Latin Music Thrives in New Orleans

Forro NOLA // Photo:

In 2020, it feels impossible to discuss New Orleans culture and music without acknowledging the imprint that Hispanic and Latino communities have left on the city. Within a year after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005, an estimated 100,000 Latin Americans relocated to New Orleans, many of whom came to help rebuild the city’s devastated infrastructure. Thousands of workers signed contracts with construction companies to perform the hard and urgent task of reconstructing the city. Many of these people have since settled in New Orleans permanently and are raising families here.

While the uptick in Central American migration to the Crescent City is relatively recent, the legacy of Hispanic and Spanish-language culture in Louisiana dates far back in the state’s history. Spanish speakers have called Louisiana home for centuries. From 1763 until the U.S. Louisiana Purchase in 1803, The Spanish Empire consolidated Louisiana under its control, bringing in new settlers from Spanish territories and enslaved persons from the Carribean. Afro-Carribeans in the Spanish colonies accounted for a sizable proportion of the enslaved population brought over to the “New World”, including to New Orleans. In 1778, Spaniards from the Canary Islands began settling along the bayou in St. Bernard and Ascension Parishes. The community, known as Isleños (Spanish for “islanders”) still inhabit Southern Louisiana today, although their numbers have shrunk considerably due to regional migration and assimilation into Anglo culture.

The Latino community of Southern Louisiana is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. Since Katrina, New Orleans’ Latino population has doubled to over 5% of the overall population. Among the area’s Latino communities, Hondurans account for the largest ethnic group, constituting about 29% of Hispanics overall. Sizable communities of Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and Cubans have also made their home here. Post-Katrina reconstruction efforts attracted a small community of Brazilians both from Brazil and other U.S. cities like Atlanta and Boston. The area’s Brazilian community– small but mighty– is anchored in Kenner and Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish. Their influence is visible in the emerging restaurants and markets that offer traditional Brazilian fare against the backdrop of a food landscape dominated heavily by shrimp, grits, and po’boys.

Needless to say, New Orleans’ contemporary Latino population stands on its own as a thriving cultural market. New events are popping up geared towards the community, ranging from salsa parties to taco festivals and Brazilian dance ensembles. As a music writer, I wanted to cover the city’s growing Latin music scene. The city’s thriving pockets of Spanish-language culture have not received anything close to the attention they deserve. Interestingly, the growing popularity of New Orleans’ Latin music scene coincides with the popularity surge of Latin music worldwide. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of Spanish-language entries on the Hot 100 jumped from four to 19. Trap and reggaeton are hotter than ever, so it would be a shame not to cover from a cultural standpoint of the growing Latino South. 

“Latin music” is, of course, a huge umbrella term representing a multitude of genres, styles, and nationalities. The Latin music heard around New Orleans reflects the diversity of Latin America, with bands and DJs showcasing everything from reggaeton and trap hits to Cuban salsa, Dominican bachata, and Brazilian samba and forró. Some events, like The Maison on Frenchmen’s weekly Friday night Latin party, are catered to a younger crowd dancing into the wee hours of the night. Other venues, like the Mexican restaurant Casa Borrega, offer a more sophisticated dinner-and-a-show experience with mellow guitar music. No matter your musical and venue preferences, you should have no problem finding a unique Latin music experience in our vibrant city.

Upcoming Latin Music Events:

What: Forró NOLA: playing the danceable sounds of Northeast Brazil. No cover.
Where:  Marigny Brasserie, 640 Frenchmen St. 
When: Friday, February 21, 8:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. (1st & 3rd Friday of each month)


What: Salsa Saturdays with Mofongo Latin Band. No cover.
Where:  30/90 NOLA, 520 Frenchmen St.
When: Saturday, February 22, 8-11 p.m. (2nd & 4th Saturday of each month) 


What: Sereia Ball, a Carnival Ball presented by Bloco Sereia. Featuring art market, food vendors, live painting, and costume/dance contest. Click here to purchase tickets.
Where:  Southport Hall Live Music & Party Hall, 200 Monticello Ave, Jefferson, LA
When: Saturday, February 22, 8 p.m. – 12 a.m.


What: Buena Vista Social: Latin Dance Party. No cover.
Where  The Maison (upstairs), 508 Frenchmen St.
When Friday, February 21, 10 p.m. – 3 a.m.  (every Friday)


What: Latino Por Favor: salsa and merengue, sometimes with a live band. No cover.
Where:  Fontaine Place Nola, 220 S. Robertson
When: Saturday, February 29, 7-10 p.m. (every Saturday)


What: Afro Carribean Day Party. Come enjoy a mix of Afrobeats, Afrotrap, Soca, Dancehall, Reggae, Reggaeton, Zouk-Kompa, Coupe-Decale, and all your favorites to keep you grooving. Click here to purchase tickets. 
Where:  Fontaine Place Nola, 220 S. Robertson
When: Sunday, March 8, 3-11 p.m.


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