According to popular music history, Latin soul was a short-lived genre that took place in New York during the 1960s. Indeed, it was there that the Latin musicians began to mix soul and jazz with Afro-Caribbean rhythms such as son and mambo. This type of Latin soul was called boogaloo and was essential for the growing salsa movement that emerged almost simultaneously in the same city and would explode in the following decade.
So, clearly influenced by Cuban and Nuyorican cultures, Latin soul was also an attempt by local artists to expand beyond the Latin community and insert themselves into a broader market. From that New York movement, there are legends who left early, such as Ralfi Pagán, a singer who seemed to bring together the best of James Brown and Héctor Lavoe. And there are also living legends, like the great Joe Bataan, a mestizo keyboardist and singer-songwriter who left his own mark by combining Latin boogaloo with Afro-American doo-wop. Both talents began as part of the then-rising Fania Records* team. In fact, Bataan signed in 1966 and released “Gypsy Woman” in 1967, a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s song that was a total success and laid the foundations of Latin soul.
*Enter to win a vinyl copy of Fania All Stars: Live at the Cheetah, Vol. 1here
In any case, Latin soul wasn’t limited to New York. To make it clear, there was Chicano soul– also described as brown-eyed soul, to contrast the so-called blue-eyed soul. It was basically R&B and soul performed primarily by Latinos and Chicanos in Southern California, East LA, and areas of Texas like San Antonio, from the 1960s to the early 1980s. As one of the cultural intersections of the mid-20th century, soul music brought by Afro-descendant communities mixed with mariachi, regional Mexican music and other sounds from the border. Because musically there are no borders. “What I really like about Latin soul is that it’s very inclusive. When it’s said that it’s Chicano, one thinks that it only belongs to Latinos and migrants. But the most I learned is that there are other artists who aren’t Latin and who have been influenced by this music,” said Adrian Quesada of the Black Pumas in an interview with Indie Rocks after giving birth to his project Look at My Soul.
Guitarist and producer Adrian Quesada is undoubtedly one of the main instigators of this Latin soul revival. He even put together a documentary-style recording project to restore and honor the Chicano version of this story. We’re talking about Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul, his 2018 album that brought together talents from different generations to revalue Latin soul made in Texas. Last year, the co-founding member of Black Pumas also released Boleros Psicodélicos, a collection of dreamy tunes that pay homage to Latin American ballads of the ‘60s and ‘70s, followed a few months later by another retro-inspired album titled Jaguar Sound. Of course, Adrian Quesada’s attachment to Latin soul dates back much further. Just review all the bands he was part of, from Grupo Fantasma and Ocote Soul Sound to Spanish Gold and The Echocentrics.
Thee Sacred Souls
This trio from San Diego has quickly become a sensation. A few live performances in clubs were enough to get them signed to the venerable Daptone Records. Brown-eyed soul songs from the So Cal area, their homeland, with a clear attachment to the Philly sound, as part of a journey of influences that goes from Chicago to Memphis, even to Panama, always with love as the central theme. Last year, Thee Sacred Souls released their self-titled album, with an accomplished vintage sound based on sixties soul and seventies R&B, to reach millions of views on digital platforms and add new fans such as Gary Clark Jr. and the Black Pumas. “Every step of the way has just been so organic,” says drummer Alex Garcia, echoed by his bandmates, bassist Sal Samano and singer Josh Lane. “Things just seem to happen naturally when the three of us get together.”
Originally from East Los Angeles, The Altons started with a retro rock imprint, roaming the local scene around 2015, as a trio led by guitarist and vocalist Bryan Ponce. Two years later, with the arrival of singer and percussionist Adriana Flores, they began to consolidate a more soul and R&B style, seasoned with a touch of Latin-inspired flavors. In mid-2019, after releasing an EP and several singles, they released their debut album In The Meantime. The rhythmic base is currently made up of Caitlin Moss on drums and Gabriel Maldonado on bass, and the full lineup includes Joey Quiñones on keyboards and guitar. By the way, Quiñones is the frontman of The Sinseers, where Ponce and Flores also play. This year The Altons released the lovely single “Float”, with its B-side “Cry for Me”, and two years ago they patented another great ballad titled “Tangled Up In You”.
Joey Quiñones & Thee Sinseers
Also directly from East LA, Thee Sinseers are led by Joey Quiñones, a talented singer and multi-instrumentalist who seems to have traveled back in time to create his Latin version of soul and doo-wop. Love songs loaded with reverb and vintage sounds, made of sweet tunes and slow tempos, always from the lowrider perspective so typical of Chicano culture. Related to the new So-Cal soul scene, Quiñones has already made a name for himself and has left a mark with his band on some online live acts, from Tiny Desk to KEXP, standing out especially at The Recordium with “Seems Like” and “What’s His Name” – both songs went viral with millions of views. In addition to his work with Thee Sinseers, Joey is also a member of The Altons and carries out other side projects, hiding in Barrio Joyride or simply as a solo artist – his single-ballad “Don’t Tell Me” is a must.
On the other coast, the Eastern one, more precisely in Miami, we came across Jason Joshua, one of the key names of the new Latin soul. This singer with Puerto Rican roots is also the man behind Mango Hil Records, a label he founded with his friend Adam Scone to initially release the music of each other’s band, Ketchy Shuby and Scone Cash Players. But his career changed in early 2018 with the single “Rose Gold”, followed a few months later by “I Don’t Care”. Both songs came out under the name Jason Joshua & The Beholders and were included on his long-awaited debut album, 2020’s Alegría y Tristeza. This year he returned by his own with La Voz de Oro, a second record, this time openly bilingual and musically more adventurous – just check out the album’s title track to appreciate how salsa flirts with soul, in a sort of parallel tribute to Fania and Motown.
Nick Pagan is a young man with an old-fashioned soul. Latino and Californian, he usually describes his music as new-wop, clearly alluding to doo-wop, a vocal style that comes from R&B and that had its greatest peak between the 50s and 60s. Simple songs, with basic rhythms and classic sounds, without losing sight of the sweet melodies and catchy hooks. He became known in 2020 by releasing a couple of singles: first was the velvety ballad “No Mames”, and then was that fifties jukebox hit “In A Cave”, giving him some notoriety thanks to the Netflix series Elite. For 2021 he returned with two more singles: the rustic and heartfelt “Hardly Uses My Hands”, and another slow-dance ballad like “There Is A Fool for You”. Last year, Nick was invited by Calexico to go on tour as an opening act.