Latin music is rich with great singers and composers. I'm partial to songs that combine personal or social poetry with complex rhythms and harmonies. In particular I admire and listen to four favorites who delight me over and over again, they are; Juan Luis Guerra, La Mari, Rosario and Ruben Blades.
Juan Luis Guerra is the poet laureate of the Dominican Republic. His sound and style is unique, his message inspirational. One evening, at the beginning of his music career, before ever having listened to his music, I was sitting on a cement bench at a high school basketball court in a working class neighborhood of Madrid. During a lull in the ballgame they played; 'Ojala Que Llueva Cafe' on the loudspeaker and the entire audience of perhaps a thousand people began singing the song. They identified the tune and knew every word of the lyrics. He was already popular with a generation of Spanish youth.
His album; 'Bachata Rosa' is a classic, an iconic masterpiece that has profoundly influenced the popular music of the Dominican Republic and, indeed, the Latin music world. Of the dozens of tunes that mark my favorites, copied here is 'Cayo Arena' Listen Here>> a romping merengue 'apambichao' that marks his love for the island and its folklore. Listen here>> to this lovely, soft merengue duet with Spanish flamenco star Niña Pastori.
Listening to 'La Mari', lead singer of the legendary Spanish group Chambao, is an epiphany. Her high, lilting voice makes her music feel angelic and awe inspiring. The lyrics are poetic jewels of satire, sarcasm, social commentary and simply love songs. Listen to, "Que Bonita Eres" here>>: and to the wonderful duet with Rosario; Listen here>> Rosario, the daughter of the late Lola Flores and heiress to one of the most prominent musical gypsy families of modern Spain is another of my favorites. There are so many beautiful tunes in her portfolio they are hard to measure. Once saw her in the Madrid Airport, travelling all alone, picking up her luggage. Simple, humble and divine she is also a poet and diva. Listen here to her classic "Mil Colores", listen Here>>or the saucy, joyful "La Vida es Sueño" Listen here>>.
And finally what can I say about Ruben Blades. A lifelong obsession I have been an admirer of his music, his career and his persona since the very beginning. Had the pleasure of hosting his first commercial performance in DC at the Washington Hilton where under 500 folks came to dance to his music. I saw him in the Bronx singing for the great Ray Barretto Band singing hits like 'Guarare' on the 'cuchifrito' circuit. Just recently watched the documentary on his life and years ago attended a live session at the Smithsonian Institute where he spoke about his life, music and career. The album he did with Willie Colon, 'Siembra' remains one of the all time classics of Latin music. Recently he performed with Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center. Here's one of the tunes from that collaboration.