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Workshop with a beat presents Latin music at White House

Lila+Downs+sings+%E2%80%9CCucurruc%C3%BA%E2%80%9D+Monday+at+the+White+House+in+front+of+D.C.+area+students.+She+was+part+of+Celebrando+el+Ritmo+Latino%3A+The+History+of+Latin+Music%2C+an+educational+workshop+hosted+by+first+lady+Michelle+Obama.+
SHFwire photo by Andrés Rodríguez
Lila Downs sings “Cucurrucú” Monday at the White House in front of D.C. area students. She was part of Celebrando el Ritmo Latino: The History of Latin Music, an educational workshop hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.

WASHINGTON – A group of middle and high school students were serenaded to the tune of “La Bamba” Monday at the White House by some of the biggest names in Latin music, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

The 130 students from around the D.C. area were welcomed by first lady Michelle Obama for an educational workshop in Latin music given by Grammy Museum Executive Director Robert Santelli, along with Emilio and Gloria EstefanMarco Antonio SolísLila Downs and Romeo Santos.

The first lady spoke about the importance of Latin music in the U.S. and admitted that not even President Barack Obama can resist shaking to the genre.

“We’re here to celebrate some of the most fun, dynamic, rhythmic melodies you’ll ever hear in your entire life,” the first lady said, and added in Spanish that she loves Latin music.

Santelli said Latin music in the U.S. is diverse and rich, given the variety of countries it draws its influence from. He spoke of salsa, mambo, Tejano, norteño, mariachi, reggaeton and Afro-Cuban jazz and how they come together in the U.S. through immigrants.

“Every time a new immigrant experience occurs in this country, a little bit of new music gets thrown in. Some ingredients that might not have been there before, they get stirred in the pot and all of a sudden American music changes,” Santelli said.

Santelli dissected different versions of “La Bamba” and “Oye Como Va,” as he noted the students couldn’t keep from bopping their heads. “If there is a common denominator of all kinds of Latin music it is the rhythm,” he said. “It’s the percussion, it’s the rhythm, it’s that sense of having the body react to the music as much as the heart and soul reacting as well.”

Latin artists at the White House finish the morning’s workshop by singing “La Bamba” Monday at the White House. Emilio Estefan, left, and Marco Antonio Solís, right, accompany the guitarist in song.
Latin artists at the White House finish the morning’s workshop by singing “La Bamba” Monday at the White House. Emilio Estefan, left, and Marco Antonio Solís, right, accompany the guitarist in song.

The musicians shared their experiences about making it in the U.S. music business as Latinos. Emilio Estefan, who has 19 Grammys, said he initially had a hard time getting signed. “They would not sign you to a label because they would not sign a Spanish name,” he said, adding that labels would also ask to remove the horn section and piano. “What we see today is an incredible diversity.”

Students got to ask the musicians questions at the end of the workshop. Lila Downs, a Mexican-American singer, responded to a student who asked what she would be doing if she wasn’t singing folk songs.

“I thought I wanted to be a pop artist, and then life took me in the direction of folk music and I’m so grateful for that,” Downs said.

The workshop with students was part of an event scheduled for Monday night, “Música Latina: In Performance at the White House.” That concert was canceled because of the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard and has not yet been rescheduled.

Andrés Rodríguez is a UTEP senior double major in Spanish and English and American literature. He is currently participating in the Scripps Howard Foundation Semester in Washington program. He may be reached at [email protected].

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Workshop with a beat presents Latin music at White House