Words by Natalia Linares
Along with a mess of good hiphop and soul records, this Tuesday September 27th saw the release of Latin pop legend Gloria Estefan’s comeback LP Miss Little Havana, featuring Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes fame among other contributors. Since this is something of a milestone in Caribbean music, it seemed only right to double down on our Throwback Thursday game for an all-day pan-Latin extravaganza. So on top of DJ Chief Boima’s breakdown of Big Boy (previous post) our favorite Cubana and honorary Raka Natalia Linares provides some context for the new release with a rundown of essential La Gloria moments:
“One, Two, Three, Four / Come on baby, say you love me!” or “Come on move your body / Baby, do that conga”...these were the first phrases embedded in my brain as a young girl growing up in the “Suburban Urban” of Staten Island, New York with a Cuban mom. Mom was such a big fan of Gloria Estefan that floating around somewhere there is an exercise VHS with her doing aerobics to only La Glori’s music (thanks to a recent family BBQ and my brother for reminding us!) with some serious 80s hair and color schemes. My recollections include constantly grabbing the vinyl, pulling the disc out of the sleeve – we had her “The Greatest Hits” (1992) on vinyl, but “1-2-3” (below) and “Conga” were off of 1987’s “Let it Loose” and 1995’s “Primitive Love” (respectively) – the horns, the infectious salsa intro, the layers of Gloria’s voice, the seeming simplicity. “It’s the rhythm of the island, and like sugar cane…” I would reminisce on that lyric from a concrete block on the island of Staten that was anything but tropical. I must have wanted to feel closer to what mom grew up around and must have played that record HUNDREDS of times, gallivanting around the living room, “feeling the rhythm of desire,” all smiles “…so sweet.”
1987 brought ‘The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” (which was on that same “The Greatest Hits” disc). I am not ashamed to say that if this joint came on at the karaoke spot, I could easily recite all the lyrics including a seductive routine: “In the bed…throw the covers over your head, you pretend that you are dead…the rhythm is gonna get you.”
1991 brought “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH, la la la la la la la” (so simple, so good!) from “Live for Loving You.” At family functions in Miami, I remember how much the 1993 Mi Tierra album permeated the air while discussions of family in Cuba, “cuentos” de mi abuela and ropa vieja dinner hit the table. I think the album helped certain family members who hadn’t been back to Cuba remember: “La tierra te duele, la tierra te da en medio del alma cuando tú no estás…” (Translation: “The land which pains you, the land which provides, in the middle of your soul even when you are away from it” and another favorite “Con Los Anos Que Me Quedan” (Translation: With the Years I Have Left) – also plucks a nostalgic chord.
While I’m going on this journey of sound with Gloria, I might as well include that during my gymnastics days, I had a “Floor” routine set to 1994’s “Turn The Beat Around” – I was the only Latina on my gymnastics team, how could I NOT pick this song? “Want to move my body, YEAH!” as I ran full speed down a floor and tumbled to the beat – “Turn it upside down…love to hear her passion!” Regardless of your opinion on her politics, this is a woman who overcame incredible odds (we all watched that Behind The Music about the accident, the recovery, the triumph). She is an icon, an empire, all while contributing timeless songs to a generation of young women to be themselves to. Miami gets a bad rap from “alternative purist” types, but if you listen to her new Little Miss Havana album which just came out, you can’t deny this woman is ahead of the curve and knows how to make music for the entire world. Personally speaking, if my childhood was spent with La Gloria, my late teens and college years were spent with Pharrell and N.E.R.D. So for me, from “Wepa” to “Say Ay” (where you can hear the clash of both styles SOOOO clearly) it’s been exciting to hear this collaboration where two of the artists I’ve spent so many years with get together to just make some fun dancefloor music. So here’s a Throwback Thursday…to a living legend, Gloria Estefan.