Someone recently wrote to ask: “You’ve eluded[sic] to a few of your [Latin music] favourites a couple of times, I was hoping you’d share more of your all time best with us.”
That seemed like a perfectly fair request so I set out to think how I’d approach answering it. For one thing, I’ve actually posted up a few of them over the years and I went back to a few old posts and reattached missing sound files. That will get you these three basic – but essential – Latin dance tunes:
As noted – these are basic insofar as they’re well-known but not having them in your crate is like professing a love for funk and having no James Brown.
I had also written about these next two songs in the past but by past, I mean as far back as four, even five years ago and I thought it was worth coming back to them here, just to refresh people’s memories.
Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound: Que Se Sepa
From 5 (Fania, 1975)
Quite possibly my favorite Latin track ever. It’s such an amazing mix of styles here, opening with that fantastically funky rhythm before shifting into a stripped down rumba which then turns into an incredible guaguanco section. This is as pure a dancefloor track as you could wish for. Not surprisingly, of all of Roena’s many songs (and he has a ton), this is probably his best known by far.
Mauricio Smith: Viva Guajira
From Bitter Acid (Mainstream, 1967)
I’d put this up as one of the best produced Latin albums Joe Cain ever laid hands on (and that’s saying a lot given Cain’s track record). It’s not often you see a saxophonist heading up a Latin album but Mauricio Smith does excellent work here, especially on “Viva Guajira” which is one of the more upbeat and joyful guajiras you’re likely to lay ears on. The way this song opens – with the piano progression and antiphonal chicken-scratch guitars – never grows old for me.
Ok, onward to songs not previously spoken about…
Monguito Santamaria: Groovetime
From Hey Sister (Fania, 1968)
I’m genuinely amazed I never put this on Soul Sides before; must have been my oversight in thinking I already had. This was probably the song that got me interested in boogaloo and hence, Latin music writ large. It’s that bassline – it’d catch your attention in any genre – and the the swing and swagger of Monguito on here sells how deliciously groovy and funky the whole affair is. Monguito was Mongo’s son though he never came close to enjoying the same popularity. He could, at least, lay claim to being one of Fania’s best boogaloo artists during the era and the way he pulls “Groovetime” together suggests why.
One more boogaloo banger:
Orchestra Harlow: Freak Off
From El Exigente (Fania, 1967)
Larry Harlow has to be one of the most interesting players in the New York Latin scene. He was hardly the only Jewish player in the mix but he was the most visible bandleader and overall talent. Heck, his nickname was “El Judio Maravilloso,” (the marvelous Jew). Harlow’s catalog in the ’60s/’70s era runs deep but despite an impressive catalog of songs, you’d be hard pressed to find one more incredible than “Freak Off.” I was trying to think of boogaloo songs with this level of energy and outside of some of Ray Barretto’s material, I’m not sure there is one.
Fruko Y Sus Tesos: Confundido
From El Grande (Fuentes, 1975). Also on Grandes Exitos de Salsa Vol. 2
My fondness for Fruko’s Colombian take on salsa is well-known and there’s no way I could come up with a list of my favorite Latin tracks and not have him on here at least once. I cycle through which song of his I’m into the most at any given time and this isn’t necessarily the best song in terms of the vocals but for musical content, “Confundido” kills with that powerful, rolling piano riff that opens the song (that and the brass section which lights up the track too).
Pedro Miguel y sus Maracaibos: Descarga Maracaibo
From La Paila (Lider, 196?)
The last track I’ll include here is from one of the bigger names in Peruvian Latin music and while this more of a “listening” cut than something to blow up the dancefloor, I’m feeling how it begins with its folksy vocals that then give into this nimble guitar treatment that’s brisk without being overpowering. These days, this is the kind of Latin that I’ve found most appealing. Hope you do too.