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Tropical music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tropical music (Spanish: música tropical) is a term in the Latin music industry that refers to music genres deriving from or influenced by the Spanish-speaking areas of the Caribbean.[1] It includes the islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Caribbean coastal regions of Colombia, Mexico, Central America and Venezuela.[1][2]

In the 1940s and 1950s, the term tropical music was created to cover all music from the hispanophone Caribbean excluding Cuban music, which had its own category and niche within the American (and to a lesser extent European) music market.[1] However, later in the 20th century after the Cuban Revolution, tropical music gained a broader meaning and began to be used in order to distinguish Caribbean genres such as cumbia and son cubano from inland genres such as tejano and norteño.[1]


Due to its geographical roots, tropical music generally combines elements from European and African traditions. An example of this is the process of binarization of ternary rhythms brought from Africa, which took place originally in Cuba, later spreading throughout the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America.[3] The presence of syncopated polyrhythms of African origin make most tropical music naturally dance-oriented. Tropical music instrumentation also includes both European (tres, piano, trumpet, timbales) and African-descended (congas, bongos, marimba) instruments. During the late 20th century, contemporary instruments such as synthesizers and drum machines were incorporated.[4]


Despite being a concept created in the 20th century within the music industry, tropical music encompasses genres and styles that can be traced back to the 16th century, when the Caribbean (and thus America) was discovered and colonized by Europeans. It was not until the 19th century that tropical music became a global phenomenon with the popularization of Cuban contradanza (also known as habanera). Cuba would continue to spearhead the development of tropical music with other ballroom music styles, as well as the bolero and son cubano. The Dominican Republic contributed with merengue and bachata, two very successful genres, while Puerto Rican music is exemplified by relatively minor genres such as bomba and plena. The very popular cumbia and vallenato originated on the coasts of Colombia.

Tropical music would have a long-lasting impact in the music of other regions beyond the Caribbean such as the United States (where rhumba and salsa were primarily developed), Africa (where soukous was developed), and South America. For example, in Chile, tropical music genres were progressively introduced depending on their popularity in the Caribbean and North America. Thus, genres such as guaracha, mambo, cha cha cha and later cumbia made their way into the radios and concert halls of Chile between the 1930s and 1960s.[5][6]

Tropical music enjoys a dedicated global following among music fans and record collectors. In some cities, DJs will hold music nights and play a variety of tropical music, featuring vintage (1970s and earlier) cumbia, salsa, mambo, Caribbean and African music, often on vinyl records. Modern artists such as Will Holland (AKA Quantic) derive significant influence from music styles within the tropical genre.

Radio format[edit]

Tropical music also refers to a music format common in Latin music radio stations.[7] Among the most popular tropical styles are salsa, merengue, bachata, cumbia, and vallenato.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Negus, Keith (1999). Music Genres and Corporate Cultures. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 133. ISBN 9780415173995.
  2. ^ Quintero Rivera, Ángel G. (2005). Salsa, sabor y control: sociología de la música tropical (in Spanish) (3rd ed.). Mexico City, Mexico: Siglo XXI. p. 15. ISBN 9682321492.
  3. ^ Pérez Fernández, Rolando Antonio (1986). La binarización de los ritmos ternarios africanos en América Latina (in Spanish). Havana, Cuba: Ediciones Casa de las Americas.
  4. ^ "Tropical". AllMusic. Rovi. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  5. ^ González, Juan Pablo (2005). "The Making of a Social History of Popular Music in Chile: Problems, Methods, and Results". Latin American Music Review. 26 (2): 248–272. doi:10.1353/lat.2006.0009. JSTOR 4121680.
  6. ^ "Tropical". MusicaPopular.cl. Archived from the original on 3 June 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  7. ^ Mexican Tropical Radio Format Archived 2012-04-17 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Cobo, Leila (November 9, 2002). "Tropical Music Falters Despite Latin Boom". Billboard. Vol. 114, no. 45. Nielsen Business Media. p. 83. ISSN 0006-2510. Retrieved June 8, 2021.

Further reading[edit]

  • Wade, Peter (2000). Music, race & nation: música tropical in Colombia. Chicago studies in ethnomusicology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-86844-8.

External links[edit]