Cuba Dreaming: 10 Songs by Cuban Artists

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We’ve all heard the rumors about the potential end of travel restrictions to Cuba for Americans, and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited about the possibility of one day making it to that fascinating country.

Years ago, when my love for Latin music began to blossom, it was Cuba that called out to me again and again. During cold winters in Chicago, I would warm up with an old, seemingly obscure record I bought at a garage sale called “Havana 2 a.m.,” whose enchanting Cuban piano and percussion sounds would leave me thirsty for more.

One steamy summer I listened to Celia Cruz and Xavier Cugat almost exclusively, trying my best to sing along to the words I barely understood (full disclosure: Cugat is Spanish, but adopted Cuban musical styles). I didn’t know enough about Latin music to know that Celia was an icon in the Caribbean and other parts of the world. I just knew that she had a powerful voice that sounded so close even when the bongos and trumpets backing her up sounded so ancient and distant.

“When my love for Latin music
began to blossom, it was Cuba that
called out to me again and again.”

When I would listen to some of these old Cuban songs, I would imagine palm trees, candy-colored buildings and classic cars and think to myself, “Someday I’ll get there.” And in some ways, I’m closer than I’ve ever been. I’m on the island of Hispaniola, after all, and I have a job that doesn’t require that I report to an office. It would be so easy to hop on a boat and go for a weekend trip. Alas, there are rules.

Like many culture-vulture American travelers anxious to explore Havana and every other part of Cuba, I’ll have to wait and be patient, cross my fingers, and see what happens. In the meantime, here are 10 rousing songs in different styles from some of my favorite artists to hold you (and me) over:

1. Celia Cruz & Sonora Matancera, “A Todos Mis Amigos”

2. Perez Prado, “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White”

3. Arsenio Rodriguez, “Papaupa”

4. Bebo Valdes, “Especial de Bebo”

5. La Lupe, “Oriente”

6. Celia Cruz, “Yemaya”

7. Machito & His Afro-Cubans, “Ritmo Caliente”

8. Maria Teresa Vera, “Veinte Años”

9. Mongo Santamaria, “Afro Blue”

10. Cachao, “Descarga Cachao”

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