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Frank Ray, Angie K, Leah Turner, Louie TheSinger & Sammy Arriaga Discuss Country Music’s Latin Roots

As scores of artists performed on outdoor stages throughout Nashville’s Lower Broadway on Friday (June 7), some of country music’s rising Latino country artists gathered for a panel and performance inside Fan Fair X at the CMA Closeup Stage.

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“Latin Roots: The ‘Equis’ Factor in Country Music” featured artists Frank Ray, Angie K, Leah Turner, LouieTheSinger and Sammy Arriaga, with the panel moderated by Rolling Stone writer Tomás Mier.

Each artist spoke of their respective backgrounds and journeys into country music, which are varied. Texas native Louie TheSinger, who signed with UMG Nashville earlier this year and released his single “Brothers,” previously performed R&B music prior to making a switch to country, and is open about sharing his story of being incarcerated for two years on a drug charge. Meanwhile, Frank Ray was a police officer in Texas prior to transitioning to performing country music. Angie K noted her El Salvador roots, but also her identity as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Angie K spoke of migrating to Georgia from El Salvador, saying, “Moving here from El Salvador…when you’re in a country where freedom is not as easy as it is here…my dad, his grandfather was kidnapped and as soon as he got out, got cancer and passed away. My dad almost got kidnapped and that’s one of the reasons we ended up moving to the United States,” Angie K recalled. “I remember talking to my dad and he was like, ‘It doesn’t matter because you are healthy and you are ok.’ That’s the Latin community that I want people to know,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

“We are a beautiful community and I think both Latinos and country people, there’s real trauma in both of those worlds and we are here to do the priority of taking care of each other,” Angie K added.

“I’m a border town boy, raised in Columbus, New Mexico, and in Texas,” Ray said, noting the deep ties between country music culture and Latin culture. “The Latin community and country music…the American cowboy wouldn’t exist without the Mexican vaquero. I just picture, at some point, there was a guitar being passed around a campfire. That’s why the themes are the same—love, family, heartbreak, whiskey. Growing up in a border town, country music [would be heard] as much as mariachi.”

The artists’ music was also front and center during the event. Mexican-American country singer-songwriter Turner, who fully embraced her Latin roots with her 2022 EP Lost in Translation, performed a scorching version of her sultry ballad “T Shirt.” Angie K performed her new song “Red Dirt on Mars” and Arriaga offered up the tear-jerker “The Boat.” Ray, who earned a Billboard Country Airplay top 20 hit with “Country’d Look Good on You,” performed a mashup of his breakthrough song, the bilingual “Streetlights” and his new release, “Uh-huh (Ajá).”

Each spoke of Latino and country singers who inspired them, including Luis Fonsi, the late Tejano singer Selena, Jessi & Joy, Rick Trevino (who earned a Hot Country Songs No. 1 in 1997 with “Running Out of Reasons to Run”) George Strait, Garth Brooks, Carin León and the late country music singer Freddy Fender, known for his No. 1 Hot Country Songs hits “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” and “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”

Arriaga, a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, first garnered attention in 2011 with his stint on American Idol. In addition to releasing his own original songs, including his recent single “Dominoes,” Arriaga has long helped solidify ties between Latino music and country music with Spanish versions of country hits such as Luke Combs’ “Beautiful Crazy” and Thomas Rhett’s “Die a Happy Man.”

“The Spanish language, everything just sounds more romantic,” Arriaga said. “These [songs] are too beautiful to not be experienced by my culture. I wanted to do it in a way that we weren’t changing too much of what people are used to, so we just flipped the language. We had musicians from Mexico and Miami and we added some flair. It opened up some doors for me to tap into a Latino community. I’ve noticed a lot of Texans are loving the music.”

Angie K told Arriaga, “You were one of the first people I saw…when I was trying to decide whether to release [her bilingual single] ‘Real Talk,’ and you were doing this, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I feel like you are also one of the pioneers with Spanish and country.”

Of working to increase visibility for artists with Latin roots in country music, Ray said, “It takes a lot of work and I couldn’t be more proud to do this with this group here. We love these opportunities and there are not a lot of them. It also brings us closer together.”

“We should all do a big tour,” Ray also said, drawing agreement from his fellow artists and cheers from the audience.

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