

The Idiot Abroad is on the far-right end of the spectrum. On the far left is the Full Retard.

Full Retard

I snatched this pic from a FB friend suggestion. This dude lives in Colombia. We have mutual friends, so maybe he’s not a full retard. He’s just playing the part for the pic.

The pic’s perfect because there is no reason to like vallenato. It’s awful music. That’s not just my opinion. Use my objective measure to gauge the quality of national cuisines: how well does it export? You hear salsa and reggaeton everywhere. Colombian cumbia has been copied and remixed into a handful of regional variants. Gringos are doing Peruvian chicha in New York and gringos take tango classes worldwide.

But nobody listens to vallenato outside Colombia. You can objectively conclude that it sucks. Just like English food, Peruvian wine, Chinese beer and Argentine smartphones, nobody wants it outside the homeland.

Colombians aren’t the only ones to produce a shitty genre. Huayno is only listened to in Peru and Bolivia. American country used to be good back in the days of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Patsy Cline. But ever since Garth Brooks and Kenny Chesney, only rednecks listen to it. A “Toby Keith World Tour” doesn’t exist. It’s an absurd notion, an oxymoron. Like a conservative hipster or the Middle East peace process.

I have friends who like vallenato. One or two low-culture vices are OK, but you’re flirting with Full Retard when there is a sycophantic element to your enthusiasm. When you’re trying to be something you’re not. This post was inspired by an anecdote from Vance at My Latin Life, in which a “wide-eyed, optimistic and politically correct American” is trying too hard to be Mexican.

I walked up to the terrace of the apartment, where I could hear Salsa music blaring.

I noticed Benjamin effortlessly twirling a cute Mexican girl to the beat.

“He seems to have integrated well,” I thought.

I mingled for an hour or two before a party-goer with a microphone announced that Karaoke would be taking place. Benjamin was the first to volunteer.

He got up and started singing a popular song by the Mexican band Los Angeles Azules, and did so in perfect Spanish…

The girl I was standing beside cheered and said to me, “He’s so funny, he’s like a payaso…”

Ben finished his piece to laughter, cheers and thunderous applause.

A little while later Ben and I were talking and he confided in me that he was interested in a girl. I happened to have met this girl earlier and said I’d try to help him out.

I approached her and eventually asked what she thought of Benjamin.

“The guy who was singing? He’s nice, but he’s a bit too much for me … it’s like he wants to be Mexican or something…”

I glanced over at Benjamin in his tucked-in Ralph Lauren shirt, speaking rapid-fire Spanish with exaggerated hand motions.

You don’t want to be that guy. All of us first-worlders who are down there in shithole countries have some kind of issues. We’re a little off. But you don’t have to be a sycophant, a wannabe. Or, as they used to say in the 90s, a nut rider.

Because the fact is your cultural upbringing are at least almost as much a part of you as your genetic DNA, if not more so. That’s why the nature-vs.-nurture debate has been going on for millenia. There’s nothing you can ever do to be one of them, even if you spend 30 years down here. You’ll always be a foreigner, a sojourner, an immigrant, an expat.

So don’t go overboard with their music, their culture. That’s like being an illegal immigrant who supports Trump or B-Rad from the ‘Bu. Or better yet, an Asian Elvis impersonator. Not an Asian-American Elvis, but an Asian Asian who speaks broken English … impersonating Elvis. You’re a laughable item. They’re not laughing with you, they’re laughing at you.

Not getting laid is just one consequence. In prison you can get turned out for trying to be something you’re not.

The Spectrum

expat continuum

I actually fall to the left of center on this spectrum. I dig a lot of Latin music, down to Peruvian Creole and valz. I publish a booster website and travel guidebook for the city of Lima. I used to publish the news from Peru. I’ve owned Peruvian equities. I go to a bullfight every year. I’m constantly drooling over the food. I have a Peru soccer jersey, three coat-of-arms hats and five t-shirts.

I’m almost making myself cringe. But I keep it real.

I tell Peruvians that soccer is a girl’s sport every chance I get. I don’t let my children watch Peruvian television because it’s garbage. I mock the petty politics. I praise the food but criticize the service. I make fun of the wimps at the gym and their whack training.

I expose Argentines’ arrogance. I call out all of Latin America for their lack of virility, the toxic anti-intellectual politics and preach to them how to be great again.

Why? Because …

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8 comments

  1. “Huayno is only listened to in Peru and Bolivia. ” ho ho hooooooooooo.

    It’s Wayno in Peru and Huayño in Bolivia, Col.

    And elsewhere – 5 national territories at least (excluding the diaspora).

    It’s DANCE music, but gringos are no good at dancing it. Watch a Bolivian, Peruvian, Ecuadorian, North Argentine, or Aymará Chilean LISTENING to it? LMFAO, put on some wayno etc and they will all be on the floor. And very inventive it is too. Just don’t stamp ON the beat….

    At the big weekend events in Lima, etc., etc., there are national wayno groups among all the other stuff (cumbia, huaylas mostly). It’s a social thing along with the pachamanca and roast cuy, but gringos don’t understand the social thing (We just want to be admired and hear about it).

    It’s one of the few genuine things that belong here and grew out of the mountain soil. It’s a bloody good thing that gringos don’t understand it. Leave Well Alone is what I say!

    Cheers…

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  2. Come on, Chinese beer is okay. That’s because it is all copied off of Tsingtao, which originated in the old German concession, or off of the Japanese stuff which came a little later.

    As to the lack of exportability of US country music, check this out, something of a country music scene in Uganda of all places:

    https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35929315

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  3. Watching some of these 1st world youtubbers living in shithole countries, the ones who have gone full latino, like gringo colombiano, that one who lives in Argentina, is cringy as fuck. You could probably write a funny article making fun of this new trend, look on youtube there are many of them, even in Peru.

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  4. In most Latin America countries, Cumbia (and now Reggaeton) is the most popular music. Colombia is the exception however. That’s where you get your Sala in large doses.

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  5. I’ve been reading this blog up and down hoping to gain insight into Latin America. What could be better than first hand account of people with ‘boots on the ground.’ I appreciate the fact everyone is different and everyone has difference experiences.
    Also, Latin America isn’t a homogeneous thing. I sense there is such a thing as a Latin temperament and Latin taste.
    The only music I like is old country, orchestral and metal.
    No offense, most Latino music comes across as pretty faggy. As in dick in the butt gay.
    I’m pretty sure even the guys from Sepulchura are closet homos.
    Where I live we have there are a lot of Latinos now. There all really fat. I don’t think they were as large when they left there home countries.

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