PERFORMING ARTS

Decoding “Despacito”: An Oral History of Latin Music

Vintage. Mar. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780593081334. pap. $16.95. MUSIC
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Focusing on individual songs, music journalist and scholar Cobo (vice president, Billboard magazine) offers less a history of Latin music than a series of high points. And yet one can reconstruct a through line, charting the genre’s breakout into mainstream American pop. In this oral history, the author brings both deep knowledge and longtime personal acquaintance with many of the artists she profiles to bear on a series of interviews that document significant moments in Latin music’s creative explosion since the early 1970s. By their very nature, many of these songs will be familiar even to non-aficionados; “Macarena,” “Livin’ la Vida Loca,” and “Despacito” were inescapable during their turns on the charts. Readers will enjoy exploring the origins of these songs; the creative and industry acumen of the songwriters, performers, and producers; and Latin music’s adaptation to and leveraging of changes in how people access and listen to music.
VERDICT An enlightening and insightful chronicle. For Latin music fans as well as for those eager to learn more about this style of music.
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