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The Year's Music in Review: Summer 2021

Moving along to Part 3 of my picks for notable music in 2021, this chart covers tracks which got my attention in the summer. (Part 1 is Early 2021; Part 2 is Spring 2021; Part 4 is Late 2021). Salsa is my focus, but other genres are included. Listed here are 140 songs, just as in Parts 1 and 2.

Lists 1 to 8 are about salsa, with ten songs each. The other lists have five songs. For information on how lists were organized, see the project description.

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All lists are on Spotify and Apple Music. Just click on either button after each list.

These tracks were added to the lists made for Early 2021 after they were updated with Spring 2021, so they will be numbered on Spotify/Music as 21 to 30 (Lists 1-8) or 11 to 15 (Lists 9-18).

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Released in 2021

Tracks 21-30


Still Hot from 2020

Special Pick: "Mi Guaguanco Sabroso"

Still fresh from last year are several great tracks, among them work by Ricardo Lemvo, Tromboranga, El Timba, and Filosofia. These will certainly be very playable for quite a while. Of special note is a track which seemed to appear out of nowhere by a favourite band of mine from quite a while ago (the 1980s and 1990s!). I am referring to Orquesta La Identidad, of Colombia, from the lovely Zeida label, redubbed as Orquesta Original Identidad. Two decades into the 21st century, here they are with a cracking dance floor filler with band lead Carlos Navia back on vocals. It's an upbeat, powerful, multilayered track demonstrating a slight departure from their signaturely smooth sound from the several albums I possess.


Still Hot from 2020

Tracks 21-30


Winners from the 2010s

Special Pick: "Rumba Nueva"

'Anthems' for me are songs which have stood the test of time from the 2010s. A few make great company here, such as work by Ricky Campanelli, La Candela, and La Maxima 79, but these are all from the latter part of the decade, so their selection is slightly muted since they have been around for only a few years. To emphasize the point about anthems, then, the special pick for this list is from 2010: the title track of Rumba Nueva by Cubanoson, led by Papo Ortega and dubbed "New York's Cuban Orchestra". The song used to sweep me off my feet by its astounding energy and catchy melody. I found myself experiencing the magic again when preparing a playlist for a set commemorating the 20th anniversay of my social event. The power is certainly there, evident with vocals, the melodic chorus, and a strong brass section. Above all, however, is the piano solo halfway through the track--just captivating. It's a very moving song. Much credit then, goes to Papo Ortega himself, credited as composer, piano, vocals, chorus, and bandleader. Truly among the best in the 2010s, I believe.


(Winners From the 2010s)

Tracks 21-30


The Millenial Era

Special Pick: "Xiomara"

In this category of songs from the millenium are tracks which I call 'nostalgic' because they remind me of the time when I started deejaying seriously and collecting a lot of music, especially newly released work. Some heavy hitters are listed, such as tracks by Jimmy Bosch, Africando, Son Boricua, and Louie Ramirez. Especially nostalgic is the cover of "Xiomara" by La Exclusiva, with the incomparable Herman Olivera on vocals and arranged by Oscar Hernandez. The point can be made that since this album was released on vinyl in 1988, it does not fit into this category, but the CD in my possession has a release date of 2005, and that is when it came under my radar, with a very strong impression. This song was among my signature tunes in the mid- and latter 2000s, which explains its inclusion here.

4. Contemporary SALSA - nostalgic

(The Millennial Era)

Tracks 21-30

(Tracks 21-30)


The Golden Era

Special Pick: "Sujetate La Lengua"

There are so many meaningful tracks among the classics, and it's perhaps an injustice to select only ten here. But this list is about a few songs from the 60s and 70s which had some relevance to me in 2021. I never get tired of Eddie Palmieri's "Sujétate La Lengua", which was included in a set a few months ago. His piano work behind the message in the lyrics is just sublime. It never gets old although it is from 1965. The whole album, released on the Tico label, is fantastic, actually. Among the crew are Barry Rogers (trombone), Manny Oquendo (bongos/timbales), and Ismael Quintana (vocals).


(The Golden Era)

Tracks 21-30


Songs for my Father

Special Pick: "Elije Tú, Que Canto Yo"

The next list 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 rather long, and I present a few of them here. Without question, included are some absolute essentials: Arsenio Rodriguez, La Sonora Matancera, Trio Matamoros, and Orquesta Aragon. For this chart, I will spotlight Beny Moré, with his "Elige Tú, Que Canto Yo", a song that states simply the true genius of his imporant contribution to the rich fabric that is Cuban music--and also among the roots of what we call call salsa today. A truly verstatile vocalist who could tackle a range of genres, the lyrics state it simply: choose the song--from whatever genre, whether a son, a guracha, a bolero, a cha cha cha, etc--and he will sing it masterfully. Not truly boastful, it was simply a fact--such was the talent of the incomparable Beny Moré.


Songs for my Father

Tracks 21-30


Missed Gems Discovered in 2021

Special Pick: "El Bravo"

Sometimes I realize I am clueless about certain bands and songs. This list is about great tracks that I discovered well after they were released--a reminder that the world of salsa is vast and has much to offer and you really need to be on your toes to be aware of developments in the industry from all over the world and the appearance of new bands. Well, it appears I was blind to a sensation emerging from Peru: a band called Sabor Y Control. I had bought their track "Dispara Ya" on 7 inch earlier in the year, but knew nothing else about them. Then I started digging and unearthed a load of hidden gems. "El Bravo" is my pick for this list. It is from their 2006 album El Guapo Soy Yo--how I went for 15 years without knowing about it is massively criminal. What a cracker.


(Missed Gems Discovered in 2021)

Tracks 21-30


Exclusively Cuban Artists

Special Pick: "Carbonero Soy"

List #8 focuses on modern Cuban songs. Among the ten I have selected for this chart are several great ones, with an interesting selection representing different aspects of the Cuban style. There is Alaín Perez, a veritable talent seemingly ahead of the times, El Hiijo de Teresa, an experienced vocalist from NG La Banda now leading his own band, and Dairo Todd, part of the Cuban diaspora with residency in Italy. In the spotlight for this list is the result of a project by Soneros All Stars, with the basist and tres player Jan Miklos Bogdan ‘Yanesito’ and the vocalist Pascual Matos Aguirreto. There are elements of both traditional and contemportary sounds, and the work is outstanding, with lovely syncopation and driving, catchy vibes. Notable in addition to the tres and vocals are the brass section, some funky piano, distinct maracas, and the underlying percussion. This is both an audio treat to enjoy with a set of good headphones or with a good partner on the dancefloor.


Exclusively Cuban Artists

Tracks 21-30


Other Latin Music

Spotlight: Japan

Special Pick: "さくら" ("Sakura")

Japan is rich with multi-talented musicians producing Latin music. It is certainly true that salsa has no borders, with musicians from across the world finding purpose and expression in their material, but one could pause to reflect how such flavour and commitment is evident in Japan, with a Latin music scene spanning now many decades. Among recent players is Ayumi "Azucar" Suzuki from Tokyo, with masterful interpretations across several instruments: percussion, timables, piano, and especially vibraphones and marimba. Her 2017 album Oukagekka is a work of art from start to finish, containing only two covers ('Maria Cervantes' and 'Mi Amore'). Among several original compositions and arrangements by Suzuki is the opening track 'Sakura' (meaning 'cherry' in English) which brings to mind the delicate emblem of spring in Japan: cherry blossoms. Besides the masterful vibraphones and marimba by Suzuki in this very moving track is impressive work on violin (Chicho "Isabel" Saito), keyboard (Hiromichi "Yan" Tsugaki) and background congas (Takashi Nakazato). Also notable is the drums (Ludwig Esteban Nuñez). I had the pleasure of meeting the artist herself and getting my CD autographed--among my highlights knowing several musicians here in the country of my residency.


Exclusively Japanese Artists

Tracks 11-15


Full Circle

Special Pick: "Hommage a Tonton Ferrer"

10. SPOTLIGHT: Africa

Full Circle

Tracks 11-15


New & Recent Bachata

Special Pick: "Moriré Por Ella"

11. Spotlight: Bachata

New & Recent

Tracks 11-15


Contemporary Easy Listening

Special Pick: "El Dinero No Es La Vida"


Contemporary Easy Listening

Tracks 11-15


Deep Latin Vibes

Special Pick: "Frenética Guajira"


Classic Boogaloo / Cha cha cha / Son / Guajira

Tracks 11-15


Reggaeton & More

Special Pick: "Subeme La Radio"


Reggaeton & More

Tracks 11-15


Other Genres

Old & New Jamaican Music

Special Pick: "Back to Normal"


Old & New

Tracks 11-15


Old & New African Music

Special Pick: "Kalan Nege"


Old & New

Tracks 11-15


Club Jazz

Special Pick: "Biri Bori"

17. SPOTLIGHT: Club Jazz

Acid-/Nu-/Funk-Jazz & Broken Beat

Tracks 11-15


Upbeat Vibes

Special Pick: "Lush"


Upbeat Vibes

Tracks 11-15


Bonus: Inspiring Mixes of Summer 2021

Salsa from French West Indies

CoBeatParty Day 60

Sunday Night Salsa Session #15

Doin' it w/ Salsa Grooves, Part 2

Mambo on Wax on Bangers



Although the charts mention 2021, only one list is exclusively for 2021 releases (List #1).

Songs in the other lists have been chosen because they were somehow relevant to me in 2021. For example, lists 2 to 5 have salsa tracks from other years, but they were used in DJ sets this year. List 6 is a selection prepared for a tribute to my late father, who passed away in 2021. List 7 features salsa discovered in 2021 but from earlier years, et cetera.

The basic criteria is that songs were chosen for some personal relevance in 2021.

It goes without saying that song selection for any list is subjective. My intention is just to share songs which had meaning for me in 2021, regardless of release date. In order to give value, cohesion, and relevance, I carefully organized these lists. However, this project was for fun, so in no way are the lists intended to be authoritative. Besides, I cannot conceivably know the full range of possible songs relevant to a certain category.

Finally, a top-10 (or top-5) ranking style has been avoided. Instead, songs are listed in alphabetical order by title.

Let me know what you think about these lists. Any recommendations for summer 2021? Are there any songs that were personally significant for you regardless of release year?


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