The National Recording Registry's best Spanish language songs (and what it's missing) : Alt.Latino The Library of Congress' National Recording Registry is more than just a collection of music and sound — it's a reflection of who we are as a country. In April, two new Spanish language songs were added to the registry: Juan Gabriel's "Amor Eterno" and Héctor Lavoe's "El Cantante."

This week on Alt.Latino, Felix and Ana take the opportunity to dive into the Spanish language songs that have made it into the historic collection, as well as share their dream picks for what should be chosen next.

Songs featured in this episode:

•Héctor Lavoe, "El Cantante"
•Juan Gabriel, "Amor Eterno (En Vivo [En el Palacio de Bellas Artes])"
•Buena Vista Social Club, "Chan Chan"
•Buena Vista Social Club, "Orgullecida"
•Buena Vista Social Club, "El Carretero"
•Santana, "Oye Como Va"
•Lydia Mendoza, "Mal Hombre (Cold-Hearted Man)"
•Dizzy Gillespie feat. Chano Pozo, "Manteca"
•Ivy Queen, "Quiero Bailar"
•Jose Feliciano, "El Reloj"

Audio for this episode of Alt.Latino was edited and mixed by Joaquin Cotler, with editorial support from Hazel Cills. Our project manager is Grace Chung. NPR Music's executive producer is Suraya Mohamed. Our VP of Music and Visuals is Keith Jenkins.

The National Recording Registry's best Spanish language songs (and what it's missing)

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1197956509/1253283470" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

FELIX CONTRERAS, HOST:

What we're going to do today is we're going to kind of have a playlist from the Library of Congress. And it's called the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. And let me explain, OK? Let me get a little nerdy about this. 'Cause the library - no, because the Library of Congress, like the Smithsonian here in the United States, they're a collection of our cultural heritage.

Collectively, it's the world's largest library. It's used for research purposes. People from all over the world either register online or, in the old days, used to come here, actually to Washington, D.C., to their facilities. And the sound recording registry is a reflection, really, of who we are as a country - who we listen to, what we sound like, how we celebrate, how we grieve and how we just exist. That's why I think this list is important.

It's like an audio version of this entire country. It's a sound recording archive. So there are speeches, sounds, other bits of historic audio, and, of course, lots of music. And every year, they add more to the registry. And it's a recognition, like I said, of our collective cultural heritage. And the 25 that they included this year include everything from Abba to Notorious B.I.G. to jazz musicians Benny Goodman and Lee Morgan. And this year they also added two Spanish language tracks. You're raising your hand, you in the front, in the front desk. Yes, go ahead.

ANAMARIA SAYRE, HOST:

Me?

CONTRERAS: Yes.

SAYRE: Me?

CONTRERAS: Talking to you.

SAYRE: Really?

CONTRERAS: Go ahead. Yes.

SAYRE: Thank you. You know, Felix, when you suggested that we do this episode, I wasn't entirely on board. But when you explain to me the significance of what this means for our music - right? - for Spanish language music to make its way into this physical building in D.C., onto the online platform, I mean, what - can you just, like, explain that to everyone else why this matters so much?

CONTRERAS: They have recordings going back to the 1800s and in fact, to the invention of sound recording. A lot of different sounds and speeches, different sound recordings, and then different types of music. And in this case, we're talking specifically about Spanish language music as opposed to Latin music because that could be anything. These are songs that are recorded in Spanish. That's why we're talking about the music today. So there.

SAYRE: All right, fine. Mic drop, Felix. I get it. So we're going to talk about the two songs that are included this year. And then, Felix, you picked some from the archive, I picked some from the archive and we have something special at the end.

CONTRERAS: Let's dig in. But first, we've got to say from NPR Music, this is ALT.LATINO. I'm Felix Contreras.

SAYRE: And I'm Anamaria Sayre. Let the chisme begin.

(SOUNDBITE OF HÉCTOR LAVOE SONG, "EL CANTANTE")

CONTRERAS: What's really cool about this year is that - are the two songs reflect two different segments of Latino population here in the United States.

SAYRE: So with that fabulous introduction, our first song is a performance by the amazing, fabulous salsero Héctor Lavoe. The song is "El Cantante."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL CANTANTE")

HÉCTOR LAVOE: (Singing) Yo soy el cantante que hoy han venido a escuchar… Lo mejor del repertorio a ustedes voy a brindar… Y canto a la vida de risas y penas, de momentos malos y de cosas buenas… Vinieron a divertirse…

CONTRERAS: This is the signature song of Puerto Rican vocalist Héctor Lavoe. It was released in 1978 from his biggest-selling album called "Comedia," which was produced by trombonist and composer Willie Colón. Between 1970 and 1973, they recorded four albums under their joint names that had so many salsa classics that they practically established the identity of salsa on their own. And this track now is from his first successful solo album.

SAYRE: What's so crazy to me about this, Felix, is this is actually a recognition for performance and for him as a singer. The song itself was written by salsa vocalist we all know and love, Rubén Blades, and he gave the song to Lavoe, which is crazy to me because the soul and the energy of the song, he communicates it like it's his own suffering. The story of it is kind of tragic.

The lyrics say, I'm the singer who helps make all of your troubles disappear for a while, who brings you joy and celebration. But no one really knows my own pain and suffering offstage. And I have to believe that Rubén Blades knew that Héctor could sing the real tragedy and pain of the song. I mean, it was kind of prophetic because the end of his life was tragic. It included an attempted suicide, the loss of his son, his father and his mother-in-law in quick succession, and he died of cardiac arrest due to complications from AIDS.

CONTRERAS: And when I think of the song or of Héctor Lavoe, I don't think of all the painful details at the end of his life. Instead, what I think about is the creativity behind the song, the lyrics, the musical arrangements on the album and that period of time when salsa was king. I mean, everything Fania touched turned to gold. Like reggaeton right now, it was popular beyond the Afro Caribbean community, and it influenced all kinds of people all over the United States, including this young Chicano kid from Sacramento, Calif., trying to learn everything he could about salsa. This record and this whole era was something that completely changed the way people thought about music. And this song, in particular, was one of the guiding lights of that movement.

SAYRE: And that, to me, Felix, is the beauty of so many of these songs, and I'm going to talk about this again later in the show. Love to point out a theme early, but the fact (laughter), but the fact that so many of these artists so perfectly and masterfully encapsulated this pain and joy that we always talk about, that's so integral to so much of the music we talk about on this show. I mean, that's what it is - right? - and that's universal. And that's the Latino experience in this country. It's not just the Cuban experience or the Mexican experience. So that's your connection there. That's my connection there. It's really amazing. I mean, they hit it on the nose with this one.

CONTRERAS: And it's - again, it's a recognition of how all of that you just said is part of the cultural fabric of this society, of the country we live in.

SAYRE: Boom. Mic drop number two, Felix.

CONTRERAS: There we go.

SAYRE: You're on a roll.

CONTRERAS: That was "El Cantante" from Héctor Lavoe from the album "Comedia" released in 1978. OK. The next song on the list is - I'm going to try to get through this without crying.

SAYRE: I'm so excited.

CONTRERAS: You're excited. I'm like, OK, got to hold it together. Got to hold it together. The next song on the list is "Amor Eterno" by Juan Gabriel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR ETERNO")

JUAN GABRIEL: (Singing) Quiero dedicar esta canción con mucho amor y respeto… Más que una canción es una oración de amor que quiero dedicar, como siempre, con el mismo amor, cariño y respeto, a todas las mamás que esta noche me han venido a visitar… Sobre todo, para aquellas que estén un poquito más lejos de mí…

CONTRERAS: And I wonder how many people hear the beginning of the song and immediately tear up. What do you think?

SAYRE: 99.999999999%.

CONTRERAS: Let's let them hear what we're talking about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR ETERNO")

GABRIEL: (Singing) Tú eres la tristeza de mis ojos, que lloran en silencio por tu amor… Me miro en el espejo y veo en mi rostro el tiempo que he sufrido por tu adiós… Obligo a que te olvide el pensamiento, pues siempre estoy pensando en el ayer… Prefiero estar dormido que despierto de tanto y tanto que me duele que no estés… Como quisiera que tú vivieras…

SAYRE: Oh, my God. I can't look at you crying 'cause that just (laughter) makes me cry.

CONTRERAS: OK. Let me just get back to the script because this (laughter) is really difficult. The facts of the song - it was written by El Divo de Juárez, Juan Gabriel, Juanga. He's one of the most prolific Mexican composers and vocalists of the modern era.

SAYRE: And he wrote this song for his mom, who died in 1974.

CONTRERAS: He never had the kind of childhood and family life that many of us take for granted - the stability, single-family home, etc. Some say, despite all of his successes - and he was incredibly successful - he carried that grief and pain around with him, and it influenced and impacted all of the stuff that he ever wrote and he did.

SAYRE: This is one of those songs, Felix, that it feels so hard to even talk about. Well, one, 'cause we both just started crying, but two, to encapsulate what this means for so many of us. I mean, it feels like - at least to be born into a Mexican family, it's like - I don't know - you hear your mom's heartbeat and you hear Juanga singing "Amor Eterno," like, it's your lifeblood. It's who you are. Like, this song has literally become part of the fabric of everything that we all are, and it - it's all our pain. It's all our sorrow wrapped into one beautiful voice.

CONTRERAS: I printed out the lyrics. Can you read them? I can't.

SAYRE: (Reading) Tú eres la tristeza, ay, de mis ojos, que lloran en silencio por tu amor. Me miro en el espejo y veo en mi rostro el tiempo que he sufrido por tu adiós. You are the sadness in my eyes, which cry in silence for your love. I look in the mirror and see in my face the time that I suffered for your goodbye.

CONTRERAS: It sounds better in Spanish.

SAYRE: Oh, yeah.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter).

SAYRE: Always does.

CONTRERAS: It's been covered by so many people - Rocío Dúrcal has, again, one of the most popular. Juanga's version is from the 1990 album "Live At El Palacio De Bellas Artes" in Mexico City. I think it's definitive. I think that is the definitive - because at the beginning, he says that it's more than a song. It's a prayer. And that's exactly it.

SAYRE: I've never heard that. That's exactly...

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

SAYRE: ...Right.

CONTRERAS: And it's been played so many different times. And where it really helped, I think, was after the 2019 shooting in El Paso, the mass shooting. That's it. That's all I'll say.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMOR ETERNO")

GABRIEL: (Singing) Amor eterno… Eterno… Ojos que…

CONTRERAS: OK. That was...

SAYRE: Woo (ph).

CONTRERAS: ...(Laughter) Very emotional.

SAYRE: You got to - you got something to...

CONTRERAS: It's emotional.

SAYRE: ...Get us dancing again, Felix?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. Well, I mean, just, you know, as an afterthought, I did play that at my mom's memorial - my mom's funeral. So, yeah, it touches everyone, and it's appropriate...

SAYRE: Yep.

CONTRERAS: ...That it's included in the national registry...

SAYRE: Absolutely.

CONTRERAS: ...Of recordings. OK. As my mother would say, let's pick up the pace a little bit. All right. Now we're going to - 'cause she did - she loved to party and she loved to dance. And so we're going to go back into the archive now 'cause there's a long list of songs that have already been included. So let's start with your selection. What do you have?

SAYRE: Oh, OK. I'm really excited about this one. This is more in your wheelhouse, Felix. But it's significant to me as well. So Buena Vista Social Club, of course. They recognize the full album, so it's literally "Buena Vista Social Club." Let's play a bit of the most popular song from the album - you've definitely heard it before - "Chan Chan."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHAN CHAN")

BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: (Singing) El cariño que te tengo no te lo puedo negar… Se me sale la babita, yo no lo puedo evitar… Cuando Juanica y Chan Chan en el mar cernían arena, como sacudía el jibe, a Chan Chan le daba pena…

SAYRE: So Felix, obviously I don't even know how to encapsulate this because there's so much to be said. One, I'll just preface this by saying we did a whole episode on Cuba and Afro Cuban music, and this is, like, the pinnacle of everything that we talked about. But specifically what I wanted to say is, for one, that is not something that I particularly grew up with. I know your story with all of this music is very different, Felix, but I didn't necessarily grow up with a lot of Latin jazz, Cuban music, any of that kind of stuff, but this album made its way even into my home.

I mean, it was something I still remember when my dad first put the CD on and I was, like, I perked up. I had never heard anything like it before. And I think for a lot of people, that's what this record was. I mean, they recorded it in six days. They brought together all kinds of musicians from all across Cuba, some of the best that they had. They made it in six days, but it was generations of work.

CONTRERAS: It was an example of the old being new again, right? The story behind it was that the music producer, Ry Cooder, was going to bring in some African musicians to record with some Cuban musicians, some of the musicians that were assembled that eventually made it to the record - to the Buena Vista record. But the African musicians had visa problems and they never made it to Havana.

So the Cuban musicians they were going to record with, musicians who had their brightest moments back in the 1940s and '50s, they took advantage of the studio time and took a musical trip down memory lane to play traditional Cuban son and boleros, and that became the "Buena Vista Social Club" album.

This is a look back into the past of the glory early, early days of Cuban son, Cuban music, Cuban guaracha, all of these different styles that eventually became salsa - right? - we just talked about Fania - down the line, but these are the roots. And so all of these musicians were celebrated and brought out of retirement. It was really a fantastic event.

SAYRE: The timing of it, too, Felix. I mean, this record was published in '97. Can you, like, two-second spark notes the significance of that timing in relation to the history of the island?

CONTRERAS: And I do a heavy sigh because there was a documentary about the production of this album, which I saw at the Miami Film Festival in 1999. The politics of southern Florida and Miami, in particular, as it relates to Cuba, is very, very touchy and very sensitive. And this was an opportunity for that community to embrace the time before the revolution, a time in music and memories. So that the success there sort of launched it worldwide. So it's - the history of this record in that particular time is really surrounded by what was happening in South Florida and how it was embraced. And then, like I said, all over the world, people just really flocked to this record. I think this record did more for Cuban music than anything else.

SAYRE: Well, and my understanding, too, is there was - it made a much more significant splash outside of Cuba than actually within. I mean, this was music that was a lot more familiar to people living within the country, but it was really an introduction for so many people in this country and beyond.

CONTRERAS: Most definitely. And like I said, it was a reminder of some of these folks who had been forgotten, like Rubén González, the piano player who was called in to do it, he hadn't played piano in, like, a decade because his piano fell apart. So he went in and just started playing and just, like, was immediately absorbed and all of his greatness just came right out.

SAYRE: You mentioned this idea of kind of an ode or a homage to a pre-revolution Cuba. And I did read a little bit about there being some level of controversy around, oh, maybe a glorification of past Cuba or not a representation properly of modern Cuba, which is interesting to me because listening to the record, and I've heard so many of the songs so many times, but there are a lot of sleeper hits that I had not heard. Like, "Pueblo Nuevo" is really nice. I really liked that one. But I gave it a really good listen through, and there's a lot of contemporary sounds to me on this record, too. I mean, you definitely take a track like "Orgullecida," and it sounds almost, like, ragtime-y to me. It sounds so old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ORGULLECIDA")

BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB: (Singing) Orgullecida estoy de ser divina… Y de tener tan linda perfección…

SAYRE: But then at the same time, like, "Carretero."

(SOUNDBITE OF BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB SONG, "EL CARRETERO")

SAYRE: That electric guitar is almost reminiscent to me of, like, a rockero Santana kind of vibe. Like, it really moves the record forward. So it's not all just, you know, "Chan Chan" and what people take it for at face value.

CONTRERAS: Well, that electric guitar is actually the music producer Ry Cooder who - he played in the sessions.

SAYRE: It's very - there's...

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

SAYRE: ...A lot of - there's some American...

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

SAYRE: ...Influence...

CONTRERAS: Yeah.

SAYRE: ...For sure is what I was hearing.

CONTRERAS: And it reflects a guy named Manuel Galbán, a guitar player. But we're getting too geeky. Stop me. Stop me, OK? We're getting...

SAYRE: Well, I'm not...

CONTRERAS: ...Too geeky.

SAYRE: ...Going to be the one to hold you back. I brought it up. I was I was geeking over this record, Felix. I mean, the way that it moves, the way that it's so incredibly unassuming in such a delightful way. It's - I brought it up earlier, but it is that perfect balance of what it means to be Latino, really, in this country. Like, to be collective in that way, it doesn't just pull from straight Cuban music. There are other influences there that are really beautiful to hear.

CONTRERAS: Well said. That was "Chan Chan" from the album "Buena Vista Social Club." It was included in the National Registry in 2022. We're going to take a break. We're going to come back with more history, more music. I promise I won't make it too geeky. We're going to take a break. Going to be right back.

SAYRE: We're going to take a break. You sounded very Ira Glass.

And we're back with more picks. Felix, it's your turn.

CONTRERAS: OK. Occasionally, the people at the Library of Congress will include entire albums. And in 2015, they included Santana's "Abraxas" album - right? - the second album. (Laughter) They included the entire album. I have a lot to say about it, as usual, but I'll try to hold it back a little bit. But let's hear a little bit of the signature song from that album. This is their version of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYE COMO VA")

SANTANA: (Singing) Oye cómo va mi ritmo… Bueno pa' gozar, mulata… Oye cómo va mi ritmo… Bueno pa' gozar, mulata…

CONTRERAS: This is their second album - was released in 1970. This is the first album that really crystallized what their vision was. And it was a collective vision 'cause every member of the band at that time brought their own musical influences. "Abraxas" is the kind of album where you can say that there was a sound of Latin music before, and then the sound after...

SAYRE: Oof.

CONTRERAS: ...OK?

(SOUNDITE OF SANTANA SONG, "OYE COMO VA")

CONTRERAS: And it's important to make a distinction about what was going on on the East Coast 'cause Fania was started in 1964, right? So they had been recording traditional stuff, and then they started to get a little bit more experimental around this time. So that was on the East Coast. And on the West Coast, you had these guys - they're African Americans, white Americans. There was this Mexican guy playing guitar, and it was a - Puerto Rican conga players, a Nicaraguan timbale player, and it was all of this mix of people. And what they did was - with this song, it's an exact note for note duplication of the Tito Puente original and - where the organ - you hear the organ. Those were Tito Puente's saxophones, right? It's brilliant. It's brilliant in its concept 'cause they didn't change a note. It's exactly the same. The guitar part is the flute part from the original album.

It reflected that magic moment in time - late 1960s San Francisco, sort of the end of the hippie era, where genres were completely ignored. And they were - people were experimenting with all kinds of music. They had this magic, amazing moment of, like, a modern-day PR campaign - right? - because it just happened because they played Woodstock '69 - August of '69. This album came out in September of 1970. But by then, the "Woodstock" movie and album came out. And that's what made everybody superstars - the movie - because up to then, only people who had gone to the concert knew about Woodstock. Their place in the film - right in the middle of the film and right in the middle of the album - that launched their careers. It launched the band. It launched Santana. It launched everybody in the band, and it launched their careers 'cause it was so dynamic.

And so they had the film. They had the album. They had this record that was out in the charts. And all of a sudden, people are interested - wanted to buy Santana records. And they were touring nonstop. So it was a viral moment before there was viral, right? That's exactly what happened. And that's what this record was. And it also captured this moment where Latinos of all cultures and backgrounds - all of a sudden, we could see ourselves in the mainstream.

SAYRE: Felix, do you feel like - because the way you describe it, the energy of it, I want to be living in that moment. And I'm - and, like, it's so romantic. But the way that you talk about it - I mean, was there something that was happening in the world that the world was ready to receive this kind of music? Or was Santana just so ingenious that the way they did it, or how they did it, or I don't know what - something about their presence made it possible for music like this to live in the mainstream?

CONTRERAS: This is an example of musicians not really reacting to the times but incorporating the times, because this is 1970, 1969. This is still part of the Chicano movement - the self-identity, the understanding ourselves, the tail end of the civil rights movement. This is the Chicano version. So there's some of that. But then also, these guys, they weren't political. They weren't taking all that stuff, but they were absorbing all the energy that was happening in society so that they took this stuff and then created their own thing.

And it's important to say that it's - you know, certainly Carlos Santana's the musician that's the focus of all this. But it's really important to say that that whole band really contributed to this sound and to that moment 'cause they all brought all their own experiences. And I think that that's why it's important that the Library of Congress included that whole album, because they still play more cuts from this album than any other album that they did, right? And that's more than 50 years ago. That's how impactful this record was. That was "Oye Como Va" from the album "Abraxas," included in the registry in 2015.

SAYRE: So this one, Felix, you also know and love and have talked about a lot. This is Lydia Mendoza with the song "Mal Hombre" recorded in 1934.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAL HOMBRE")

LYDIA MENDOZA: (Singing) Era yo una chiquilla todavía cuando tú casualmente me encontraste… Y, a merced de tus artes de mundano, de mi honra el perfume te llevaste…

CONTRERAS: You know, I was very fortunate to have seen her perform this in Fresno.

SAYRE: You are...

CONTRERAS: Yes.

SAYRE: ...Not serious...

CONTRERAS: Yeah. I did.

SAYRE: ...Felix.

CONTRERAS: Yeah. She came and performed in Fresno.

SAYRE: This is like when you told me you saw Ella Fitzgerald live (laughter).

CONTRERAS: She came to Fresno to perform at one of our street fairs that we had there.

SAYRE: What?

CONTRERAS: Yeah. So she was, you know, dressed to the nines in costume and all that, but she sang this song. It was significant, and it always stood out to me because of the story behind the song and the family.

SAYRE: And that's - you know, one of the things about this is - that's really beautiful to me is a lot of this music - and I said this to you earlier about Buena Vista Social Club - the recording is really important here - the recording and the performance. And she was someone who - that makes sense. A lot of her life, her career was spent touring, playing, performing. And a lot of these songs, especially "Mal Hombre," really evolved as she toured them.

So she was touring since the 1920s with her family. She came from a musical family, the Mendoza family, and they would tour and play all of these, you know, rancheras and northern Mexican sounds that really appealed to the Mexican community in Texas at the time. She didn't actually do this solo recording - this was her first song ever - until 1934. So she spent a lot of her early career just touring with her family, and then she releases this song. And it's not really a Mexican song, Felix.

CONTRERAS: Correct.

SAYRE: It's Argentinian, but yet she did it in a Mexican style. She did it. And the more she toured it, the more it evolved into a more norteño sound. And she was called the singer of the poor and the lark of the border. She really did kind of encapsulate what it was to be part of this Mexican community in a time when being a part of a Texas Mexican community was not something that a lot of people saw you could be proud of.

CONTRERAS: There was a lot of systemic and actual violent racism directed toward the Mexican population in Texas during that time, and certainly before that.

SAYRE: And yet, here she is - a Mexican young woman singing an Argentinian-style song that was incredibly subversive. And I will talk about this later, too. But she talks about this "Mal Hombre" and basically the abuse, the kind of - going through the course of the song, she talks about how he traps this woman and becomes, you know, abusive in various ways. He seduces her into this. And it was really subversive for the time.

And obviously - as it has been historically, always - it was an issue in the community at the time and the period. And she would go and perform it and create unity not only among a Mexican community in Texas, but really, I think, one of the initial waves of Latino community and in her performance of it. I mean, she brought it everywhere and did it in so many different styles - tango, foxtrot, big band, polka, bolero, country - those were all popular in her space. And she took this song and she made it popular, too.

CONTRERAS: And, you know, what's fascinating to me is that she performed on a 12-string guitar, not a six string. And what do we hear right now?

SAYRE: Exactly.

CONTRERAS: And all of the regional Mexican stuff right now, they're - especially with Yahritza y Su Esencia, bands like that, everybody's playing a 12-string, man, you know?

SAYRE: She was, like, a hundred years early...

CONTRERAS: It's...

SAYRE: ...Felix.

CONTRERAS: This is 1934, right?

SAYRE: That's, like...

CONTRERAS: You're - yeah, exactly - almost a hundred years before. She's - and these musicians are going back into the past and - going back into the past and sort of recreating it in a new way. But this is where it starts.

SAYRE: But it's not even just that, Felix, because all we talk about all day long now is, oh, all these, you know, musicians today that are playing with all these different sounds from all across Latin America, and maybe they're performing, you know, a norteño-style song. But with - we just talked about this last week - right? - with Grupo Frontera.

CONTRERAS: Two weeks ago.

SAYRE: We just talked about this two weeks ago with Grupo Frontera and how they're, like, bringing in Argentinean styles. And they're bringing in, you know, reggaeton and da, da, da. And she did that way before anyone did.

CONTRERAS: What's old is new again, man. All right. Let's move on. Let's go to the next song.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE AND CHANO POZO’S "MANTECA")

CHANO POZO: Manteca. Manteca.

CONTRERAS: Our last song is "Manteca." It's recorded by Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra with Chano Pozo from Cuba - was recorded in 1947. It was included on the registry in 2004. Check out this iconic bassline and intro.

(SOUNDBITE OF DIZZY GILLESPIE AND CHANO POZO’S "MANTECA")

CONTRERAS: Latin jazz didn't exist before this moment in time and this recording, blah, blah, blah. Just very quickly, just think about Dizzy Gillespie and all the jazz guys in post-World War II. They're creating a music called bebop - very, very fast, very break-from-traditional swing, completely revolutionized - and they're all in their 20s. These guys are so young, right? It was all happening there in New York. At the same time, these Cuban musicians were creating all of this new music, bringing people from the island. Chano Pozo, the conga player and percussionist and singer and dancer, was one of the first to come to New York and start performing with American bands, both mainstream and Cuban bands. And they got together. Dizzy Gillespie heard Chano Pozo perform. He said, I want some of those - he called them tom-toms, but they're actually congas...

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: ...I want some of those in the band. That's part of the story because the understanding between the African American community and the Afro Caribbean community - there was really virtually no connection. And, you know, the Afro Caribbean tradition of the drum wasn't really well known among African American musicians here in the U.S. during that time until Dizzy Gillespie and a few other musicians - but principally Dizzy Gillespie - started including this stuff. 'Cause the - jazz and the Afro Cuban styles and rhythms and beats mix perfectly together. And it all started with this song. So that's why it's recorded because it really launched not just a movement, but also reflected how African Americans and Afro Caribbeans lived right next to each other in New York. And it was just a matter of time before it came together.

SAYRE: You know, what that makes me think of, Felix, is when we were in Cuba, thinking about the different drum stylings. That is evidence of the divergence - right? - of, like, using the same instrumentation, but you had a go-go band and an Afro Cuban drummer playing literally in two different styles.

CONTRERAS: Remember we did the - when we went to Callejón de Hamel and they were doing the Afro Cuban - the traditional Afro Cuban rumba and the singing and dancing. Well, Chano Pozo did that in Cuba, but it was more of, like, a revue - like a nightclub revue. But he used those basic elements. And he wrote songs. He performed. He was dressed up - right? - a big thing in Cuba. Then he came here to the United States and tried to incorporate some of that into this music. But he's a direct tie to the Afro Cuban tradition.

That was "Manteca" from Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo from 1947. We're going to wrap up the show by offering the Library of Congress suggestions of songs that we'd like to hear in the collection in the future. Just say the name of the title, and I'll do the same.

SAYRE: OK. I'm going to say the name in the title and also say five seconds of why it's really important because this is Ivy Queen's "Quiero bailar." And the reason I think it should be included is because she is the woman that took reggaeton off the island. This song means so much. It's a feminist anthem. It's subversion. It's women owning their bodies, finally talking about the in-between between nothing and everything in terms of having autonomy over how they want to be sexual, be romantic. She was as big as Daddy Yankee. This album, this record, this single was as big as all of those things. So it should absolutely be included in the Library of Congress.

CONTRERAS: Agreed.

SAYRE: Yes.

CONTRERAS: A thousand percent. Absolutely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "QUIERO BAILAR")

IVY QUEEN: (Singing) Yo quiero bailar, tú quieres sudar y pegarte a mí, el cuerpo rozar… Yo te digo: "sí, tú me puedes provocar"… Eso no quiere decir que pa' la cama voy… Quiero bailar, tú quieres sudar y pegarte a mí, el cuerpo rozar… Yo te digo: "sí, tú me puedes provocar"… Eso no quiere decir que pa' la cama voy… Lo que yo quiero es besarte... Papi, te lo juro te me acercas y late mi corazón… Si lo que quiero es pegarte, yo no tengo problema en acercarme y bailarte este reggaetón… Que los dos tengamos que sudar, que sudar...

CONTRERAS: My pick is "El reloj" performed by José Feliciano from his album "Mas éxitos de José Feliciano." This is recorded in 1966, a year before he became a mainstream success. He did a whole album of classic boleros, and I really like this one. I like the whole album. I actually stole the album - the vinyl (laughter) from my mom.

SAYRE: (Laughter).

CONTRERAS: And I never gave it back. Years ago, I stole it. I have had it in my collection. I still have it. But what I like about it is in the middle section where he's playing guitar, he bends the note like a blues player. And early, early on, that is, like - that's biculturalism in the most subtle form. Listen to this. Check this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL RELOJ")

JOSÉ FELICIANO: (Singing) Reloj, detén tu camino, porque mi vida se apaga… Ella es la estrella que alumbra mi ser… Yo sin su amor no soy nada… Detén el tiempo en tus manos… Haz esta noche perpetua…

CONTRERAS: OK. I need to tell people that there will not be a quiz. So you didn't have to take notes on this show today 'cause we laid a lot of history and a lot of facts on you. But it is a lot of fun. And I think, again, it's very important that the Library of Congress includes all of this music and so much more.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONTRERAS: You have been listening to ALT.LATINO. Our editor is Hazel Cills.

SAYRE: Our project manager is Grace Chung.

CONTRERAS: Our audio producer is the great Joaquin Cotler.

SAYRE: Our executive producer of NPR Music is Suraya Mohamed.

CONTRERAS: Our jefe-in-chief is Keith Jenkins, VP of music and visuals here at NPR.

SAYRE: Thanks so much for listening.

CONTRERAS: Oh, wait. I'm Felix Contreras.

SAYRE: Oh, and I'm Anamaria Sayre.

CONTRERAS: (Laughter) Thank you so much for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.