The Year's Music in Review: Early 2021

This is the first chart in a four-chart series covering what I feel are notable songs in the year 2021. (The other charts are Spring, Summer, and Late 2021). The focus is on salsa and Latin, but other genres are included, too. The total number of songs in this chart is 140.

For each chart, songs are organized into 18 lists (see the project description in the previous post). Lists 1-8 are on salsa and have 10 songs each. The other lists have 5 each.

Artwork & DJ Mixes

Some album artwork is included with an anecdote explaining a particular selection. A bonus feature is a list of five inspiring DJ mixes, each with an embedded audio player.

About Song Selection

Information about song selection is explained under Notes near the bottom of this page. Most importantly...

  • This is a curation of songs based on personal relevance in 2021--regardless of release year. Only List #1 (New Salsa) features 2021 releases.

  • There is no ranking system; tracks are listed in alphabetical order.

Be sure to check out the forthcoming Spring, Summer, and Late 2021 posts.

Listen online

All 18 lists are on Spotify and Apple Music--just click on the button at the end of a list. To see all playlists, click on either of the images below.

Note: A playlist will update with 5 or 10 new songs once the next chart gets posted, and when you 'like' a playlist, it gets saved to your profile for easy access.

Let's go!

Salsa | Other Latin | Other Genres | Mixes



Released in early 2021

(Tracks 1-10)


Still Hot from 2020

Special Pick: "Son Nocturno"

Cuba Quartet is made up of three (not four) musicians: Andreas Unge, Gunnar Thullberg, and Thomas de Paula Eby, all members of the Swedish timba band Calle Real. This album just oozes fresh appeal, with a vibe inspired by TheBuena Vista Social Club. The guitar work is especially noteworthy. Released in late 2020, I discovered the album in January 2021, using "Son Nocturno" for a live stream. It is not a typical dance floor filler, but it's deep and could work well with the right songs before and after.


(Still Hot from 2020)

(Tracks 1-10)


Winners from the 2010s

Special Pick: "Cuba No Se Fue de Mi"

​There are several interesting "Salsa Anthems" -- what I call the best tunes from the 2010s. They all made a huge impression on me at first listen, but "Cuba No Se Fue De Mi" (2019) by Orishas gets special recognition not only for its outstanding lyrics and raw emotion, but also because the Cuban hip-hop trio, who are not really known for danceable tracks among salseros, delivers here for those with imagination and an open mind. Released in 2019, it still has an edge in early 2021.


(Winners From the 2010s)

(Tracks 1-10)


The Millenial Era

Special Pick: "Pepita"

​The next list is for songs from around the time of the millennium. It takes me back to when I started deejaying regularly and when I was discovering a lot of great material. They are all important songs,, but a standout is "Pepita" by Africando, featuring Boncaba Maïga and Hector Casanova on vocals. An atmospheric start morphs into an uptempo swing with a catchy melody. Africando was the name of a project to bring together musicians from Senegal --and later other African musicians -- with New York musicians.

4. Contemporary SALSA - nostalgic

(The Millennial Era)

(Tracks 1-10)


The Golden Era

Special Pick: "Flores para Tu Altar"

​I was once asked if I knew a certain punchy track which referred to Santeria gods. There were no other clues, and I had no idea what it could be. Some time later I heard something by French DJ Jeremy Castex on a CoBeatParty live stream that fit the description. “Flores para tu altar” has great lyrics, an intriguing introduction, riveting instrumentation, and catchy syncopation. It's by the Venezuelan band Dimension Latina 77. I was thrilled when I managed to get the vinyl at a store in Kyoto.


(The Golden Era)

(Tracks 1-10)


Songs for my Father - Special Pick: "Me Voy a Pinar Del Rio"

​Next is a list of songs in tribute to my father, who passed away in January. He laid the foundation for my love of Latin music. Childhood memories involve Sundays with him playing Cuban records. Many songs were on high rotation, and I came to learn from my father’s tastes, which are essentially the roots of salsa. One particular song that I came to like is “Me Voy a Pinar Del Rio” by Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera (1950s). It sits here alongside other great classics which have special meaning for me.


Songs for my Father

(Tracks 1-10)


Missed Gems Discovered in 2021

Special Pick: "Unidos en una Sola Voz"

Being part of a record pool allows DJs to receive promotional tracks before the official launch date and discover new artists they otherwise would not know. In the case of TheLatin Heartbeat Orchestra, there is a twist. I did not know this band (nor their 2018 track "Unidos en una Sola Voz") until they came to my attention in February 2021. Assuming it was a recent release, I was surprised to notice that Spotify indicated that it was actually from 2018! The next list is all about late discoveries.


(Missed Gems Discovered in 2021)

(Tracks 1-10)


Exclusively Cuban Artists

Special Pick: "Soy"

List 8 focuses on Cuban artists, but it is not limited to musicians who live on the island. Take Ex corde, a duo comprising Cuban-born Yacel Sagarra and his Japanese wife. They both reside in Kobe, Japan. From their 2018 album comes a wonderful track with soulful vocals and guitar work by Sagarra. I've always wondered why "Soy" never really became well-known. Consider it a hidden gem and perhaps a potent sign of things to come from this talented singer, songwriter, and bandleader.


Exclusively Cuban Artists

(Tracks 1-10)

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Other Latin Music

Spotlight: Japan

Special Pick: "DRACULA"


Exclusively Japanese Artists