Colorado's Latino musicians have been blending genres, breaking down musical barriers and defining much of Denver's culture, often in the shadows. Latin music spans genres, from punk to hip-hop and, of course, traditional roots music, tejano, salsa and beyond. Here are ten of our favorite Latin bands, ordered alphabetically.
10. Chicano Heat
Names like Little Joe y la Familia, Jay Pedez, Latin Breed and La Differencia are synonymous with classic Latin music, and all are performed faithfully by local band Chicano Heat. The group has been together since 2011 and has performed all over Colorado and Wyoming, opening for the likes of Al Hurricane and Gonzalo. The Heat aims to keep tradition alive, and it's succeeding.
9. Debajo del Agua
This Denver outfit, which delivers hip-hop with a live band, is wild. Debajo de Agua's members originate from Chile, Peru, El Salvador, Mexico and the States, and the rhymes are a blend of English, Spanish and Portuguese. So, yeah, you have to be trilingual to understand absolutely everything, but that’s not necessarily the point. The depth of feeling and the political analysis that the band manages to convey is magnificent, and wonderfully unusual.
8. El Cacho
Producing Spanish-language Mexican rap right here in Denver, El Cacho is a solo artist, but he chooses his collaborators carefully, because the harmonies within the rhymes are delicate and perfect. His chill vocals and propensity to throw in occasional English slights like “backstabbing motherfucker” in the middle of a sentence entirely in Spanish adds to the undeniably dark vibe, as do samples of gunshots.
7. Latin Thunder
The veteran musicians in the Pueblo-based nine-piece Latin Thunder all know that to create great Latin music, you have to feel it. They also know that performing traditional music doesn’t mean that you have to be stuffy. Quite the opposite: The passion has to ooze from every pore, and with these musicians, it does.
6. Los Traviesos
Mexican conjunto tejano music was actually born in south Texas, and Los Traviesos are one of the finest purveyors. Formed in 1999 in Fort Collins, the sibling trio of Tony Campos (guitar), James Campos (drums, percussion) and Mike Campos (keys, accordion) work perfectly with singer Sonja Mata to create and re-create gorgeous traditional tunes.
5. Manuel Molina
Molina studies composition and classical guitar in his native Peru, and he's led a number of groups around the world for two and a half decades. He’s one of the finest traditional Latin guitarists in the world, and we're lucky to have him living in Colorado now. Catch him solo, or with his band, Hot Molina.
4. Ricardo Peña
Peña is known best for his classic boleros - traditional ballads in Spanish featuring three-part harmony, Spanish guitars and Afro-Cuban rhythms that are heavy on the brass sections. Peña is adept at combining the traditional with the contemporary to create music that will please everyone. Cultures and languages collide, and the crash is a blast. His band, Los Bohemios, is particularly stunning.
3. Roka Hueka
One of the finest Latin ska bands in the region, Roka Hueka is the real deal. The members originate from Mexico and El Salvador as well as the United States, and they have played in a variety of bands of differing styles in the Denver-Boulder area. The musicians have truly found their niche, though: The sound is aggressively punk, but with a natural and perfectly placed Latin swing that blends seamlessly with the Caribbean ska vibe. The shows are a riot — get out to one.
2. Sierra Gold
A five-piece variety band from Pueblo, Sierra Gold is the group to turn to if you want classic Spanish roots music, but also good ol’ American country. It’s a soup of Latin and U.S. country music that makes for a compelling listen.
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1. Tejano Heat
“The heat is on,” says Tejano Heat, and that's right: These musicians can do more with an accordion and a guitar than the average orchestra can do with fifty-plus instruments. This is Latin music in its purest form; the passion and energy coming from this act in tangible.