There’s no one way to describe or categorize Latin music, nor should there be — the musical talent that Texas’s Latinx communities offer is much too diverse to try to label under one musical style, era or region.
That being said, various factors were considered in curating this list. In an attempt to capture the diversity of Latinx performers, there was a particular emphasis placed on featuring artists:
- From multiple genres and musical styles
- From various eras
- Representing different Texas regions
- Across the gender spectrum
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it seeks to serve as a solid starting point for music lovers exploring Latinx contributions to Texas music — beyond widely known artists like Selena, Freddy Fender and Flaco Jimenez — and as a platform to expose readers and listeners to music they may not have otherwise encountered.
So, herewith, 10 Latinx acts from Texas you should check out. If you’re not familiar with some of these artists or groups, we’ve included a playlist as an introduction. Click play below to listen as you read on (or check it out on Spotify).
In true Riot Grrrl fashion, FEA rides the fast-paced momentum of the punk sub-genre to — quite clearly — express their stance on social justice issues and to speak on Latina womanhood (and the pains that come with it). Listeners don’t have to dig deep into the group’s work to get a sense of the topics explored. Take the band’s name, FEA (“ugly girl” in Spanish) and the song titles “Feminazi” and “You Can’t Change Me”: unapologetically feminist (and Chicana) themes are evident before even diving into the lyrics.
The lyrics, though, overtly center the issues. Their popular single, “Mujer Moderna,” is a feminist anthem condemning sexual assault. Vocalist Letty Martinez freely transitions between English and Spanish, connecting with FEA’s bilingual audience and loyal fanbase. The group’s music is as appealing as it is inspiring, garnering attention from Rolling Stone, NPR and Iggy Pop. A record deal with Joan Jett’s Blackheart label has led to their music being co-produced by punk rock legends Laura Jane Grace and Lori Barbero. FEA effortlessly transforms their punk into an inspiring call to action for positive social change.
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Esteban “Steve” Jordan
Dubbed “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion,” Jordan ushered in fusions of jazz and rock ’n’ roll with conjunto, a genre best known for traditional polkas, boleros and waltzes. His genre-defying approach to conjunto synthesized electric elements with the button accordion, creating the never-before-heard psychedelic style he’s known for. His musical talents took him from his birthplace in Elsa, Texas — where he performed for migrant farm workers in the same fields his own family worked — to an appearance in Cheech Marin’s 1987 film, Born in East L.A. And while conjunto laid the foundation for his artistic trajectory, variations of his musical styles can be heard in his discography. Earlier recordings of “Las Coronelas” (“The Colonels”) and “Siempre Hace Frio” (“It Is Always Cold”) are more traditional but still showcase his complex embellishments; later singles such as “Midnight Blues” and “La Cumbia Del Facundo” (“Facundo’s Cumbia”) exude more jazz and blues characteristics. Jordan’s catalog reveals his musical range and innovative talent.
An accident left Jordan blind in one eye, earning him the nickname “El Parche” (“The Patch”). This didn’t stop him from performing alongside such acts as Willie Bobo, Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia; or from garnering accolades, including his 1982 induction into the Conjunto Hall of Fame and a Grammy nomination for his 1986 album, Turn Me Loose. (He lost to his friend, Flaco Jimenez.) Perhaps his most unique milestone, though, was Hohner’s 1988 release of the Steve Jordan Tex-Mex Rockordeon, a limited-edition accordion model designed by Jordan himself. More than a dozen years following his death, Jordan’s musical influence and legacy are still celebrated.
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Identity is a complex subject that Hinojosa skillfully explores in her music. Through an impressive amalgam of Mexican and American regional musical styles, employing both English and Spanish lyrics, Hinojosa showcases her own multicultural roots – roots that resonate with Tejanos and Tejanas of similar lived experiences. The fusion of multicultural musical styles can be heard throughout her discography – in songs like “La Llorona” (“The Crying Lady”) contain elements of son jorocho, the “Veracruz sound,” while the bilingual “Something In The Rain” blends country with folk.
While her music speaks to themes of culture and identity, Hinojosa’s compelling lyricism transforms her ballads into stories. Take “West Side of Town,” fusing country and conjunto instrumentation, where she takes listeners on a vivid journey through her hometown of San Antonio. Her literary talents earned her the distinguished honor of being inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters in 2019. She’s also toured with Flaco Jimenez, Dwight Yoakam and Booker T Jones, and she remains active, performing most recently in and around her Austin home base.
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At the intersection of hip-hop, cumbia, R&B and Tejano, you’ll find the Kumbia Kings, a Corpus Christi–based group led by A.B. Quintanilla, brother of Selena Quintanilla. Co-founders Quintanilla and Cruz Martinez drew on their extensive music industry experience to write and produce much of the material that launched the Kumbia Kings far beyond the Corpus music scene, ultimately taking them to the forefront of the Latin music market in the early 2000s — both north and south of the border.
At the core of their music is an unconventional and innovative approach to the traditional, historically instrumental cumbia. Adding romantic vocals to some tracks and hip-hop, ad-lib-style vocals to others, the Kings experienced impressive success, touring extensively and performing for their international fanbase in Mexico and in the States. The Kings’ discography provided the soundtrack to many Texas quinceañeras, weddings, BBQs and family gatherings. Despite the group’s personnel changes and hiatuses, the Kumbia Kings remain a favorite in the Latinx community — many of their hits, including “Azúcar” and “Sabes a Chocolate,” can still be heard at quinceañeras to this day.
You might also like: Grupo Fantasma, Big Circo, Los Kumbia All Starz
Known as “La Alondra de la Frontera” (“The Lark of the Border”) and “La Cancionera de los Pobres” (“The Songstress of the Poor”), Mendoza is a critical figure in Mexican-American music. As her career gained momentum in the late 1920s, Mendoza shifted the focus of an otherwise male-dominated style to showcase her impassioned vocals and adept handling of the 12-string guitar, making her one of the first female stars in Mexican-American popular music.
Mendoza seamlessly translated feelings through her music, not only with expressive lyrics but also with pure emotion. “When I sing a song, I’m really in the song,” she once offered. “When I’m singing a song with a lot of sentiment, I don’t know why, but my soul feels that song.” This is evident in her first recording, “Mal Hombre” (“Cruel Man”), a mournful tale of a cold-hearted man who charms a young girl only to abandon her. Mendoza delivers the song powerfully to expressing disdain rather than heartache.
Mendoza remains one of few female Tejana singers from the early 20th century to be celebrated for their contributions to Texas music. Arhoolie Records’ Los Primeros Duetos Femininas, 1930-1955 and Tejano Roots: The Women include some of the few contemporary written accounts of Mendoza’s career, in addition to musical recordings. She was the first Texan to receive the National Heritage Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982, was inducted into the Tejano Music Hall of Fame in 1984, and received the National Medal of Arts in 1999. Nearly 15 years after her passing, Mendoza’s legacy continues to be celebrated, most recently in 2019 with the designation of a Texas Historical Commission marker at her grave in San Antonio. In 2013, the U.S. Postal Service released a Lydia Mendoza “Forever” stamp.
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The latest wave of Latin soul and R&B, popularized nationally by Cuco and Omar Apollo, has given us Dallas-based four-piece Luna Luna. Colombian-born vocalist Kevin González, who’s involved in much of the group’s production, joined forces with drummer Kaylin Martínez, bassist Ryan Gordon and keyboardist Danny Bonilla to offer listeners a selection of dreamy indie pop that’s as nostalgic as it is fresh.
Incorporating themes of R&B and soul accompanied by romantic vocals and retro synthesizer elements, Luna Luna’s music is reminiscent of the Latin rap and R&B movement that filled the Southwest airwaves in the early 2000s — think Paula DeAnda, Amanda Perez, Frankie J, and Baby Bash. Their latest release, “Sunset Blvd” — a collaboration with lilbootycall and 8percent — opens with autotuned, echoed vocals like those popularized in the NB Ridaz hit “Pretty Girl” and MC Magic’s “Lies.” Or perhaps it’s Luna Luna’s use of bilingual lyrics that adds to that sense of familiarity for their Latinx audience in Texas, many of whom may have grown up in Spanish-and-English-speaking households. Still, the group manages to bring a modern approach to these familiar elements, adding soft, heartfelt vocals and rhythmic grooves that take their music beyond a listening experience — specifically to dance floors, with slow-dance songs like “Daydream” and more upbeat pieces like “Fierra.”
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Hailing from the border region of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, the Chamanas draw from their “pocho” roots to showcase their multicultural identities through whimsical indie pop, challenging the idea that such backgrounds are something to be less than proud of. Historically, “pocho,” which refers to a Mexican or person of Mexican descent who doesn’t speak Spanish fluently and who mixes Spanish with English, has been used derogatorily, but for many — Mexican Americans especially — the term is shfting to more positive connotations that embrace multicultural identity. For starters, the group’s name is a Spanglish take on the Spanish term chamán and its English translation, shaman (using “The” instead of “Los” to emphasize the band’s border-straddling.)
Moreover, their music is a collection of bilingual lyrics, album titles and track titles in Spanish, English and Spanglish. Two of their most popular tracks, “Dulce Mal” (“Sweet Evil”) and “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” illustrate this bicultural theme. Through their music, the Chamanas connect two countries through cross-cultural fusions of Mexican folk and pop en Español, with indie pop, bossa nova and other styles.
Ramiro Beltrán (Randy) Garibay
A seminal figure in Chicano music history, Garibay, the “Chicano Bluesman,” drew from his beginnings in San Antonio’s iconic West Side Sound era of the 1950s and 1960s in San Antonio to bring a different approach to the blues from the early ’70s onward. This Chicano take on the blues became the sound Garibay was best known for, as heard in his later work with his group, Cats Don’t Sleep, and his signature solo song, “Barbacoa Blues.”
Garibay’s genre-fusing style gives listeners an idea of the formative years in his musical career, which took him far beyond San Antonio’s West Side to performances in California, Hawaii, New York and places in between, where he and his bandmates opened for popular acts such as Sammy Davis Jr., Curtis Mayfield and the O’Jays. The influence of these acts, as well as others, can be heard in Garibay’s discography, especially Chicano Blues Man and Barbacoa Blues.
Twenty years after his passing, Garibay is still celebrated in San Antonio, where he’s memorialized in the La Musica de San Anto mural, located in the city’s West Side, and where local groups often perform renditions of his “Barbacoa Blues.”
You might also like: the Dell-Kings, the Royal Jesters, the Liberty Band, Sexto Sol
Little Joe y La Familia
Mainstays in Tejano orquesta music, a brass-infused sub-genre of Tejano, Little Joe y La Familia have masterfully balanced music-making and storytelling for more than 50 years. With music that’s as historically and culturally significant as it is entertaining, the group has established a deep connection with Latino communities throughout the Southwest.
Perhaps the most political act in the entire Tejano genre, Little Joe y La Familia have used their fame as a platform to speak on social issues for years — an act of defiance that began in the 1970s, when the group started to display an overt commitment to La Causa (“the cause,” often used to refer to the Chicano Movement). Rebranding from their original band name, Little Joe & the Latinaires to Little Joe y La Familia marked the group’s socio-political turning point. Speaking directly to the lived experiences of many Chicanos in the Southwest, the group addresses such topics as farm workers’ rights with their hit “Las Nubes” (“Clouds,” recorded in Spanish and English versions), which became a Chicano Movement anthem, often included in the soundtracks of advocacy efforts to this day.
While the group maintained a focus on their political agenda, the musical quality and production didn’t take a backseat to these efforts: in fact, they developed a new take on Tejano, imbuing the sound with ranchera and country elements and, most notably, incorporating high-energy brass sections. This unconventional approach to the traditional Tejano sound won over fans around the world and earned them numerous accolades, including two Grammy wins.
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Although native to northern Mexico, the regional music genre known as Norteño has seen a fair share of contributions from Texas artists. Among the most renowned of these is Duelo (or Grupo Duelo), from Roma, Texas. The group rose to fame in the early 2000s with the international release of their debut album, El Amor No Acaba (“The Love Does Not End”), which featured their hit single, “Amiga Soledad” (“My Friend, Loneliness”).
Duelo distinguished themselves from similar groups courtesy of front man Oscar Terviño’s charismatic vocals and a romantic twist on the audacious lyrical style often heard in Norteño, adding a more sentimental, genuine feel to the themes of heartbreak and failed love.
Perhaps it was this love ballad crossover approach — along with the band members’ sheer talent — that played a key factor in winning over audiences across the U.S. and Mexico. Duelo’s style positioned them at the top of numerous Latin music charts, most notably with the release of their 2009 album, Necesito Más de Ti (I Need More of You), which made Billboard’s top 200 and peaked at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Latin Albums and Regional Mexican Albums charts.
The group remains active, releasing music and frequently performing, most recently throughout Texas and Mexico.
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