Did you know Spotify and iTunes offer more than 25 million songs each?
Supposing the average song length is 3 minutes, it would take us well over 100 years to listen to all of them if we didn’t take a break!
Well, there goes my hope of listening to all the songs in the world…
Music is everywhere.
Music has become an important part of our lives, and some of us can’t live without it.
Such an important medium is the perfect tool for people who want to know about other cultures or want to learn a new language, like Spanish.
Granted, a grammar book and a good dictionary are essential when trying to understand the basics of a language, but without listening to the sounds of that language you are doomed to wonder if you are really getting it right.
Enter Spanish-language songs.
In this post, we are going to get you started learning Spanish with some of the best and most famous singers working in the language today.
Why Learning Spanish Through Music Is the Way to Go
Listening to native people talk is a great way to learn, plus you can get live feedback on the go!
But, how many of us have a friend, native in the language we are learning, who is available 24 hours a day for us to get that feedback? I would say not many. Maybe you are lucky enough to have a partner or a roommate who can help you out if they are patient enough, but once again, how many of us are lucky enough to have one?
While you may not have a 24/7 personal teacher next door just for you, you still have access to the World Wide Web, and that gives you an endless number of options that didn’t used to be available! And if you have access to the internet, you have millions upon millions of tracks recorded by native speakers talking, shouting, trying to be famous or just generally making fools of themselves…
However, of all the tracks recorded by native speakers giving you the present of their voice, there are millions upon millions where those native speakers are singing! In their native language. For you. Well, not so much for you as for all of their fans, but you know, once the song is out there, everyone can let their imagination fly.
So as I said, music is everywhere. All the time. It would be foolish not to take advantage of that massive and useful tool in order to improve your Spanish skills.
With music there are only benefits! You can use it to improve your language skills, you can sing along, you can dance if you want, you can watch music videos and enjoy your favorite singer’s moves… and much, much more.
So music in general is great for our language skills, but what can we learn from specific singers? What about specific songs? Okay, so it is not as if musicians will be there on the other side of the recordings you listen to with grammar books, waiting to teach you a lesson. But if you listen closely and pay attention, you can improve your pronunciation, learn new vocabulary, review some grammar rules and even learn a few dance moves. So why not let singers teach you Spanish?
The following is a list of nine famous Spanish-speaking singers, plus one “bonus track.” For each of them, I have selected a couple of interesting facts and two or three of their most important songs. The reasons for selecting each song varies from the personal to the practical, but for sure each of them is going to teach you (or help you remember) something about the Spanish language.
So switch your speakers on and get your notebook ready, because you are about to begin a musical journey through the Spanish language. Have fun!
10 Amazing Famous Singers Who Can Teach You Spanish
1. Joaquín Sabina
Joaquín Sabina, or rather Joaquín Ramón Martínez Sabina, is a Spanish cantautor. He is actually one of Spain’s most famous cantautores. The word cantautor (cantar + autor) means “singer-songwriter.”
Sabina has released 22 albums, 17 of which are discos de estudio (studio albums) and 5 of which are discos en directo (live albums). He has also released 3 recopilatorios (compilation albums) and even though he normally performs en solitario (solo), he has collaborated with the group La Mandrágora (The Mandrake) when recording his live albums.
Joaquín Sabina is one of those singers whose music you either love or detest. He has cientos de miles de fans (hundreds of thousands of fans), if not millions, but his music is quite niche.
I actually like his voz ronca, áspera (rough and croaky voice), and I think it is precisely that hoarse sound that appeals to the majority of his fans.
One thing that I love about his lyrics is that when he writes a song, he does not go for the easy line and expression. Instead, he makes use of his skills as a published poet (yes, he has published around 15 books, including lyrics compilations, satirical poetry, curiosities, drawings, sonnets, etc.) and, by using less accessible and more challenging prose, he pours his heart out into a sea of metaphors.
He has sold more than 10 million albums, and he has dozens of great songs, but if I had to pick my top three, I would choose “19 días y 500 noches” (19 days and 500 nights), “Por el bulevar de los sueños rotos” (Through the boulevard of broken dreams) and “Quién me ha robado el mes de abril” (Who has stolen the month of April from me).
Among these three, my absolute favorite is “19 días y 500 noches.” This amazing song is a cry of pain, a song to a love that has gone and will not come back. (Who doesn’t cry for love? And they say men don’t cry!) It is, however, a powerful love song, and you can feel that in every single word he sings, even if you don’t understand it. The title, in case you were wondering, is the time he says it took him to forget María, his lost love.
If you are an advanced student of Spanish, print the lyrics for this song and mark all the expressions, idioms and collocations you recognize. You will be surprised at the powerful message. I leave you with a great excerpt and its translation. Pay special attention to the periphrasis quería quererla querer (I wanted to want to love her):
Tenían razón mis amantes en eso de que antes el malo era yo, con una excepción. Esta vez yo quería quererla querer y ella no. (My lovers were right in that I used to be the bad one, with one exception. This time I wanted to want to love her, but she didn’t.)
2. Alejandro Sanz
Alejandro Sánchez Pizarro, better known as Alejandro Sanz, is one of those singers every teenage girl was in love with in the ’90s and ’00s. Also a cantautor like Sabina, he has won a total of 20 Latin Grammy Awards, or Premios Grammy Latino, and 3 Grammy Awards.
He started his adventure in the music universe at the age of 7, when he learned how to play the guitar. At 10 he was already composing his own songs and writing his own lyrics, but it wasn’t until he was 20 that he released his first album “Los chulos son Pa’ Cuidarlos” (Cocky boys are to be taken care of) under the name of Alejandro Magno (Alexander the Great).
Since then, he has released 11 studio albums, 6 live albums, 9 compilation albums, 10 ediciones especiales (special editions) and 8 DVDs.
His style can be described as flamenco-pop (his specialty is love ballads), although he has tackled other music styles—mainly rock, jazz, funk and música latina (Latin music).
It would be impossible and unfair to make a list of his best songs, because most of them have been and are still great hits both in Spain and Latin America. However, I believe three songs deserve a special mention: “Si tú me miras” (If you look at me), which I personally think is his first huge hit, “Quiero morir en tu veneno” (I want to die in your poison) and, of course, “La Tortura” (The torture), which was a collaboration with Shakira that reached number one on many charts around the world.
If you do not know “La Tortura,” you are missing a huge success in Spanish-language music. Listen to it, watch the music video, read the lyrics… I am sure you will love it once you understand it completely! This is a great song to start with if you are interested in Sanz. His songs are normally grammatically difficult and contain a lot of idioms, but “La Tortura” is an easy song. Let me just leave you with a couple of lines from it, so that you can have a little foretaste of what is waiting for you:
Me duele tanto que te fueras sin decir a dónde. Ay amor, fue una tortura perderte. (It hurts so bad that you left without saying where to. Oh, my love, it was torture to lose you.)
3. Luis Fonsi
Although Luis Alfonso Rodríguez López-Cepero is known for his superbly romantic songs, I was really surprised to learn that he has also tried acting a few times. I am glad, however, that he decided to stick to music, because I can honestly say his music has taught me the meaning of being romantic.
A Grammy winner, he has relased 8 studio albums and 4 compilations, and has sold more than 2 million albums.
I literally love every single song of his (yes, I am a fan), but if you do not know his music or would like to become more familiar with it, I really recommend two of his songs: “Si no te hubiera conocido” (If I hadn’t met you), which is a Latin ballad he sang together with Christina Aguilera, and “The Power of a Broken Heart.”
This last song was also released in Spanish under the title “La Fuerza de mi Corazón” (The power of my heart), a duet with Christina Valemi and part of the soundtrack of the animated film “El Cid: La Leyenda” (El Cid: The legend)—which, by the way, I also recommend you watch.
Fonsi is very pleasing to the ears, and his songs are great if you want to learn Spanish through music. The vocabulary is relatively easy and the sentences in his songs are rather short, so you shouldn’t have any big challenges with him.
4. Ricky Martin
There is little that hasn’t already been said about Enrique Martín Morales. This handsome puertorriqueño started the ’99 Latin pop explosion, and many years later he can boast of having sold more than 75 million albums worldwide.
You may not know he started his music career as a singer at the age of 12 with the pop group Menudo, a group that lo catapultó a la fama (catapulted him to fame) and allowed him to become the international star he is at the moment.
His Latin pop songs are his personal trademark, and it would be virtually impossible to find a person who hasn’t heard hits such as “La Copa de la Vida” (English version: “The Cup of Life”) or “La Bomba” (The bomb). Not only is he known worldwide, but he has also released English versions of many of his songs, so Martin can be one of the most powerful tools you can use in order to improve your Spanish skills. Just familiarize yourself with the English versions, and once you know what he is singing about, switch to the Spanish version and try to find similarities between the two.
Latin pop is great, I admit it, but no one can say they have really listened to Ricky’s music if they haven’t tried his powerful ballads. Call me a romantic, and I won’t get mad, but I am convinced his voice is much more powerful, honest and chilling when he sings about love, and especially when he sings about lost love.
I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t leave you with a couple of lines of my all-time favorite Ricky song, “Vuelve” (Come back):
Vuelve, que sin ti la vida se me va. Oh, vuelve, que me falta el aire si tú no estás. (Come back, because without you my life is going out of my hands. Oh, come back, because I am out of breath when you are not here.)
Have a listen. Enjoy. Also, pay attention to the use of que in the sentence. Did you know it can mean “because” even without por?
5. Luis Miguel
Luis Miguel Gallego Basteri is a Mexican singer who can easily be considered one of the most successful artists in Latin American history (at least Wikipedia says so, and I agree with it).
He has sold a mind-blowing total of over 100 million albums worldwide, and even though he has done pop and mariachis, his signatures are ballads and boleros.
He has released 31 albums, mainly in Spanish, but also in Italian and Portuguese. As for his awards, I would need 10 posts in order to mention all of them, so please take a look on Wikipedia if you are interested.
As I have mentioned earlier, when we think of Luis Miguel, it is mainly ballads and boleros that come to mind. Who hasn’t heard “La Incondicional” (The unconditional)? Who hasn’t had a situation in their love life when they wanted to sing to their loved one the lyrics of “El día que me quieras” (The day that you love me)?
I said Luis Fonsi taught me how to be romantic, but it is Luis Miguel who is la verdadera esencia del romanticismo (the real essence of romanticism). If you are in love, if you have lost a love, if you feel alone, if you feel unconditionally loved… it doesn’t matter what the situation. Si el amor está en el aire (if love is in the air), there you will also find Luis Miguel singing about it.
He has so many songs, so many great songs, that I would have to write for two weeks in order to include them all, so allow me to tell you the titles of two songs I think you should listen to time and again until you learn them by heart. You can start with the already mentioned “El día que me quieras,” recommended for all those who are suffering because of unrequited love. And at the end of the day, you will have learned a ton of vocabulary related to love.
After that, listen to “Por debajo de la mesa” (Under the table), which is one of the most beautiful declarations of love I have ever heard in any language. Here you have a little preview:
Me absorbes el espacio y despacio me haces tuyo. Muere el orgullo en mí, y es que no puedo estar sin ti. (You absorb my space and, slowly, make me yours. My pride dies, because I cannot be without you.)
6. Lola Flores
I am almost sure that if you are not from Spain and are 20 or younger, you won’t have ever heard of Lola Flores. However, she was such an important artist in the music industry in Spain and Latin America that I needed to include her.
María de los Dolores Flores Ruiz, also known as La Faraona (The Female Pharaoh), was a very famous actress, bailaora de flamenco (flamenco dancer) and singer of traditional Andalusian folklore. If you are not familiar with this traditional folklore, I recommend you do some research. Learning a language is very important if we want to communicate with other people, but learning about the culture of the country, the traditions and folklore, add many layers to that knowledge that are surely invaluable.
I know flamenco music, and especially coplas, is not everyone’s cup of tea. Even some of us Spaniards would not call ourselves flamenco fans, but all of us know and appreciate it for what it is, an art, and are proud of being able to call it our own.
Although you may not want to become Lola’s biggest fan and buy all of her albums, you should definitely try listening to some of her songs. Maybe you will become interested in Spanish folklore and start taking flamenco classes. Maybe you will listen to her and forget about her five minutes later. It doesn’t matter as long as you open your mind and try to understand her kind of art. Remember, though, not to give up if you don’t understand her songs at the beginning. Flamenco is a very difficult genre, rather obscure, and to let you in on a secret, sometimes even Spaniards don’t understand what the cantaores are singing!
Her most famous songs are “Ay, pena, penita, pena” (Oh, grief, dear grief, grief), “La Zarzamora” (The blackberry bush) and “Lola de España” (Spain’s Lola). Listen to them and watch her fill the stage with her duende.
In the meantime, here you have a couple of verses from “Ay, pena, penita, pena.” I have chosen this song because I think it shows Lola at her best. It is a sad song, and she would almost cry every time she sang it live, but it clearly shows the power of her voice:
Ay, pena, penita, pena, pena. Pena de mi corazón que me corre por las venas, pena, con la fuerza de un ciclón. (Oh, grief, dear grief, grief, grief. Grief of my heart that runs through my veins, grief, with the power of a cyclone.)
7. Marta Sánchez
Although I cannot say Marta Sánchez López has sold hundreds of millions of albums around the world, she is no doubt one the most important icons in Spanish pop music. A singer and songwriter, she started her career with the group Olé Olé, and made her debut as a solista (solo artist) in 1993.
Having sold around 8 million albums worldwide, she has left an important imprint both in Spain and in the Americas, especially because of the numerous singles (almost 50, some of them in English) she has released so far, her 11 studio albums and her 3 compilation albums.
She has tackled pop, punk, rock and even some electronic, more commercial tunes, but she can be considered the queen of sensual pop. Always feminine, always a fighter and always wanting to show women can also have talent, she has taken on romantic ballads and even some disco dance songs.
I have mentioned she has released some singles in English, but we are here to learn about the Spanish-speaking side of music, so let me recommend you three Spanish-language songs you absolutely need to know in order to get you started with Marta. First, listen to “Soy yo” (It is me). I have included a bilingual version so that you can see how simple her songs are.
This powerful song is a message from a woman to her ex-boyfriend. She tells him she has survived, she is better now, and will not look back. A lot of women (and men!) have used this song as a way of recovering after losing a love.
Then listen to “Colgado en tus manos” (Hanging in your hands), a superb song featuring Carlos Baute, another handsome Spanish-speaking singer you should definitely check out as well. And finally, listen to “Desesperada” (Desperate), released in its English version with the title “Desperate Lovers.” I have to sadly admit the translation into English is not the greatest work of art, but you can use that to your advantage. Have a listen at the song in English and then you will know perfectly well what she is singing in Spanish.
8. Miguel Bosé
Luis Miguel González Bosé, a.k.a. Miguel Bosé Dominguín, a.k.a. BOSÉ, is an actor and singer, son of the great Italian actress Lucia Bosè and the superb bullfighter matador de toros (superb bullfighter) Luis Miguel Dominguín.
He started his career as an actor with ease thanks to his family’s fame, but producers and directors soon realized he was a very naturally talented person, and he managed to quickly make a name for himself. However, in 1975 he decided he wanted to concentrate on his career as a singer, and he has released 18 studio albums, 4 live albums and 2 compilations since then.
It is painfully difficult to describe Bosé’s style. If you listen to his songs you will find pop sounds, sometimes funk and rock, and most of the time you will realize the best word to describe his music is “experimental.” Undoubtedly inspired by the sophistication and decadence he was surrounded by when growing up and the Spanish folklore he absorbed from his father and his many years in Spain, each and every one of his songs is unique in itself and shows his life journey and his personal background.
I had planned to write a long entry for Bosé, but then I realized the best way to know Miguel is by listening to his magical voice and letting yourself be seduced by his rhythms. I absolutely recommend you listen to his last two albums, “Papito” and “Papitwo,” where he shows a reinterpretation of his previous songs in duets with Spanish-speaking artists (and others) who are very well-known around the world.
And what can you learn from Bosé, grammar-wise? He certainly is a good teacher because his vocals are very clean and his pronunciation is great. This allows you to concentrate on the song, on the lyrics. Take “Amante Bandido” as an example once again. Have you noticed the great majority of the verbs are in the future tense? Use this song in order to review this tense!
As for now, you need to sit down and listen to the sublime reinterpretation of one of his greatest hits, “Amante Bandido” (Bandit lover), in which he openly states he is going to steal his lover’s heart and then they will suffer because of what people will think of them, but they will not mind because they will be together at last. Here you have the opening lines:
Yo seré el viento que va, navegaré por tu oscuridad. Tú, rocío, beso frío que me quemará. (I will become the wind that blows, I will sail through your darkness. You, dew, a cold kiss that will burn me.)
9. Celia Cruz
Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad was known on stage as Celia Cruz. She can no doubt be referred to as the most widely-known and most popular Latin artist of the twentieth century, and she was internationally known as the Queen of Salsa.
This is one of those entries that make me happy and proud to be a native speaker of Spanish, because you really need to understand Spanish perfectly well in order to get the most out of her songs, lyrics and performances.
However, you will be happy to know that she was so expressive, so unique, so spectacular, that I am sure you will be dancing along to her “La Vida es un Carnaval” (Life is a carnival) without even noticing, and even if you don’t understand what she is singing about the first time you listen to it, you will definitely get the message and absorb her happiness and powerful energy.
It would be not only impossible but also a little demeaning to try to summarize her huge amount of work in a few lines. The best thing you can do if you want to have your first contact with salsa music and Celia Cruz’s endless discography and filmography is to have a look at her English entry on Wikipedia here. If you are feeling brave, read it in Spanish here.
A lot of people would agree the song “La Vida es un Carnaval” is Celia’s most acclaimed, played, danced and sung of her songs. Let me thus leave you here with a couple of verses as a homage to la reina de la salsa:
Todo aquel que piense que la vida siempre es cruel tiene que saber que no es así, que tan solo hay momentos malos. (Anyone who thinks life is always cruel has to know that it’s not like that, that there are only bad moments.)
10. Bonus Track: Pedro Almodóvar
Wait, what? We all know who the super famous, controversial, sometimes crazy but, all in all, great film director Almodóvar is, but why is he on this list?
If I had to write a post about famous Spanish-speaking film directors, Pedro Almodóvar would definitely be the first on the list. What not many people know, even people from Spain, is that at the beginning of his career he was a singer in a glam-punk/glam-rock parody duo alongside Fabio McNamara.
He played a very important part in the so-called movida madrileña (Madrilenian scene), which was a countercultural, alternative movement born in Madrid characterized by the transgression of dictator Franco’s rules. It was a rebirth for Spain, and it was his birth as an artist, as broadly speaking as possible.
Now, when you listen to Almodóvar’s music, don’t expect to listen to the greatest hits of your life. Bear in mind this was a form of protest, a way of breaking the rules and getting freedom back. Read about the movida first. Get to know what it was and why it happened, and then listen to Almodóvar and McNamara’s music. If, after that, you are still interested in Spanish music from the ’80s, check out Alaska y Dinarama, Hombres G (one of my favorite groups), Radio Futura or Gabinete Caligari.
Do not try to use the movida as a way of learning Spanish, though. Listen to this type of music just for the sake of music. If you still want to translate the lyrics and try to understand them, please remember they will not always make sense. The lyrics tried to represent in words what the movement was about. They were out of the ordinary, and it was (and is!) challenging for native speakers of Spanish to make any sense of them sometimes. I will not discourage you, of course, and if you give it a try, please let us know so that we can be proud of you publicly.
And this concludes my list of famous Spanish-speaking singers. I know there are many, many more, but I have tried to make a selection of artists that not only are popular but also have been part of my life somehow. Remember, though, that this is just a short list you can expand with other artists of your liking.
The most important thing for you to understand is that music can be used in order to improve your language skills. Try to print the lyrics of your favorite artists, read them, listen to their songs… Sooner rather than later you will realize you have acquired a lot of new vocabulary and idioms without effort.
So this is it, guys. Now you know the power of music and how to use it.
I hope you have enjoyed the ride.
See you next time!
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If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Spanish with real-world videos.