Frank Ray, Angie K, Leah Turner and more talk country music, Latin Roots

While dozens of artists performed on outdoor stages on Nashville’s Lower Broadway on Friday (June 7), some of country music’s emerging Latino country artists gathered for a panel and performance at Fan Fair X on the CMA Close-up 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 about their respective backgrounds and journeys in country music, which are varied. Texas native Louie TheSinger, who signed with UMG Nashville earlier this year and released his single “Brothers,” previously played R&B music before making the switch to country, and is open about sharing his story about spending two years in prison for drug charges . Meanwhile, Frank Ray was a police officer in Texas before switching to performing country music. Angie K noted her roots in El Salvador, but also her identity as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Angie K spoke about the migration to Georgia from El Salvador and said: “When you move here from El Salvador…when you are in a country where freedom is not as easy as it is here…my father and his grandfather were kidnapped and as soon as he got out , got cancer and died. My father was almost kidnapped and that’s one of the reasons we finally moved to the United States,” Angie K recalls. “I remember talking to my dad and he said, ‘It doesn’t matter because you’re healthy and you’re doing well.’ That is the Latin community I want people to know,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

“We’re a beautiful community and I think both Latinos and rural people in both worlds have real trauma and we’re here to prioritize taking care of each other,” Angie K added.

“I’m a border town boy, raised in Columbus, New Mexico and Texas,” Ray said, noting the deep ties between country music culture and Latin American culture. “The Latin American community and country music…the American cowboy would not exist without the Mexican vaquero. I imagine at some point a guitar was passed around a campfire. That’s why the themes are the same: love, family, heartbreak, whiskey. Growing up in a border town, there was both country music and mariachi.”

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

They all talked about 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 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 attracted attention in 2011 with his performance as American Idol. In addition to releasing his own original songs, including his recent single “Dominoes,” Arriaga has long helped solidify the ties between Latino music and country music with Spanish versions of country hits like Luke Combs’ “Beautiful Crazy” and Thomas Rhett’s ‘That a Happy man.”

“The Spanish language, everything just sounds more romantic,” Arriaga said. “These (songs) are too beautiful not to be experienced by my culture. I wanted to do it in a way that we wouldn’t change too much from what people are used to, so we just switched the language around. We had musicians from Mexico and Miami and we added some flair. It opened some doors for me to gain access to a Latino community. I’ve noticed that a lot of Texans like 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 did, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I feel like you are also one of the pioneers with Spanish and country.”

Speaking about his efforts to increase the visibility of artists with Latin roots in country music, Ray said, “It takes a lot of work and I couldn’t be prouder to do it with this group here. We love these opportunities and there aren’t many of them. It also brings us closer together.”

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

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