Previous Next
Australian expat Camden Luxford learned Spanish during her travels in Basque country, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. Here’s her advice on learning Spanish with music.

Listening to music or singing is a wonderful way to consolidate your language learning. Music triggers the language centers of the brain, and draws emotion into the learning process, which serves as a memory trigger.

Like reading in the target language, listening to a range of musical forms also introduces you to the poetry of the language – the limitations and possibilities of its grammar and vocabulary, slang, puns, the many and the varied ways native speakers “play” with the language.

Best of all, you can pick and choose the artists and bands you enjoy listening to, and language learning becomes even more of a pleasure – not to mention the additional kudos gained from being able to sing along with the cover band in a local Nicaraguan dive bar! Here are seven bands and artists that have helped me with my Spanish studies.

1. Amparanoia

Her sometime-collaborator Manu Chao has said that Amparo Sánchez must have swallowed a microphone as a child, to have a voice like she does. And it’s true: her rich, powerful, bluesy voice is a pleasure to listen to, and a delight for language learners in its clarity.

Amparo founded the group Amparanoia in 1996, and the band’s albums all have a distinct feel, drawing from Latin, reggae and rock elements – catchy, bouncy and exuberant, with the anchor of Amparo’s powerful voice. La Vida Te Da is a nice place to start.

Amparanoia toured for the last time in 2008, and Amparo’s forthcoming solo album is expected to take on a more intimate, jazzy style – think Billie Holiday, Chavela Vargas and Nina Simone.

2. Chavela Vargas

“I was me and I lived,” Vargas told the New York Times in 2003. And did she ever. Leaving her birthplace of Costa Rica at the age of 14 to flee to Mexico’s music scene, dressing as a man and carrying a gun in her tequila-soaked youth, enjoying a passionate love affair with Frida Kahlo, Vargas lived the romance of her music.

A legend in the Mexican ranchera genre, Vargas is, for me, the latina Tom Waits: a cigarettes-and-whisky voice that drips honey, music for a lazy Sunday morning with the papers and a Bloody Mary. Far beyond its language learning benefits, Vargas’ music is a cultural cornerstone for those who want to live Spanish, not just speak it.

Somos, from the 2004 album of the same name (it also features in Pedro Almodóvar’s wonderful film “Carne Trémula”) is my favorite lament to impossible love.

3. Cultura Profética

For fans of reggae, the Spanish language has a huge amount on offer. Cultura Profética, from Puerto Rico, are a wonderful example of the sounds coming out of the Carribean – roots reggae, with touches of hip-hop, ska, afro beats, jazz and funk.

The sound is fresh and chilled, the accent clear. It’s perfect for Sunday afternoon poolside Spanish study. 2005′s M.O.T.A. is my favorite album by this group.

4. La Kinky Beat

Another reggae group – this time with touches of dub, punk and jungle – La Kinky Beat are Barcelona-based, so the accent is not quite as clear as that of Latin American groups. They are, however, a huge amount of fun and Mity Matahary’s Gwen Stefani-esque voice is very kind on the ears.

2004′s Made in Barna is a good place to start, and I’m also a fan of One More Time (2006).

5. Los Redondos (Patricio Rey y Los Redonditos de Ricota)

An alternative rock band from La Plata in Buenos Aires, Los Redondos made it big in the 80s and their early sound reflects the glam rock of that time – wailing guitars, a revolving door for minor players in the band, and a fictional frontman round out the image. Their existential lyrics, dealing with drugs, sex, alcohol and politics, drew them a cult following, probably helped along by the air of mystery accompanying a studious avoidance of interviews.

I’m currently listening to their first two albums (Gulp and Oktubre) but they were active into 2001 so there’s quite a discography for Spanish language students to draw from.

6. Lucha Reyes

Not to be confused with the Mexican singer of the same name, this Lucha Reyes is one of the big names of the música criolla peruana. Born in 1936 to a poor family in Lima, she used to sing on the streets for centavos, as well as selling newspapers and lottery tickets, before being discovered and converted into la morena de oro del Perú – Peru’s black woman of gold.

Peru’s música criolla is a combination of African, Spanish and indigenous influences, full of nationalist pride and heartbreaking love songs. Her self-titled album is a nice introduction to her work and to the genre as a whole.

7. Manu Chao

One of the big guns, Manu Chao is a wonderful Spanish teacher not only for the clarity of his lyrics – which nevertheless include some more advanced verb forms, Latin American slang and a varied vocabulary – but also for the way in which he captures socio-political issues that are highly relevant in the Spanish-speaking world. His music is a highly accessible cultural window.

And trust me, you’re going to feel a bit of a fool if you can’t sing along to at least one or two of his songs – they’re played incessantly in bars and parties all over Spain and Latin America.

Clandestino is a classic album to begin with – full of spirit and energy; flirting with reggae, son, salsa, Afro-beats and Latin pop without ever really committing to a genre. Chao switches between three languages (English, Spanish and French) and swings between criticism of treatment of economic refugees to parables about bongo-playing monkeys. It is an absolute treat.

Community Connection

Learning Spanish? Check out Matador’s resources for Studying Abroad in Spain or incorporate these 20 Words and Phrases to Get Started Texting in Spanish into your netspeak vocabulary.

Check out Camden’s blog for 5 Books for Intermediate and Advanced Spanish Learners, and share any of your favorite books, music or Spanish learning resources in the comments below.

Language LearningMusicians

 

About The Author

Camden Luxford

Camden lives for long, uncomfortable journeys and dreams of the Trans-Siberian Railway. From hitch-hiking in Europe, through Asia by bus and boat, she has found herself in the Peruvian Andes, where she relishes the colors of the festivals, the warmth of the people and the hearty flavors of the soups. When she's not exploring her new home, she's studying politics by distance and writing for her blog, The Brink of Something Else, or as a regular contributor to Matador Abroad.

  • http://www.globetrottingtexan.wordpress.com Carla

    I love Los Redondos and Manu Chao. I’ve been listening to them for years, and I am very happy to see them on your list.

  • http://joelrunyon.com/two3 Joel

    What about Juanes? :) haha. Also, Las Orishas are a great band.

  • http://www.cynthiaord.com Cynthia Ord

    Hi Camden, great roundup! My favorite artist for practicing Spanish is Uruguayan singer/songwriter Jorge Drexler. Before seeing him in concert in Madrid, I looked up all his lyrics online and wrote them down to help me learn them. Me tiene encantada =) I also have a huge girlcrush on Mexico’s Julieta Venegas.

  • Jacob Van Baalen

    After we watched Jarabe de Palo’s Bonito video in Spanish 2, I started looking into them. They’re awesome, and they’ve really helped me to learn more Spanish by listening to them.

    Thanks for the list. I’ll definitely be looking into them.

  • http://www.ivorypomegranate.com Kirstin

    I’d love to see a Russian version of this article!

  • http://www.geminicourses.com/spanishcourses/ Sarah

    I remember my first Spanish evening classes in Brighton c/2002 where our amazing and tiny Spanish teacher Gema used Manu Chao songs and lyrics to teach us. The lessons were helped by a couple of cupfull’s of Sangria too! I was priviledged to have learned some vital Spanish and about some excellent music too. Am still a Manu Chao and Amparanoia fan now.

  • http://solofriendly.com Gray

    I’ve picked up some Spanish from Los Lobos and the Iguanas.

  • http://cuadernoinedito.wordpress.com Julie

    Camden-
    Love this article!
    When I was in high school, I won a scholarship to study Spanish anywhere in the world for a summer. I chose a language institute in Costa Rica, and the teacher taught us verb tenses through popular songs. The two I remember best are “No podras” by Cristian Castro and “Ojala que llueva cafe” (the Juan Luis Guerra version); they were really effective teaching tools.

    I’ve got to think about all the songs/artists that have influenced my Spanish since then, especially my regional Spanish. Orishas have definitely improved my “Cuban,” but if I had to narrow down to just seven, wow, that’d be hard.

  • http://www.spanishhelpnow.com Cynthia

    Great collection! I second Manu Chao and Chevela Vargas. I’m now inspired to check out La Kinky Beat.

  • Lori

    Lhasa deSela is also very wonderful. La Llorona is a great album for learning spanish… amazing music, and easily decipherable lyrics (mostly)!

  • Jessie

    Cool article! When a friend and I were learning Spanish in Central America we spent many bus rides listening to Manu Chao together, dictionaries in hand. Good times ;D

  • Josh

    Great article! I’ll be making some educated purchases soon.

  • http://100strangerstofriends.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Whenever I hear Mano Chao I’m taken straight back to central America. 

    Thanks for the list.  I’ll check some of the other ones out too.

  • http://espanolactual.com Pavoreal

    Another great group to study spanish is Los Rakas. You can find spanish music videos and fun worksheets to http://espanolactual.com

  • http://www.wiracochaschool.org/ Petrius

    Nice article specially for mentioning to one the greatest peruvian artists like Lucha Reyes.

  • http://www.defibrion.nl/ AED kopen

    This is a simple way on how to make things learn in a different way. This is much fun in learning might as well entertaining. 

  • Rafael Sousa

    MECANO one of the best Spanish groups ever!

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

  • Sam Sensing

    I like this! I also found that Julieta Venegas helped me learn some Spanish… and…. ummmm…. Calle 13 also. :D

Portuguese is a logical next step after learning Spanish. It is different enough from...
Camden Luxford's language learning journey takes her from Basque Country to Mexico City,...
It’s best to target simple pop, relaxing jazz, or country acts.
I learn it because I love the place, because I’m curious, because the sound of it to me...
Making my first Danish friend changed everything.
Associate Editor Michelle Schusterman reviews Mango Language's new program aimed at...
Do we really need to teach students outdated idioms like "It's raining cats and dogs"?...
My family repatriated to India when I was in the ninth grade.
I carried a notebook everywhere, its pages flecked with food stains and warped from...
Begin at the beginning, and put one foot in front of the other.
Shifting between languages can almost immediately alter one’s personality.
It's the word used for a female animal when she's in heat.