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Frank Ray, Angie K, Leah Turner and others talk about the Latin American roots of country music

While numerous artists performed on outdoor stages throughout Lower Broadway in Nashville on Friday (June 7), some of country music's up-and-coming Latino country artists gathered for a panel and performance in the Fan Fair X area on 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. The panel was moderated by Rolling Stone Writer Tomás Mier.

Each artist spoke about their respective backgrounds and paths to country music, which are different. Texas native Louie TheSinger, who signed to UMG Nashville earlier this year and released his single “Brothers,” previously played R&B music before switching to country music and candidly tells his story of serving two years in prison for drug offenses. Frank Ray was a police officer in Texas before switching to country music. Angie K mentioned her roots in El Salvador, but also her identity as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Angie K spoke about her emigration from El Salvador to Georgia, saying, “Moving here from El Salvador… when you're in a country where you're not as free as you are here… my father, his grandfather was kidnapped and right after he was released he got cancer and died. My father was almost kidnapped and that's one of the reasons we ended up moving to the United States,” Angie K recalled. “I remember talking to my father and he said, 'It doesn't matter because you're healthy and you're doing well.' That's the Latino community I want to bring to people,” she said to applause from the audience.

“We are a wonderful community and I think there is real trauma among both Latinos and rural residents and taking care of each other is our top priority here,” Angie K added.

“I'm a border town boy, growing up in Columbus, New Mexico and in Texas,” Ray said, noting the deep connections between country music culture and Latino culture. “The Latino community and country music… the American cowboy wouldn't exist without the Mexican vaquero. I just imagine that at some point a guitar was passed around the campfire. So 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 the focus during the event. Mexican-American country singer-songwriter Turner, who fully expressed her Latin roots with her 2022 EP Lost in translationplayed a smoldering version of her sensual ballad “T Shirt.” Angie K performed her new song “Red Dirt on Mars” and Arriaga performed the tearjerker “The Boat.” Ray, who Billboard He scored a Country Airplay Top 20 hit with “Country'd Look Good on You” and performed a mashup of his breakthrough song, the bilingual “Streetlights,” and his new release “Uh-huh (Ajá).”

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

Arriaga, a Cuban who grew up in Miami, first attracted attention in 2011 with his appearance at American Idol. In addition to releasing his own songs, including his recent single “Dominoes,” Arriaga has long helped solidify the connection 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.”

“Everything sounds more romantic in Spanish,” said Arriaga. “This [songs] are too beautiful not to be experienced by my culture. I wanted to do it in a way that we didn't change too much of what people are used to, so we just flipped the language. We had musicians from Mexico and Miami and added some flair. It opened some doors for me to immerse myself in a Latino community. I noticed that a lot of Texans love the music.”

Angie K told Arriaga: “You were one of the first people I saw… when I was trying to decide whether to [her bilingual single] “I heard 'Real Talk' and you did that, so I thought, 'Why not?' I feel like you're one of the pioneers in Spanish and country as well.”

Of his efforts to promote Latino artists in country music, Ray said, “It's 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.