Unlike Cali, Medellin does not define itself by salsa music, so its strange that the city is home to Latina Stereo, one of the world’s most respected salsa radio stations. To celebrate the station’s 25th birthday, Colombia Reports spoke to programming director Carlos Guevara about the history and future of salsa in Colombia.
Latina Stereo strictly plays only street salsa and boogaloo (American music played in a Latin style), two genres characterized by a strong rhythm, as opposed to the softer easy-listening of romantic salsa, born in the 1980s. One could wonder if Latina Stereo is part of a nostalgia trend, since most of the music played on the station was recorded between the 1960s and the 1970s. “No, salsa is suspended in time,” explains Carlos Guevara, “this music has never been about fashion, it’s a movement.” Hence the station’s rejection of romantic salsa’s adaptation to commercial imperatives, a decision that doesn’t seem to have handicapped Latina Stereo’s success.
Based in Envigado, a municipality neighboring Colombia’s second city, Medellin, Latina Stereo has a large number of faithful hardcore listeners within the country, as well as an increasing number of fans worldwide since it went online in 2000. Becoming one of the first salsa radio stations available on the Internet gradually established it as a leading international authority on salsera culture.
If many Latino youngsters prefer the reggaeton they hear all day long on TV to salsa, their forebears don’t seem ready to share the new taste. For Carlos Guevara, on the contrary, “salsa is still reuniting generations around a Latin legacy, since young musicians continue to compose while respecting the classical spirit.”
A living musical library of salsa, Latina Stereo also contributes to the regeneration of the genre, by supporting the so-called New Generation of Colombian Salsa, including bands focused on social lyrics, like Mulataje from Medellin, or the world famous La 33. Founded in Bogota at the beginning of the 21st century, La 33 became very popular on the world music scene, while gaining respect from the old salsa aficionados as well. Following the activity of these promising bands makes the 25-year-old Latina Stereo a stepping stone to credibility for its listeners, since the station forms a bridge between the classical Colombian salsa of the 1970s and the present.
In the 1970s, tons of salsa LPs arrived in Colombian ports, turning cities close to the sea like Cali, on the Atlantic coast, or Barranquilla, on the Caribbean coast, into permanent dance floors. Meanwhile, in the city of Cartagena, the now 75-year-old music label Disco Fuentes was releasing some of the greatest Colombian salsa tunes ever recorded.
In the mountainous regions of Colombia, the salsa wave arrived only later. Though many salsa bars popped up, Medellin never became a salsa bastion, especially after drug baron Pablo Escobar’s reign signified the death of much of the city’s nightlife in the 1980s. Nonetheless, in 1985, while salsa was entering a new commercial stage with romantic, popular sounds, a few die-hards stuck to the original 1960s and 1970s salsa and founded Latina Stereo, giving Medellin a key role keeping salsa culture alive.