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How Gloria Estefan Crossed Latin Music Boundaries On Her Second Spanish-Language Album, 'Abriendo Puertas'

Gloria Estefan in 1995

Photo by Steve Eichner/Getty Images

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How Gloria Estefan Crossed Latin Music Boundaries On Her Second Spanish-Language Album, 'Abriendo Puertas'

25 years after its release, GRAMMY.com looks back on Estefan's sixth studio album, which in English translates to "Opening Doors"

GRAMMYs/Sep 25, 2020 - 08:31 pm

Once considered a left field move, predominantly English-language hitmakers recording material in Spanish is now very much a norm. Jennifer Lopez, Nelly Furtado and Pitbull have all released full-length albums paying tribute to their Latin American heritage, while more recently Justin Bieber’s collaboration with Luis Fonsi inspired almost every one of his peers to dig deep into their phrasebooks.

Back in the mid-1990s, however, the idea of a three-time US Hot 100 chart-topper singing an entire album in a different tongue was considered a momentum-killing career choice. Yet Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra ended up spending a still-record-breaking 58 weeks at the Billboard Top Latin Albums number one spot, won the Best Tropical Latin Album GRAMMY and shifted more than 1.2 million domestic copies to become the U.S.’s sixth biggest-selling Latin record of all time.

Little surprise, therefore, that Estefan didn’t waste much time returning to such triumphant territory. Only the English-language Christmas Through Your Eyes and covers album Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me stood in between Mi Tierra and 1995’s Abriendo Puertas (translated as Opening Doors), an even more curious Latin affair which explored far beyond the boleros and danzóns of her Cuban beginnings.

The seeds for Estefan's sixth solo effort were sown a year earlier when her other half, Emilio, discovered the talents of Kike Santander, a former jingle writer who’d just worked with Venezuelan icon José Luis Rodríguez, a.k.a. "El Puma." Santander was subsequently tasked with penning all 10 tracks on Abriendo Puertas, an entirely different approach from the highly collaborative nature of its Latin predecessor which roped in the likes of mambo pioneer Cachao and regular Estefan cohort Jon Secada.

A proud Colombian, Santander used this opportunity to showcase the sounds of his homeland in front of an audience bigger than ever before: at this stage, Shakira, another Emilio protégé, was still very much a local concern.

One of several ventures into the traditional Colombian folk music known as vallenato, the opening title track immediately set the tone ahead. Like much of the album, Emilio’s jaunty accordion riffs blend effortlessly with Edwin Bonilla's primitive yet potent percussion on a carnival-friendly alternative to "Auld Lang Syne."

Yes, although Abriendo Puertas sounds tailor-made for a backyard barbecue in the height of July, it's essentially Estefan's second dedication to the Christmas holidays, albeit one more focused on the end than the beginning. "I tell you from my heart/That the New Year will be better," she promises on the eponymous number.

A similar sense of optimism runs throughout. On "Tres Deseos," Estefan delivers platitudes such as "May dreams come true/A future of prosperity/May a better world flourish/May there be peace in the heart." And on the joyous party anthem of "La Parranda," she toasts to both the "New Year and the New Year that left."

Of course, as with Mi Tierra, the majority of Abriendo Puertas’ buyers are unlikely to have understood a word of Estefan's well wishes. Only the distant sound of church bells on "Más Allá"—the flamenco-tinged ballad she performed during her historic audience with Pope John Paul II—offers any kind of musical nod to the yuletide season.

But no matter what the occasion, the album’s continually sunny disposition and authentic instrumentation instantly conjures up visions of Latin America’s lush green landscapes, and not just those in Santander’s homeland, either.

Although its danceable beats are steeped in the traditional Colombian style of currulao, album highlight "Farolito" also makes use of the Paraguayan harp. The irresistible "Nuevo Dia," meanwhile, throws in a little of the Cuban salsa flavor that permeated Miami Sound Machine's pre-crossover work. And Estefan’s producer husband cleverly interweaves elements of the Dominican merengue, Peruvian cumbia and rhythms originating from Panama, Mexico and Puerto Rico throughout.

Of course, Estefan’s mainstream output had often took inspiration from various parts of Latin America. See the bilingual samba of "Oye Mi Canto (Hear My Voice)" or the tribal Afro-Cuban percussion of "Conga" and "Rhythm’s Gonna Get You," for example. But Abriendo Puertas was the first time that she’d committed to the idea of a Latino hybrid entirely free from any Americanized influences whatsoever. Sure, its roots may lie in Colombia, but the album has no qualms about crossing geographical barriers to celebrate the rich history of Latin music as a whole.

This sense of adventure impressed the majority of critics, too, with the Chicago Tribune declaring, "It is wholly unlike anything she—or anyone else—has done before" and The New York Times describing the record as "a set of well-made, drivingly danceable music that for all its synthesis never seems like exoticism." A second Best Tropical Latin Album GRAMMY would also follow a year later.

Abriendo Puertas is undoubtedly the most ambitious of Estefan’s Latin fare—as its title suggests 2000's Alma Caribeña focused on Caribbean soul, while 2007’s 90 Millas was another love letter to her native Cuba. And yet it’s possibly the most forgotten, too. It could only peak at No.67 in the fall of 1995 and was the first Estefan album not to reach platinum status.

Furthermore, the Estefans’ relationship with the man responsible for the album’s boundary-breaking style soured significantly at the turn of the century. Santander, who also contributed to 1996 follow-up Destiny and 1998’s club-focused Gloria!, sued Emilio over a dispute about his contract and payment terms, and even accused him of taking unearned production credits before later dropping the case. 

Nevertheless, Estefan appears to remain proud of their first collaborative effort. 2020’s Brazil305, in which she gives 18 of her own songs a samba makeover, features two Abriendo Puertas numbers (“Más Allá” and the title track). The latter also became a staple of her live shows, while “Tres Deseos” was given a new lease of life on stage thanks to a mash-up with Destiny cut “Higher.”

And with contemporary acts such as Paloma Mami, Anitta and Rosalía – the latter cited by Estefan as one of her modern-day favorites – now further bridging Latin American divides, Abriendo Puertas’ door-opening intentions appear to have paid off.

17th Latin GRAMMYs Slated For Nov. 17

Photo: Rodrigo Varela/WireImage.com

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17th Latin GRAMMYs Slated For Nov. 17

The Biggest Night in Latin Music returns to Las Vegas at T-Mobile Arena; Latin GRAMMY nominations to be announced Sept. 21

GRAMMYs/Jul 6, 2016 - 03:00 pm

The 17th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 17, and will broadcast live on the Univision Network from 8–11 p.m. ET/PT (7 p.m. Central). The Road To The Latin GRAMMYs will kick off with the announcement of this year's nominees on Sept. 21.

Latin GRAMMY Week will launch Nov. 15 with the third annual En La Mezcla, an event spotlighting nominees in the producing and engineering fields. On Nov. 16 The Latin Recording Academy will host the Special Awards Presentation, which honors Lifetime Achievement and Trustees Award recipients, followed by the 2016 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year gala.

Wrapping the week will be the highly anticipated Latin GRAMMY Premiere — where 85 percent of the Latin GRAMMY Awards will be presented live on LatinGRAMMY.com — leading into the 17th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards telecast. Culminating the excitement is the Official Latin GRAMMY After-Party following the telecast on Nov. 17.

For more information, follow The Latin Recording Academy on Twitter and Facebook.

The Magic Of ESSENCE 25th Anniversary Celebration: "It's Like A Family Reunion Even Though You Don't Know Everybody Here"

Mary J. Blige

Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images

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The Magic Of ESSENCE 25th Anniversary Celebration: "It's Like A Family Reunion Even Though You Don't Know Everybody Here"

"Being able to celebrate black culture at this magnitude means everything because we've never had anything like this," MC Lyte said

GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2019 - 04:57 am

New Orleans' Central Business District looked starkly different Monday morning as city locals hurried to work in ties and business attire. Gone were the crowds of people walking around in the heat of the southern city in their most fabulous summer outfits as R&B, hip-hop, soul and more took over the Big Easy's Superdome once again for ESSENCE Fest 25th anniversary

This year locals and those from far and wide came together to watch performances from iconic artists like Missy Elliott and Mary J. Blige and hitmakers like Pharrell Williams and Timbaland to emerging artists like Normani and H.E.R at the biggest festival celebration of black culture in the country that took place July 5–7. But the festival was more than just music, it was a space where conversations around food, politics, business and more.  

While the fest has happened in New Orleans since its inception, this year was different for great reason. The fest, born out of ESSENCE magazine aimed mostly to its black female readership, celebrated 25 years of brining different parts of black culture under one roof and the musical artists performing reflected on the milestone. MC Lyte, who curated one of the ESSENCE events that took over the venues all over the city, with women in hip-hop broke down why the fest means so much. 

"Being able to celebrate black culture at this magnitude means everything because we've never had anything like this. Growing up, we certainly didn;t at least in my era and even now to date. The ESSENCE Music Festival is truly one of a kind," she said. 

For some performers like New Orleans native  PJ Morton, the 25th anniversary was a very special moment as it brought him back full-circle.  

"I've been going to this festival since I was 14 years old and really changed my life as far as wanting to be a musician and seeing how it was presented, " he said. "When ESSENCE asked me to be a part [of the festival] again, I said 'I just don't want to play it again, I've played it before, let's do something special. Especially to kind of commemorate all these things, winning the GRAMMY award this year and me being able to come home. Part of winning that GRAMMY and writing those songs and making that album was me leaving L.A. and moving back home to new Orleans three years ago, so for me it was just a perfect full-circle moment to do a recording."

The singer made history during the night of his performance by recording a live album at the fest for the first time ever.

But he wasn't the only local with special ties to the fest. Rising star Normani, also a big easy native and first time performer at the fest, shared why the fest is so special to her.

"I'm grateful that I can finally be a part of it. For as long as I can remember growing up ESSENCE was ESSENCE and it's just really coolfor me to be a prt of it. My grandmother, she came, my nanny came,  my uncles they came out too and it's beautiful for me to be able to really represent my city in such a way, she said."

The opportunity to talk and have conversations with other women in particular is what excites singer Mumu Fresh the most about the festival. "[Women] who are affirming you and just sharing their stories."

"It's like a family reunion even though you don't know everybody here.They've shared your experience and everyone's just loving and gorgeous, all day long I've been walking by strangers who have been like 'YES hair, YES shoes YES face' and I'm like 'Awww heeyy, you too.' It's really fun, it's really beautiful."

NAO Talks Vulnerability & Being Black And British At ESSENCE Fest

Rosalía Cries A Literal River In "Bagdad"

Rosalía

Photo: Sam Wasson/Getty Images

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Rosalía Cries A Literal River In "Bagdad"

In the video for her first release since she took home two Latin GRAMMYs last month, the Spanish artist makes the pop classic "Cry Me A River" beat on the track come to life

GRAMMYs/Dec 7, 2018 - 12:34 am

Back on Nov. 15, Rosalía took home her first two Latin GRAMMY Awards for "Malamente," the lead single from her sophomore album El Mal Querer, showcasing the wide appeal of her unique pop-infused and hip-hop-inspired take on classic Spanish Flamenco music. Fast-forward to Dec. 4, when the rising star dropped the fourth single from the album, "Bagdad," complete with another stunning visual accompaniment. The song builds off the beat from Justin Timberlake's 2002 GRAMMY-winning classic "Cry Me A River," so it seems only fitting that Rosalía would fill an entire room with her tears.

In her Tweet announcing the video, she shares (in both Spanish and English) that it is, "For all those who were heartbroken and drowned in their sorrow."

The video, directed by French artist Helmi, shows Rosalía donning a long blonde wig and red spandex bodysuit in a dimly lit adult entertainment club, with approximately three minutes of the video dedicated to her sobbing in the bathroom until it fills completely with her tears. While the video is stylistically simpler than her others from the album, in which she highlights plenty of Spanish cultural subjects, it too finds inspiration from her native Barcelona, with religious undertones and the inspiration of a specific club, also named Bagdad.

Read More: Latin GRAMMY Winners Karol G, Rosalía, Maluma & More Share Excitement On Social Media

In a track-by-track of the album, Rosalia told Beats 1 about the inspiration behind the song, which shines through in the video, and about her excitement that Timberlake approved her interpretation of on his song. "I was very inspired by an erotic club in Barcelona called Bagdad and by 'Cry Me a River' by Justin Timberlake. He heard the song and said, 'Yes, you can use the melody'; I was so excited because he never approves anything."

"Cry Me A River" was Timberlake's second single released as a solo artist, from his debut solo album Justified. Both the single and the album earned him his first GRAMMY wins at the 46th GRAMMY Awards, where he took home Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album for each, respectively.

Timberlake has made news recently for having to unfortunately postpone shows on his Man Of The Woods Tour due to bruised vocal chords. Hopefully he sees a speedy recover after some rest and doesn't have to cry anyone any rivers in the meantime.

Rosalía Shouts-Out Lauryn Hill, Kate Bush And More Women During Latin GRAMMY Speech

Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind

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Watch Celia Cruz Win Best Salsa Performance At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind

"You guys are going to give me a heart attack!" the Queen Of Salsa exclaimed as she accepted her golden gramophone in the year 2000

GRAMMYs/Oct 4, 2019 - 10:08 pm

In the year 2000, at the first-ever Latin GRAMMY Awards, Cuban salsa icon Celia Cruz accepted a golden gramophone for Best Salsa Performance for her famed live album A Night Of Salsa.

Dancing up to the stage to accept her award, the blue-haired performer exclaimed in Spanish, "This is really a surprise! You guys are going to give me a heart attack!"

"I would like to thank God because he has given me the opportunity to be here with you," she continued. "I want to thank the Academy. I want to thank my husband Pedro Knight, who is here tonight. And for this award, I want to dedicate it to and thank La India, who worked with me on this album. To the Maestro, Johnny Pacheco, my divine God. To my brother, wo has left us but tonight, Tito Puente."

Watch Cruz's acceptance speech above in our latest edition of GRAMMY Rewind

Watch Shakira Win Best Pop Vocal For "Ojos AsÍ" At The First-Ever Latin GRAMMYs | GRAMMY Rewind