The Canadian musical scene, especially Toronto’s, is being increasingly influenced by styles, artists and sounds from Latin America and the Caribbean. The country’s extraordinary ethnic diversity has attracted talent from every corner of the earth, which has been blended with artists that import different cultural legacies and traditions, thus creating a priceless musical universe.
The Canadian people, who like Caribbean and Latin American music, have embraced these new artists. They have found in Canada a perfect country to develop their talent, share their influences and musically grow. We have handpicked eight artists as representatives of the dynamic Latin American-Caribbean scene in Canada. Some of them are acclaimed artists with long careers and there are young prospects that explore new languages and fusions. There are many more, but this is a small sample.
HILARIO DURÁN (CUBA)
Hilario Durán is one of the heavyweight artists in Cuban music and one of the most acclaimed representatives of jazz in Canada. As a pianist, songwriter, orchestra director and arranger, Duran was a member of Arturo Sandoval’s band(1981-1990), performed at the main jazz festivals around the world and shared stage with such legendary musicians as Dizzy Gillespie and songwriter-arranger Michel Legrand. Duran created his own band in 1990, “Perspectiva”, which was very successful throughout Latin American and Europe. He moved to Canada in 1998 joined Afro-Cuban jazz band “Spirit of Havana” led by Jane Bunnett, one of the most outstanding figures of Canadian jazz and fan of Cuban music. He has performed in numerous stages and festivals worldwide with his Latin American jazz band.
The group was nominated to the Grammy Awards as the best Latin American jazz album in 2007 for “From the Heart“, with Paquito D’Rivera. Hilario has won three Juno Awards and over a dozen national jazz awards, as well as prestigious “Chico O’Farrill Lifetime Achievement Award”.
Related article: Best Canadian Universities for Latin American Students
MICHIE MEE (JAMAICA)
Michie Mee is a veteran in the music world in Canada. She is especially known for her original rap style that combines reggae and dancehall with hip-hop. Mee sings in both Anglo-Saxon English and Jamaican English (known as patois), so her range and rhymes are beyond the reach of most people. She was born in St. Andrew, Kingston, Jamaica, but she later moved to Toronto. During her teens, she developed her peculiar rap style, which caught the ears of Canadian and American rappers. In 1991, she launched her debut album, “Jamaican Funk: Canadian Style”, with reggae and dancehall elements in a rap concept album. Her “Jamaican Funk” single was nominated to the Juno Awards in 1992.
Throughout her career, she has combined her musical facet with her movies and TV actress side. By the end of the decade, Michie Mee made history by signing with First Priority/Atlantic Records, thus becoming the first Canadian rapper to have a contract with an important record company in the United States. “Elements of Style” was Michie’s first single with the US company. Moreover, she won the Roy Thomson Hall Award given by the Toronto Arts Council, which recognizes creative, performing, administrative, voluntary or philanthropic contributions to Toronto’s musical life.
ALEX CUBA (CUBA)
Alex Cuba is a great figure of Latin American and Caribbean music in Canada, its most acclaimed star. Winner of four Latin American Grammies and two Juno Awards, Cuba is a singer and songwriter that has evolved from the tradition of his Cuban origins to contemporary styles and sounds that mix sweet sugar cane melodies, pop-soul and powerful guitar riffs. He is a loose verse within the Latin American musical scene. Throughout his successful musical career (he has launched five albums to date), he has collaborated with such artists as Nelly Furtado, Juan Luis Guerra, Juanes and Ron Sexsmith.
Alexis Puentes was born in Artemisa, Cuba. He joined his father, prestigious guitarist and maestro Valentin Puentes, and a group of 24 guitarists in a performances broadcasted by Cuba’s national television. In 1999, Alex moved to Vancouver –he married a Canadian girl-, where he soon recorded an album entitled “Morumba Cubana“ along with his twin brother Adonis, as The Puentes Brothers. He has won two Juno awards in the Album of the Year category, World Music in 2006 for “Humo De Tabaco“, and in 2008 for his second album, “Agua Del Pozo“.
In 2010, he won the Latin Grammy to the Best New Artist and he was also nominated to the Best Men Pop Vocal Album. Likewise, Mr. Cuba was nominated to the Best Latin American Pop Album in the 53rd edition of the Grammy Awards and, in 2011, he was handed a BMI Latin Award for having written the first Spanish-language hit of Canadian Nelly Furtado, “Manos Al Aire“. In 2012, Alex launched his fourth album “Ruido en el Sistema“ and conquered his second Socan Hagood Hardy Award as recognition to his great work in terms of Jazz and World Music. He also won his second Latin Grammy, as a songwriter this time round. Alex and Yoel Henriquez wrote “Toma mi vida“ for “Aquí estoy yo“ album, by Milly Quezada. They were given the Latin Grammy to the Best Tropical Song. In 2013, he collected another Latin Grammy for the video of “Eres Tu“. The fourth Latin Grammy of his career came in 2015, to the Best Singer-songwriter Album for “Healer”, in which he was also a producer.
His 2021 album Mendó won the 2022 Grammy for Best Latin Pop Album. It was his fourth nomination for the award and his first Grammy win.
NATASHA ROLDÁN (COLOMBIA)
Natasha Roldán is a Colombian singer and songwriter characterized by the obvious influence of jazz and Latin American and European traditional music. She has introduced her alternative touch of folk essence. In 2015, she launched in Toronto her EP “No Apologies“, produced by songwriter and producer Jorge Gil and coproduced by Natasha. On this work, the critics have pointed out that it stand for a jazz-pop alternative sphere. Natasha has been given the Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Performance Award (2016), Sorbara en Música Award (2015) and she has been nominated twice as the best Jazz vocalist in the Toronto Independent Music Awards (2015-2016).
She performed in the TEDx(2013) and made to the regional semifinals in a contest for new talents organized by the CBC in 2014. She is presently performing in stages across Canada and other countries with a basic format of voice and guitar. Natasha also works on “Songs to Travel Around the World” multilingual performance project.
AMANDA MARTÍNEZ (MÉXICO)
Mexican-Canadian singer Amanda Martínez is one of the most renowned figures in the country’s musical scene. Based in Toronto, her voice and influences are a permanent trip to her family origins, Mexico by her parent’s side and South Africa by her mother’s, including Spanish flamenco or Brazilian bossa-nova. Over the past decade, she has taken her music to some of the most relevant world events, such as South Africa’s 2010 FIFA World Cup and the Pan-American Games held in Guadalajara, 2011, and Toronto, 2015, where she was also the co-director of the cultural side in the event, known as ‘Ignite‘. Her voice has been enjoyed in such prestigious and historic stages as the Winter Garden Theatre and Koerner Hall of Toronto, Montreal’s Jazz festival, Festival Centro Histórico de México and at New York’s emblematic Blue Note jazz club. She has put out three albums. The latest of them, “Mañana“ (2013), was co-produced by famous Spanish flamenco producer and guitarist Javier Limon, winner of a Grammy Award and two Latin American Grammy Awards. Her two previous albums, “Amor” (2009) and “Sola” (2006), helped her be nominated as the Latin Jazz Artist of the Year in Canada’s National Jazz Awards.
ALINE MORALES (BRASIL)
The days when Aline Morales was the best-kept secret of Toronto have already fallen into oblivion. Since she arrived in Canada back in 2003, the Brazilian artist found her space in the musical scene of Ontario thanks to her versatility, range diversity and originality. She is a dynamic singer and great percussionist. However, the launch of her debut album, the amazing “Flores, Tambores e Amores” in 2011, put her on the national map and gave her a nomination in the Juno Awards to the best World Music Album of the Year. “Flores, Tambores e Amores” was acclaimed by the critic, ranked 1st on the lists of Canada’s Folk / World and was included in several of the top lists in 2011.
She was born and grew up in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, so she was a member of some traditional and modern bands in her home country. Since her arrival to Toronto, she has been a tireless promoter of maracatu traditional rhythms, from the northern region of Brazil. Her percussion band, Baque de Bamba, is made up of 30 musicians and has played in countless outdoor festivals, parades in Toronto’s Kensington Marketplace and it has participated in “There is no place like this” ads by Ontario Tourism.
Cuban Ogguere (aka Edrey Riveri) is a talented jazz singer and poet that blends contemporary and traditional forms of Afro-Cuban music: rumba, son, salsa or timba with more universal styles like jazz, funk, rock, disco or hip-hop. Over the past years, Ogguere has gained momentum in the international scene by means of his partnership with worldwide famous Havana Cultura of Gilles Peterson. As part of this innovative global collaboration, Ogguere has performed in North America and Europe. He has launched two albums, “Solar” (2011) nominated to a Cubadisco Award, and “Raíces”. Since he moved to Toronto back in 2010, he has become a can’t-miss voice in Latin American stages related to Cuban jazz, hip-hop and rap by La Havana Norte.
Edrey was born in Havana and began his career in 1995 when he met Amenaza band, which was known as Orishas and became the most renowned Cuban rap band of all time. He collaborated with them as guest artist in Cuba. In 1996, Edrey created his own band, 100% Original, and shared stage with such international hip-hop artists as The Roots, Mos Def, Common Sense, Montel Jordan and La Mala Rodríguez, among others. He was soon acclaimed as one of the pioneers of Cuban rap.
CELIA PALLÍ (ESPAÑA)
Spanish singer Cèlia Pallí has been living in Toronto for almost 14 years. In 2015, she put out her first album “I’ll be fine”, which perfectly shows her rich universe of influences and styles, and has been labeled as “ethnic pop” by some critics. Celia moved from Spain to Canada following one of her favorite singers, Nelly Furtado. “If she came out of Toronto, that means that this is a good city to grow as an artist”, the Catalonian singer thought.
After many years of training and performances in small places of the city, she was given a lifetime opportunity in 2009: she joined Nelly Furtado’s choir and accompanied her in tours throughout Latin America and Europe. Nowadays, she has strengthen her position as a singer and songwriter and her career is being acclaimed by both the critic and public in Canada and her mother country.