HBO's 'The Latin Explosion' Highlights A Musical History Still Packed With Surprises

Denise Truscello/Getty Images for HBO Latino
Wisin arrives at the "The Latin Explosion: A New America", Las Vegas Screening at the Cosmopolitan Hotel  on Nov. 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

HBO’s Tommy Mottola-produced documentary, The Latin Explosion: A New America, kicks off with the music --and facts: In 1950, 1 in 50 Americans were Latino. In 2050 it will be 1 in 3, “the most significant demographic shift in U.S. history,” according to the John Leguizamo-narrated doc.

The attention-grabbing headlines, coupled with truly great footage and insightful interviews with a string of stars -- from Rita Moreno to Pitbull -- keep you riveted to this documentary. Even if you thought you knew all about Emilio and Gloria Estefan’s struggles to get their music played on mainstream radio or have heard every inspirational quote from Pitbull, there is a poignancy and an earnest honesty in the numerous interviews, which also include sitdowns with Jennifer Lopez, Eva Longoria, a superb Rita Moreno, Jose Feliciano, Shakira and Ricky Martin, among others.

What The Latin Explosion does not have is a significant enough Mexican representation. There is mention of how several acts had to hide their Mexican heritage, and we do get to see a young Santana and Ritchie Valens. But the doc definitely veers more East Coast than West.

The Latin Explosion charts the rise of Latin music in the U.S. from the 1940s and 1950s of Machito, Dámaso Perez Prado and Desi Arnaz to Romeo Santos’ sold-out Yankee Stadiums today.

“It chronicles a very important moment in the history of Latin music and we wanted be a part of it,” said Ruben Leyva, Sony’s svp of business development for the Latin region. The label is releasing the soundtrack to the documentary and co-hosted a screening Tuesday night in Las Vegas as part of Latin Grammy week, with starts like Victor Manuelle, Il Volo and Wisin in attendance. 

“It wasn’t easy for a Latin act to break into the business. As a music executive I absolutely see a big change today.”

The Latin Explosion includes eye-opening segments with the likes of Jose Feliciano covering “Light My Fire,” or Desi Arnaz, singing in Spanish on broadcast television, something that would literally take decades to accomplish again.

“It’s a great opportunity to show a mass audience that all those big Latin music hits they’ve heard all these years represent a culture and a great number of people who made it possible. It’s not an accident.”

Mottola himself hosted an earlier screening in New York last week where guests included Pitbull, Rita Moreno and the Estefans.

Needless to say, The Latin Explosion doesn’t capture everything and everyone; Enrique Iglesias, for example, is absent.  “The New America” part of the special -- with its focus on politics and representations -- is almost an afterthought, and an unnecessary one. 

 The Latin Explosion doesn’t need justification beyond the music and the artists. 

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