Growing up as a child in Montreal, Edi Cruz made it a hobby to record songs with friends and sing at local choirs.
But the singer known today as Cruzito didn’t discover his passion for reggaeton until he went back to visit his home country of Honduras as a teen.
Then, he began recording reggaeton songs and used blogs and forums to share his work across Latin America.
“When I was around 15, I started to record my own demos, I used to even produce my own beats,” he told CBC News.
There’s no doubt Latin music has become mainstream over the last decade. In fact, it was the fifth most popular music genre in the U.S. in 2019, beating out the likes of country and EDM, according to Forbes.
And while Latin artists and their music have made their way to several top charts over the years, some of them based in Canada say so much more can be done at home.
As Cruzito’s songs got more popular, he caught the attention of Raphy Pina, producer of Puerto Rican rapper Daddy Yankee. Pina reached out to set up a meeting.
“I was one of the few artists here in Montreal that got signed overseas,” said Cruzito. “I got to work with all these artists, I got to tour, I got to do stadiums — I got to do a lot of shows.”
After putting his career on pause, Cruzito came back to the music scene in 2017, but he signed with another label: Montreal’s Joy Ride Records. In doing so, he became the first Hispanic-Latino artist on Joy Ride’s roster.
“When we started working with the CEO of Joy Ride, Carlos Munoz, who is also Latino, we got this idea that we could bring the Latin scene forward and do more,” Cruzito said.
“It’s all about creating a movement here in Canada, and Quebec, to make sure that everybody is aware that the Latino music and the Latino scene is very powerful right now.”
With this idea in mind, Cruzito, Munoz and Joy Ride decided to create a Latino branch to work with new artists, calling the branch Joy Ride Latino. They fostered new talent, created a platform and helped showcase their talents to Canadian audiences.
Last year, the Joy Ride Latino team released an EP called YNG LGNDZ Season One featuring four Hispanic or Latino artists based in Canada. Happy with its success, they’re planning to release another album in collaboration with 12 Canadian artists.
‘We could use a little bit more credit for what we do’
Chantel Collado is a Bachata singer born in Mississauga, Ont. She credits her family for making music a big part of her life, especially her dad, who she says is her biggest influence.
“I started performing at a very, very young age,” Collado told CBC News. Her dad, who is from the Dominican Republic, was a director for multiple bands in Toronto.
She began writing her own music by the age of 15 and eventually fell in love with Bachata. She thought the music genre from the Dominican Republic would be the best way to explore her roots.
“I grew up in a household with my parents being Latinos, speaking Spanish, I would almost say that’s my first language,” said Collado.
In her music videos, Collado tries to mix Canadian and Latin American cultures. In Congelados, she shows her audience what a winter in Ontario can be like.
But like many others in the industry, she believes there are few opportunities for Latin singers in Canada.
“I do feel like we could use a little bit more credit for what we do. We’re almost forced to leave our country and take our music elsewhere,” Collado said. “I feel like there could be some work there [in Canada].”
The changing Latin music scene in Canada
The Latin Canadian music scene has been growing, and Alex Puentes — better known by the stage name Alex Cuba — has benefitted from it, scoring wins and nominations at the Grammys, Latin Grammys and Juno Awards. Cuba won his first Grammy on Sunday and is also nominated for World Music Album at the 2022 Junos in May.
The singer is grateful people are more familiar with Latin culture today, “even though it’s only one kind of Latin music,” he said. He remembers seeing a shift in the genre when he was sitting at a Tim Hortons and the song Despacito by Luis Fonsi and Justin Bieber came on.
“I never dreamed that I was going to be at Tim Hortons and listen to Latin music,” said the Grammy nominee. “Despacito broke through so many barriers.”
But that doesn’t mean more visibility for Latin artists. Cuba has asked the Juno Awards to introduce a Latin music category and said he receives the same answer: “There is not enough music yet.”
“We have fought really, really hard to get it to where it is today.”
CBC News contacted the Juno Awards about Cuba’s comment, but has not yet received a response.
Advice to artists: Don’t give up
Montreal based music producer Kiko, part of the duo Los Audio Kimikos, said it has been a “long and tedious battle” to find recognition in Canada. But he is hopeful for a future of more Latin-inspired music.
His advice to young artists?
“Not to give up and not to be shy of where you’re from … just be grateful and show off your culture.”
Kiko recalls his passion for music from when he was around 13, making beats at home as a hobby. Today, working as a producer, Kiko says determined new Latin artists in Canada can also make their marks.
It’s “a lot of hard work and dedication, blood, sweat and tears … but it pays off.”