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Nuestras Américas An Exploration of Expressive Cultures in Latina and Latino America

Global Centers of Latin American Music Production

The early music recording industry played an important role in connecting Latinos and Latin Americans. At the same time that it diffused diverse Latin American cultures, it promoted cultural stereotypes that later artists would incorporate and resist. Until the 1920s, New York and New Jersey were the center of this industry, with companies such as Columbia, Victor, and OKeh recording visiting Latin American and Caribbean musicians or assembling music groups to cater to Latin American markets.

Sound recordings circulated throughout the hemisphere, facilitating pan-American musical conversations. Through this exchange, musical forms were created or evolved. This is the case with rhumba, a mixture of Afro-Cuban son, conga, and rhumba translated through U.S.-influenced big bands. The breakout rhumba recording was Don Azpiazú’s 1930 “El manisero,” the first Latin American recording to sell over 1 million copies. Still one of the most well-known Cuban songs, “El manisero” was first recorded by Rita Montaner for Columbia in 1927 or 1928.

The recording industry helped to foster cultural exchange and connectedness among Latin Americans through movement of musicians and distribution networks. By the middle of the 20th century, the recording industry would play an important role in promoting Latin American and Latino culture—and stereotypes.

El Manisero

In the early 1920s, Victor Records and OKeh Records sent teams to record regionally popular music in locations such as San Antonio. This led to the first commercial recordings of Tejano music in 1928. One of these was a recording session of Cuarteto Carta Blanca featuring Lydia Mendoza. Recordings by Mendoza and others were distributed throughout the Americas. San Antonio continued to play a role as a regional center, with a big increase in the number of independent labels in the postwar years.

Los Angeles gained its first record label in 1921 with the founding of Nordskog Records. The industry grew throughout the 1920s, with Mexican Americans being among the first groups recorded. After World War II, Los Angeles cemented its role as a center of Latin American music with the flourishing of independent labels owned by or catering to Mexican Americans, including Azteca, Real, and Imperial.

Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina also became important sites of music production and consumption in the early 1900s. This started in Mexico, where strong ties between the U.S. and Mexico prompted Victor, Columbia, and Edison to record cylinders and discs aimed at Mexicans and Mexican Americans before 1910. Recordings ranged from European zarzuelas to Mexican corridos.

International and local companies established themselves in Rio de Janeiro in the 1910s. Notable was the local affiliate of German-owned Odeon, which released what is widely considered the first samba side, "Pelo Telefone" (1916), and brought the first electromagnetic recording equipment to Brazil in 1927. Notably, Odeon and its U.S.-based counterparts in Latin America’s largest country developed an industry that focused on various local genres rather than simple distribution of their U.S. and European recordings.

Mexican Cancionero II
El Alma que canta

Despite Argentina’s modest population size, Buenos Aires also experienced an increase in the number of multinational recording companies. They made extensive recordings for a local audience and for radio broadcasts. Record companies bolstered sales by meeting the international demand for tango after a French mania in the 1910s sparked a worldwide craze for this music that lasted into the 1930s.