Latin rock is a term to describe a music subgenre consisting in melting traditional sounds and elements of Latin American and Caribbean folk with rock music. However, it is widely used in the English-language media to refer any kind of rock music featuring Spanish or Portuguese vocals. This fact lead into a controversy about the scope of the terminology.
Latin rock should not be confused with "Rock music from Latin America" or Rock en español. It's also closely related to the Latin alternative scene (which combines Latin elements with alternative rock, pop, electronic music, indie or hip hop among others) a term often used to refer the same phenomenon.
Rock and Roll music of the 1950s originated from a variety of sources including African-American rhythm and blues, blues, gospel, country and western, bluegrass, western swing, and Tin Pan Alley pop music. Also, there was some influence of the traditional Latin music on it. Caribbean rhythms like calypso were remarkable on surf music; and there were some rock and roll songs based on cha-cha-chá or mambo.
Latin Rock (term not yet created) was born in the United States at late 1950s. In 1958 and adaptation of a Mexican folk song called "La bamba" by the chicano rock artist Ritchie Valens. That same year, instrumental rock band The Champs released "Tequila", that incorporates clear Latin sounds (composed by chicano Danny Flores).
During the 1960s, there were more examples of rock artists like Thee Midniters, Question Mark & the Mysterians,Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs or Sir Douglas Quintet that included Latin rhythms on their compositions. Also the rise of the chicano rock in California joined; although not all of them could be considered as early Latin rock artists since many of them lacked the Latin folk influences.
On the other hand, at some Latin American countries, Latin rock started to develop on Peru, Colombia or Argentina, but specially Brazil where Tropicália appeared at mid-1960s with the first releases of Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and Caetano Veloso from 1967 to 1970, a music movement that melt rock music with bossa nova, psychedelia and other Latin elements which has been regarded as the main root of the genre.
In 1969, after the release of the debut album by Santana, Latin rock appeared in the US and other parts of the world. They treated to describe the band's music style as a fusion of Latin American and Caribbean rhythms, soul, jazz, funk, blues, psychedelia and rhythm and blues based on rock music.
Following Santana, other American bands appeared like Malo, Ocho, Mandrill, El Chicano, Eddie Palmieri's Harlem River Drive, War, Sapo and Azteca at early 1970s popularizing the genre in the USA and the rest of the world since 1970-71.
Latin American counterpart Latin rock bands appeared as it could be seen in Peru with bands like Telegraph Avenue, Traffic Sound, The Mad's, El Polen and specially Black Sugar melting rock with jazz music, Peruvian folk, progressive rock and Latin elements; in Colombia highlighted Siglo Cero, Génesis and La Columna de Fuego; in Argentina Arco Iris; and in Chile, Los Jaivas.
Meanwhile, Reggae music achieved a great success around the world. This rhythm originated in Jamaica arose during the 1960s, evolving from ska, rocksteady and bluebeat. Since its origins along with rock music and rhythm and blues with Jamaican folk rhythms, the Caribbean and Continental Latin America elements influenced the scene. Nevertheless, Reggae or Ska have never considered as part of the Latin Rock. On the other hand, Disco Music also influenced Latin rock during the 1970s.
After punk eclosion at late 1970s, the genre also was influenced by many other music styles. Some British punk and new wave acts like The Clash included elements that could be considered as "latin" in "Sandinista!" (1980). Other bands such as Bow Wow Wow, Gang Of Four, The Slits or Special AKA did so.
In Spain, Los Coyotes, Los Mestizos and Radio Futura, that had been emerged as new wave and post-punk acts, finally got influenced by Latin music at mid 1980s. Spain would go on producing some Latin acts like Macaco, Amparanoia or Jarabe de Palo.
In France, bands like Les Negresses Vertes played a fusion of rock with World music including Latin elements. But Manu Chao was the major success of the Latin rock in France with the band Mano Negra (also as a solo artist) with a style that would be known later as Latin alternative. A mix of rock, with Latin elements, Arabic music, punk, rap, flamenco, ska and reggae.
In the US during this period bands like David Byrne (ex-leader of Talking Heads), Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Willy Deville, Los Lobos, El Vez, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Rage Against The Machine appeared, developing some of these "mixing" sounds (specially in Latin folk sounds)
The genre consolidated during the 1990s in Latin America. Many bands appeared such as Rio Roma (Mexico), Maná (Mexico), Caifanes (Mexico), Café Tacuba (Mexico), Aterciopelados (Colombia), Paralamas do Sucesso (Brazil), Bersuit Vergarabat (Argentina), Karamelo Santo (Argentina), Maldita Vecindad (Mexico), Carmina Burana (Argentina), Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (Argentina), Soda Stereo (Argentina), Los Tres (Chile), Octavia (Bolivia), Karnak (Brazil), Chancho en Piedra (Chile), Julieta Venegas (Mexico) and Los Rabanes (Panama), that incorporated Latin folk rhythms on their compositions (especially Caifanes and Los Fabulosos Cadillacs).
At late 1990s, the rising population of "Latinos" in the US(term popularized since the 1960s due to the wrong and confusing use of "Spanish" term and the unpopular term "Hispanic") lead music industry to create the Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences as a sub-department of National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Also in 2000 the Latin Grammy Awards were created. Thus, a great part of the English media started to refer any kind of music featuring Spanish vocals as "Latin music".
This term achieved a great success in some Latin American countries, where some of their regional press started to use the new terminology. This phenomenon spread the use of the "latin rock" term with a completely different meaning of the original one. This lead into a controversy and confusion in the population.