10 Essential Colombian Albums: From Salsa To Cumbia & Reggaetón
Monsieur Periné

Photo: Alejandra Quintero


10 Essential Colombian Albums: From Salsa To Cumbia & Reggaetón

From J Balvin's reggaetón to the pioneering salsa of Fruko and the splendor of Leonor González Mina, these 10 albums offer an introduction to the broad landscape of Colombian music.

GRAMMYs/Oct 12, 2022 - 03:41 pm

From vallenato and cumbia to salsa and rock, Colombia is one of the most musical places in the world. Because of its strategic location, it assimilated styles from other regions and incorporated them into its own, stubbornly idiosyncratic stew.

Barely restrained passion is an apt description for most Colombian genres — from the giddy speed of its pioneering salsa brand, to the tragic narratives of vallenato lore and the fleshy sensuality of cutting-edge reggaetón. Tracing the development of Colombian popular music from the ‘60s to the present, these 10 albums offer an introduction to a land of wonders.

Leonor González Mina - Cantos de mi Tierra y de mi Raza (1964)

There is a stately, almost otherworldly feel to this session of Colombian Afro genres – the debut of cultural icon Leonor González Mina, known as la negra grande de Colombia.

Born in the Valle del Cauca department in 1934 — and still with us — she began her artistic career touring the world with a dance company, and recorded this album when she returned home. It breathes and sways to the golden era of Colombian music, when virtuoso bandleaders such as Lucho Bermúdez and Pacho Galán infused traditional folk formats with the cosmopolitan swagger of big band jazz. There are some wondrous cumbias here — "Canoa Ranchera" would be covered by Grupo Niche in the ‘90s — but it is Leonor’s voice that steals the show.

La Banda Nueva - La Gran Feria (1973)

Leave it to Colombian musicians to create a prog-rock masterpiece with a tinge of salsa and a healthy sense of humor. The Bogota quartet formed by Orlando Betancur — former member of ‘60s rock group Los Flippers – was short-lived, but La Gran Feria will remain in memory as one of the grand Latin albums of the ‘70s.

There are echoes of Argentinian supergroup Sui Generis in this tender, vulnerable and hippiesque trip into the adventurous youth culture of the time. Hit single "Emiliano Pinilla" brims with Afro-Caribbean euphoria, whereas "El Blues del Bus" traverses the treacherous streets of Bogota and "La Gran Feria" would make early Yes proud.

Fruko - El Grande (1975)

Yes, it’s a salsa record — but it’s also so much more than that. At the time, Fruko y sus Tesos was one of the most epic orchestras in Latin America, combining the prodigious talent of arranger, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist Julio Ernesto Estrada ("Fruko," because he looked just like the character drawn on a can of tomato sauce) and his two stars, singer/songwriters Joe Arroyo and Wilson "Saoko" Manyoma.

Go beyond the timeless mega-hit "El Preso" and you will find the James Brown-inspired funkathon of "Confundido," the wickedly psychedelic "Flores Silvestres" and the sweet melody that permeates "Manyoma," among other delights.

Joe Arroyo – Fuego En Mi Mente (1988)

As a teen, Arroyo performed in the brothels of his native Cartagena, and the sounds of calypso, reggae and funk that arrived in the busy port town influenced the creation of his own frantic and mellifluous subgenre, the joe-son.

Arroyo tasted stardom as a member of Fruko y sus Tesos, but his creativity as a singer/songwriter peaked with his own band, La Verdad, and the albums he recorded for Discos Fuentes in the ‘80s. Famously covered by Juanes, "La Noche" is a love letter to the luster of Afro-Caribbean nights. A raucous cumbión, "A Mi Dios Todo Le Debo" addresses the divine intervention that pulled him from a coma and gave him a second lease of life. "Las Cajas" distills his essence — a pan-tropical performer of unerring instinct and charisma.

Grupo Niche – Sutil y Contundente (1989)

With Jairo Varela’s Grupo Niche, salsa gained in tightness and attitude, lurid moral fables and magical realism. A self-taught songwriter and bandleader from the province of Chocó, Varela left this world in 2012 at age 62, but left behind a rich discography.

This late ‘80s session is one of his best, if only for the inclusion of slow-boiling scorchers like "Miserable" and "Bar y Copas." Both gain in intensity thanks to the delivery of Puerto Rican singer Tito Gómez, whom Varela poached from the venerable Sonora Ponceña after both orchestras coincided in a festival. Watch for the spiraling synth melodies that bring Niche’s salsa an inch away from bubblegum pop.

Diomedes Díaz & Juancho Rois – Título de Amor (1993)

A one-way ticket to vallenato heaven, this 1993 session finds the beloved singer/songwriter Diomedes Díaz and accordion genius Juancho Rois at the highest point of their creative partnership. From Díaz’s self-penned opener "Mi Primera Cana" (where the discovery of a first white hair leads to a bitter meditation on lost youth and romantic disappointment) to the hypnotic melody of "Tú Eres La Reina," this session soars from beginning to end. Sadly, Rois died in a plane crash at 35 on the way to a gig, while Díaz succumbed to a heart attack in 2013 at age 56.

Aterciopelados – Caribe Atómico (1998)

There was punky anger and irreverence to spare in the initial recordings of the duo formed by vocalist Andrea Echeverri and multi-instrumentalist Héctor Buitrago — in concert, a ball of fire. But by the time they released their fourth effort in 1998, the Aterciopelados persona had matured into an inspired melding of Latin trip-hop and fuzzy tropical rock. In retrospect, this is one of the tightest albums of its era — check out the bass line on "Humor y Alquitrán" — and Echeverri’s gorgeous vocals positively soar.

Carlos Vives – El Amor de mi Tierra (1999)

A former soap opera star, Vives single-handedly renewed Colombian music with a pop-rock hybrid that drew from the heart-wrenching vallenato genre, which he called "the rock’n’roll of his land."

Hopeful, sentimental and endlessly romantic — colored by folk instruments like the gaita flute and the feisty accordion lines of master player Egidio Cuadrado — the new sound enjoyed critical and commercial success, and the ever smiling Vives became a worldwide cultural ambassador of his land. El Amor de mi Tierra marks the highest point of his sonic expression, where timeless, self-penned hits are enhanced by his peerless revision of the classic José Barros cumbia "La Piragua."

Monsieur Periné – Caja de Música (2015)

Wonderful as they are, the studio albums of Bogota band Monsieur Periné are a pale reflection of their joyful adrenaline onstage, as singer Catalina García dances in unison to the brass section.

Inspired by the rollicking retro charm of Django Reinhardt and 1930’s gypsy jazz, Periné uses swing harmonies and the subtle shades of French chanson as primary colors in its palette — but there’s also space for reggae, bolero and indie rock. García brings it all together with the clarity and optimism of her voice. This, their second album, is probably their best.

J Balvin – Vibras (2018)

Sometime in the future, an academic paper will be written about the exuberance with which Colombia embraced the reggaetón movement that emerged from Puerto Rico in the early 2000’s — not with the flattery  of imitation, but rather the desire to enhance and transform.

The third album by international urbano star J Balvin, Vibras represents the emergence of 21st century Latin as the new global pop. Who could resist "Mi Gente," with its eerie digital sonics, decadent moombahton pulse and pluralistic idealism ("my music discriminates no one"). From the theatrical beauty of "Brillo" — with a pre-MOTOMAMI Rosalía — to the languid musings of the Carla Morrison-infused opener "Vibras," this is an aural snapshot of Colombia poised for global nomination.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards