15 Latin Artists Who Became Musical Idols

Listen to iconic Latin musicians across genres in this playlist and read about how they’ve influenced Berklee students.

March 26, 2024

Within Latin music, a select few artists have crossed borders and genres to become true idols, resonating with audiences worldwide through their chart-topping hits and culture-shifting artistry.

Many of these artists have been featured in Berklee's annual Ídolos Latinos showcase. In this playlist, dive into the stories of 15 such artists featured in this year's showcase concert (March 28 at the Berklee Performance Center) and discover what their music means to the student performers interpreting their songs onstage. Through their diverse perspectives, we can gain deeper insights into the impact of these idols, offering a more nuanced view of their lyrics, styles, and music.

Listen to the playlist below, and read on to learn more about each artist and see what Berklee students say about them.

Tracklist and Notes

1. “Caballo Viejo,” Simón Díaz

Simón Díaz (1928–2014) was a Venezuelan singer, composer, and actor, celebrated as one of the most influential figures in Venezuelan music. Born in Barbacoas, Táchira State, Díaz’s career began in the 1950s, blending traditional Venezuelan folk music with contemporary elements to create a distinctive sound. He became widely known for his compositions, such as "Caballo Viejo" and "Tonada de Luna Llena.” His charismatic personality and contributions to Venezuelan culture earned him the nickname Tío Simón (Uncle Simón). He is a symbolic figure of Venezuelan folklore and music and will forever be revered for his talent and cultural impact.

“I grew up listening to him, and thanks to him, Venezuelan folkloric music had a bigger stage in Caracas’ music industry,” says Valentina Garcia, interpreting him at the Ídolos showcase. “If it weren’t for his influence, I probably wouldn’t be at Berklee. . . . No matter which part of the world you are in, we can all relate to his lyrics. The love and respect with which he treats and discusses all of the elements of his lyrics inspire me so much and makes me feel connected to the music when I perform these songs.”

2. “El Alma en Los Labios,” Julio Jaramillo

Julio Jaramillo (1935–1978) was an Ecuadorian singer known for his powerful voice and emotional performances in the pasillo, bolero, and vals genres. He earned the nickname El Ruiseñor de América (the Nightingale of America) for his iconic contributions to Latin American music. Despite a tragic personal life marked by struggles with alcoholism, Jaramillo's passionate singing and enduring hits like "Nuestro Juramento" and the classic "El Aguacate" continue to inspire fans across the region even after his death.

“I grew up listening to boleros, waltzes, and tangos, and as a singer-songwriter, these genres shaped how I write and compose,” says Luisa Yamille, who will interpret Jaramillo at the showcase. “The song I am performing is very vulnerable and emotional, and during this process, I have learned a lot about connecting with the lyrics, the audience, and the artist's intent. . . . The genre resonates with me, with my writing style, and has been a great inspiration for me in these months.”

3. “Reggaeton Latino,” Don Omar

Don Omar, born William Omar Landrón Rivera in Puerto Rico in 1978, is a renowned reggaeton artist and actor. In the early 2000s, he became an essential figure in the genre's global expansion. His breakout hit "Dale Don Dale" catapulted him to success, followed by numerous chart-topping singles like "Dile" and "Reggaeton Latino." He achieved widespread recognition with albums such as The Last Don and King of Kings, solidifying his status as a reggaeton icon.

Laura Prias speaks to this, saying, “The stage presence that is necessary to be able to sing in this genre is what has captivated me. Nothing is [really] sung; it's more spoken, but [you] always remember the attitude with which you say things. . . . Don Omar always manages a very intense vibe. Still, it never feels overacted or exaggerated. . . . He has three things that I don't think many people consider when listening to him: attitude, connection with the audience, and intonation.”

4. “Te He Querido, Te He Llorado,” Ivy Queen

Ivy Queen, born Martha Ivelisse Pesante Rodríguez in 1972 in Puerto Rico, is a renowned reggaeton artist and songwriter. She became a prominent figure in the genre during the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to her powerful voice, provocative lyrics, and fierce persona. Ivy Queen's breakthrough album "Diva" (2003) propelled her to international fame with hits like "Quiero Bailar" and "Te He Querido, Te He Llorado." She has been recognized for her contributions to reggaeton as a female artist, breaking stereotypes and paving the way for future generations.

“I am learning that I want to feel empowered and confident in my boldness, prominent character, and personality,” says Elianny Perez, who is taking on her role in the showcase. “Her great way of encouraging assertive and playful femininity has stuck out to me.”

5. “En Barranquilla Me Quedo,” Joe Arroyo

Joe Arroyo (1955–2011) was a Colombian singer and songwriter celebrated as one of the most influential figures in Latin music, particularly in tropical music. In the 1970s, he rose to fame as the lead singer of Fruko y sus Tesos, one of Colombia's most famous salsa bands. With his powerful voice and charismatic stage presence, he became known for hits like "Rebelión" and "La Noche." His music blended various Caribbean rhythms with elements of Colombian folk, creating a different and vibrant array of sounds.

Ursula Eyzaguirre, who will interpret Arroyo, says, “Being born and growing up in Peru helped me a lot because we listened to a lot of salsa there. I know Joe Arroyo's most famous songs, almost by family inheritance. He is an artist who managed to represent his country with the pride he deserves, and he didn't do it like anyone else. He was so different that his name had a subgenre of Colombian salsa. That's why he inspires me.”

6. “Después de Todo,” Los Van Van

Los Van Van is a Cuban band that formed in 1969, pioneering the modernization of traditional Cuban music by incorporating rock, funk, and jazz elements into their sound. Founded by bassist Juan Formell, the band quickly rose because of their innovative approach to genres like son, rumba, and salsa. Their sticky rhythms and energetic performances earned them international acclaim, making them one of the most influential bands in Latin music history. With hits like "El Baile del Buey Cansao" and "La Habana no Aguanta Más," they have left an indelible mark on Cuban and Latin American music, maintaining their popularity for over five decades.

7. “Eres Para Mi,” Julieta Venegas

Julieta Venegas is a Mexican-American singer-songwriter and musician known for her fusion of Latin pop, rock, and folk styles. Born in 1970 in Long Beach, California, she grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, where she began playing music at a young age. She gained prominence in the late 1990s with her solo career, releasing albums such as Aquí and Bueninvento, which showcased her unique sound and introspective lyrics. Venegas achieved international success with hits including "Limón y Sal" and "Me Voy," earning multiple Grammy Awards and Latin Grammy Awards.

8. “Baja La Tensión,” Cultura Profética

Cultura Profética is a Puerto Rican reggae band formed in 1996. Their music blends reggae, salsa, jazz, and other Latin rhythms with socially conscious lyrics. The band members include Willy Rodríguez (vocals), Eliut González (bass), Boris Bilbraut (drums), Juan Carlos Sulsona (guitar), Omar Silva (saxophone), and Ileana Cabra Joglar (backing vocals). They gained popularity in Latin music with albums like Mafagafos (1998) and Diario (2004), earning critical acclaim for their musicality and lyrics.

“Cultura Profética has been one of our generation's most influential Latin bands,” says Daniel Olivero. “I think that a genre like reggae, taken to the highest level as these guys do, has been a fun and exciting experience. . . . Willy's relaxing essence is unique, and it is something that I have to implement into my performing habits! Just to enjoy the moment and then let the music flow.”

9. “11 y 6,” Fito Páez

Fito Páez is an Argentine singer-songwriter born in 1963. He is known for his prolific career in rock and pop music. During Argentina's cultural renaissance in the 1980s, Páez quickly gained recognition for his distinctive voice, touching lyrics, and piano-driven melodies. Hits like "11 y 6" and "Mariposa Tecknicolor" propelled him to stardom, establishing him as one of Argentina's most beloved musicians.

“I'm learning from Fito to be more aware of my expressionism when singing and performing. Even the little things make the difference (how it feels for me or how the delivery is). I have been listening to Fito for as long as I can remember. So, it’s been incredible to impersonate Fito with my touch. Fito has given me so much that I feel this is my way to pay tribute to him,” Felipe Osorio says.

10. “El Necio,” Silvio Rodriguez

Silvio Rodríguez is a Cuban singer-songwriter born in 1946, renowned for his influential contributions to the Nueva Trova movement. Growing up in a musical family, Rodríguez began his career in the 1960s, blending traditional Cuban music with poetic lyrics and political themes. He gained popularity with songs like "Ojalá" and "La Maza," which became anthems of resistance and social change. Despite facing censorship and persecution, Rodríguez's music resonated with audiences beyond Cuban borders across Latin America.

11. “Lambada (Corpo Molinho),” Ivete

Ivete Sangalo is a Brazilian singer, songwriter, and actress born in 1972 in Juazeiro, Bahia, Brazil. She rose to fame in the late 1990s as the lead vocalist of the band “Banda Eva” before successfully going solo. Sangalo's music blends various genres, such as axé, pop, and Brazilian rhythms, earning her widespread acclaim and numerous awards. Known for her powerful voice, energetic performances, and charismatic stage presence, she has become one of Brazil's most beloved and iconic artists.

12. “Tudo O que Você Podia Ser,” Milton Nascimento

Milton Nascimento '16H is a Brazilian singer-songwriter and guitarist born in 1942 in Rio de Janeiro. Known for his distinctive voice, poetic lyrics, and innovative blend of Brazilian folk, jazz, and rock music, he gained prominence in the 1960s as a leading figure of the tropicália movement, collaborating with artists such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. Hits, including "Travessia" and "Canção da América," established him as a prominent voice in Brazilian music. He earned critical acclaim and numerous awards throughout his career, including multiple Grammy Awards.

13. “Andei Só,” Natiruts

Natiruts is a Brazilian reggae band formed in Brasília in 1996. It gained popularity for its unique blend of reggae with elements of rock, MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), and other Brazilian rhythms. Their music carries messages of love, peace, and environmental consciousness. With hits such as "Quero Ser Feliz Também" and "Andei Só," it has become one of Brazil's most influential reggae bands.

14. “Ritmo, Color, y Sabor” Eva Ayllón

Eva Ayllón is a renowned Peruvian singer born in 1956 in Lima. She rose to fame in the 1970s as a Los Kipus group member before successfully going solo. She is celebrated for her powerful voice and passionate interpretations of Afro-Peruvian rhythms. She has released numerous albums throughout her career and received recognition for contributing to Peruvian music and culture.

“Eva is such an icon in Peru. Not only is she a fantastic artist, but she carries so much tradition from many generations before her, and it is key to learn to pay homage to the originators of this music. She also has encountered so much hardship in her life, and how she has used music to heal is admirable,” says Manuela Sanchez, who is taking on her role during the showcase. “The intent and phrasing behind every note Eva sings are unique and beautiful. She can tell you her whole life story by singing a song, and you get a better insight into her life with every note she sings.”

15. “Quien Va A Cantar,” Rubén Rada

Rubén Rada is a Uruguayan singer, songwriter, and percussionist known for his eclectic musical style, blending candombe, jazz, rock, and funk elements. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1943, Rada began his musical career in the 1960s, gaining recognition as a member of various bands before launching his solo career. He rose to fame in the 1970s with albums like En Familia and La Banda. Rada's unique voice and charismatic stage presence have made him a beloved figure in Uruguayan and Latin American music.

Related Categories