Looking back at spring 2021, this post presents my picks for notable music in the second chart of a four-part series. (The other charts are Early, Summer, and Late 2021). Salsa is my focus, but other genres are included. The total number of songs here is 140, and you can listen to them--combined with the songs from Early 2021--on Spotify or Apple Music.
There are 18 lists in a chart. Lists 1 to 8 are about salsa, with ten songs each. The other lists have five songs. For details on how lists were organized, see the project description.
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 Summer and Late 2021 charts.
All 18 lists are on Spotify and Apple Music--just click on the button at the end of a list. To see all the playlists, click on either of the images below.
A playlist updates with 5 or 10 new songs once a chart gets posted. In other words, since "Spring 2021" is the current chart, the playlists now include songs from both Early and Spring 2021. Also, when you 'like' a playlist, it gets saved to your profile for easy access.
1. CONTEMPORARY SALSA - New
Released in spring 2021
Still Hot from 2020
Special Pick: "Guaguanco psicodelico"
Appearing in every chart this year is the Italian artist El Timba, and his work brings several words to mind: prolific, incredible, infectious. Fresh from his 2020 album Ecleptic is a fantastic array of tracks, each with his trademark flair on the keyboard, in a modern Cuban style yet universal in appeal for dancers of all schools. A standout on this album is the guitar-infused "Guaguanco psicodelico", which was an instant hit for me, and it is certainly 'still hot' this year. Also included in this list are several exemplary tracks by Tromboranga, Jan Reijnders, Shekere Latin Band, and Henry Benavides. Evidently, 2020 was a very good year—many songs are aging well.
2. CONTEMPORARY SALSA - Recent
(Still Hot from 2020)
Winners from the 2010s
Special Pick: "Insha'allah"
I refer to tracks from the 2010s that are still on my playlists these days as 'anthems'. They have stood the test of time. Listed are some fabulous tunes by La Maxima 79, El Timba, Orquesta Akokán, Santy Montega y Mañambo, and others. But among these are a special few which still give me goosebumps even after all these years. One such track is Jimmy Saa’s "Insha’allah" from his 2016 album El Embajador. Grab some good headphones and lose yourself in the multi-layered percussive play which intertwines so masterfully under Saa’s vocals.
3. CONTEMPORARY SALSA - Anthems
(Winners From the 2010s)
The Millenial Era
Special Pick: "Planté Bandera"
Songs from around the turn of the century have special meaning, as this was when I started deejaying seriously, exploring and acquiring lots of music. Mentioned here are some great tracks by incredible artists and bands, such as Jimmy Bosch, Raulin Rosendo, La-33, and Johnny Polanco Y su Conjunto Amistad. Particularly nostalgic for me is Tego Calderon’s 2003 cover version of "Planté Bandera", a song already well established in the pantheon of classics, with Tommy Olivencia’s hit from 1975 featuring Chamaco Ramirez as a gold standard. Of course some people do not share my opinion because the gruff sounding vocals by Calderon which set apart his signature reggaeton style are not for everyone, but I think this is in fact a great example of breaking the rules and getting away with it—a mark of genius.
4. Contemporary SALSA - nostalgic
(The Millennial Era)
The Golden Era
Special Pick: "Perico Macona"
It is always a meaningful treat to replay the classics, which serve as the foundation for where salsa is today. With so much amazing material to go over it is difficult to be selective, but for this chart I give special mention to "Perico Macona" by Angel Canales. This tune is spell-binding. I love the choppy percussion and how his vocal tone matches it so well. He is such a talented singer, and this one is among his most recognized -- a truly unique song. While I chose to highlight Canales, I could easily have gone with Hector Rivera, The Brooklyn Sounds, or Cortijo — all their tracks here are signature classics which I hold in high regard.
5. CLASSIC SALSA
(The Golden Era)
Songs for my Father
Special Pick: "Tres Lindas Cubanas"
We come to a special list next, one that highlights songs from my childhood and played by my father, a lover of Cuban music, especially from the 50s and 60s—evidently my basic foundation for what would become a love for salsa and Latin music in general. When I played a tribute set shortly after my father passed away in January 2021, I compiled songs which I recalled as his favourites. The playlist pool grew very long, and I present a few of them here. Without question, included are some absolute essentials: Beny Moré, Trio Matamoros, and Orquesta Aragon. For this chart, I will spotlight the latter, with their rendition of "Tres Lindas Cubanas", a Cuban standard composed by guitarist and singer Guillermo Castillo García, and featuring the master flautist Richard Egües.
6. THE ROOTS OF SALSA
Songs for my Father
Missed Gems Discovered in 2021
Special Pick: "Al Cubano"
Among several amazing tunes I came across in 2021 which were way past their release date is a son in the new style by the Colombian band Cuba Libre. You could be forgiven for assuming this group was comprised solely of Cuban musicians, not just because of the band name but also because their style of sound could easily pass as Cuban — but one could argue that it’s not so simple as that; certainly Cuba Libre has its unique sound, too. Regardless, several layers of instrumentation in "Al Cubano" make this song both atmospheric yet explosive. It qualifies as a "missed gem" because it blew right past me in 2017, and I failed to discover it until much later--which is basically criminal. The same can be said for the incredible compilation of Frankie Vazquez’s work — also released in 2017 — which "Alabanciosa" serves to represent here.
7. BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
(Missed Gems Discovered in 2021)
Exclusively Cuban Artists
Special Pick: "La Chica de 20"
List #8 focuses on modern Cuban songs. I include this exclusive list not out of a certain bias, but simply because I claim some familiarity with the signature sound of Cuban music since I grew up listening to it and therefore it deserves a list on its own. (To clarify, I cannot claim enough knowledge about the salsa output from other salsa regions, such as Peru, Colombia and Venezuela — with apologies to music fans of those wonderful gold mines of salsa). Among the ten Cuban songs I have selected for this chart are several killers, namely those by Pupy y Los Que Son Son, Manolito Simonet, Maykel Blanco, and Elito Revé y su Charangón (with whom I had the pleasure of deejaying at their live concert in Kyoto). But I will spotlight "La Chica de 20" (2019) by Dairo Todd and La Existencia. This is a very catchy tune with entertaining lyrics about a capricious 20 year-old woman having caught the attention of the singer. The music video is a joy to watch, too. Of particular note is both the work on trombone and the vocals by Todd. Based in Milan, Italy, he is supported by some incredible piano and percussion. Credits for composition go to both Todd and the prolific Italian artist Fabrizio Lozo.
8. SPOTLIGHT: Cuba
Exclusively Cuban Artists
Other Latin Music
Special Pick: "Turn Your Lights Down Low"
9. SPOTLIGHT: Japan
Exclusively Japanese Artists