Classic Covers, Fresh Finds: Our Favorite Latin Songs This Week
This week, the five new songs on Alt.Latino's playlist represent a mix of tradition and experimentation. Nancy Sanchez's jazzy rendition of "Angel Baby" has a new video, Gente De Zona reinterprets the Cuban music canon and Nicola Cruz keeps pushing South American rhythms to new spheres. Meanwhile, La Doña and Vicente García (with Juan Luis Guerra) have both released dance-friendly new singles.
This playlist is part of a weekly Spotify series of NPR Music's favorite Latin songs. Catch our weekly thoughts and hot takes here on NPR.org.
Gente De Zona, 'Las 40'
Alexander Delgado's voice has become the most recognizable in all of Cubaton, a subgenre of popular reggaeton artists coming out of Havana. You may not know Delgado's name, but you surely know Enrique Iglesias' "Bailando" and the particular gravelly baritone of that echoed "ya no puedo más" in the chorus. As Gente De Zona, Delgado and Randy Malcom had been fusing traditional salsa, son and mambo with dembow for the better part of two decades before they broke through in America with the border-smashing "La Gozadera" in 2015.
En Letra de Otro is Gente De Zona's first album since 2016's Visualízate, and it's a covers album — a bold choice for a band on the cusp of a lasting break in the U.S. What's more, it covers classics across the Latin American musical canon, from Jose Feliciano's "Después de Ti" to Luis Miguel's "Cuando Calienta el Sol" to Vicente Fernández's "El Rey" (lloraaaaar y lloraaaaar, etc.) to even "La Bamba." (The album is a companion to a new HBO documentary about the band, perhaps the true hallmark of a Latin artist on the rise in the states.) My favorite track is Delgado's interpretation of "Las 40," a Rolando Laserie bolero beloved by Cuban abuelitos everywhere. Though it's not the group's first cover of a Cuban oldie, "Las 40" struck me for the way it still sounds modern amid all its traditional instrumentation. The song's jazzed-up classical Cuban piano technique, when paired with Delgado's voice, makes the song sound earthier and more current and of-the-people than ever. Not to mention the addition of that bomb mambo and soneo at the end. —Stefanie Fernández
Nancy Sanchez, 'Angel Baby'
Oldies have cast an eternal spell over large segments of the Chicano music-loving population — see above — and "Angel Baby" by Rosie and the Originals (Rosalie Mendez Hamlin) is part of the foundation of that '50s R&B canon.
After Hamlin died in 2017, L.A. vocalist Nancy Sanchez covered the track on her album American Novio. It's a classic, arpeggio-driven ballad reinterpreted as more of a jazz ballad, reflecting Sanchez's substantial talents as a singer in that genre. While many missed the cover when it came out, its new video — a slow-motion meditation on love without boundaries, acceptance of others and living life in the moment — is worth sharing today. When The Other seems to remain constantly under attack, it's uplifting and inspiring to see people unafraid to be who they are.
The song and video represent a perfect mash-up of inspired song selection, flawless performance and clear-eyed cultural vision. —Felix Contreras
La Doña, 'Nada Me Pertenece'
"Nada Me Pertenece" slides easily from childlike rhyming singalong to a dreamy beat that's basically a skeleton of the big, noisy dembow drop that propels this playful existential examination of belonging. La Doña, a.k.a. Cecilia Peña-Govea, is from San Francisco and comes from a musical family. (She started gigging at age 7.) Her dedication to Latin folk music of all kinds is reflected in her day job as a music educator, both in public schools and at the prestigious SFJazz Center.
I'm hoping this is just a hint of the incredible music we can expect from this talented performer and educator. —Felix Contreras
Vicente García & Juan Luis Guerra, 'Loma de Cayenas'
With the historical ouroboros that is the every-decade Latin boom in American music, it's not surprising to see scores of breakout Latin artists covering and collaborating with their musical predecessors. García, a Dominican, won three Latin Grammys for his 2016 album A la Mar, and if it's any testament to the enduring power of Juan Luis Guerra, the music video for the breezy merengue "Loma de Cayenas" has already notched more than a million views in just four days. Merengue is often deemed the simplest — if "simplest" is the right word — Latin genre, in terms of its fairly unchanging beat and the fact that it's an easy dance to learn. Guerra and García make it seem less simple than reliable, honoring the genre's West African roots with drums and lilting strings. —Stefanie Fernández
Nicola Cruz, 'Siete'
Ecuadorian musician Nicola Cruz can do no wrong in my book. He's essentially an alchemist, mixing together sometimes disparate musical elements to create incredibly enjoyable soundscapes. Often, his tracks are exactly the sound I was looking for but didn't know existed. "Siete" alternates between the sitar and flute for melody, working over a subtly pulsing, vaguely Andean beat.
As usual, a single song represents just the tip of the iceberg — or in this case, a magnificently crafted new album called Siku. I'm apparently not the only one who digs Cruz's magic: His last album, Prender el Alma, is at 35 million streams. — Felix Contreras
This playlist is updated weekly.
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