Boricua-Cuban artist and multi-instrumentalist Xenia Rubinos is no stranger to Latino USA, the longest-running Latino-focused radio program on American public media, distributed nationally by NPR. She’s a devoted listener who says she’s regularly tuned in to learn about everything from Pedro Almodóvar movies to the Puerto Rican debt crisis—and she’s also been on the show herself to discuss her music and identity with Latino USA host Maria Hinojosa.
“They are able to educate through really personal storytelling, which instantly brings you in and keeps you listening,” Rubinos told Remezcla. “I’m also a huge fan and admirer of Maria Hinojosa; she is a hero of mine. I think she will be an iconic and important voice in American journalism for many years to come…she’s a totally fierce badass journalist and woman.”
So, Rubinos was absolutely floored last July when the Latino USA team asked her to compose the program’s first-ever theme song, which will open each episode of Latino USA moving forward. Latino USA announced this week that in addition to its Rubinos-designed theme song, it is also premiering a new format. The team will focus on deep-dives into single stories and topics, dropping multiple 15- to 30-minute podcasts weekly and covering extended cuts of interviews, roundtable discussions and short “explainers” of the news. Devotees who want to stick to the original Latino USA hour can still get the whole show on terrestrial radio.
Rubinos says that once Latino USA’s senior producer Marlon Bishop asked if she’d be interested in composing the theme song, she instantly got to work. She asked the Latino USA team to send her ideas of what they wanted the song to sound like, and quickly received swatches of everything from dembow to pop to reggaeton—they even sent along a visual mood board. Rubinos churned out sketch after sketch before settling on a final theme.
“[The theme] has elements of reggaeton and Caribbean music, but it also sounds like me a bit—a mix of things that are from a new, not quite identifiable place,” Rubinos said. “The main imperative was that it should sound upbeat, shiny, fun and not sound like any one genre style or point to any one particular place or culture—that it could represent Latinidad as the broad and varied experience it is.”
Rubinos even added a personal flourish to highlight her own experience with public radio. She incorporated a flute melody inspired by the theme song of a Latin jazz radio show she used to listen to as a kid in Hartford, Connecticut.
“I remember my mom helped me call into the radio station to ask if they could please play the theme a little longer on their next break because I had learned the beginning of it, but was frustrated that they cut it off before the melody ended, and I wanted to learn the ending. Not only did they play the whole theme, but they gave me a shoutout on air!” Rubinos said. “How’s that for full circle?”
Rubinos shared that she was excited to try something new by writing music for the podcast and radio world and also thrilled to contribute to Latino USA’s mission.
“As a first-generation Latina not growing up in a major city, I often felt a lack of community with my peers. I had the sense I didn’t belong and most people around me didn’t share or understand the experiences I was having, and I often felt like I had no history and no place in this country…to have outlets like Latino USA is a huge advancement. Suddenly, we have access to a large network of people who have experienced many of the same things. We can connect with each other and not feel so alone—better yet, we can feel proud of who we are.”
Check out the song below, and head over to Latino USA’s website to read more about their new format.