The songs of Latin America are cornerstones of my family’s foundation. Their journey is my road of redemption – when I need inspiration, strength, joy, wisdom, love – I find it in the music of my heritage. Resilience, these days, is more than a necessity — and for that too, I turn to the music of Mexico and Latin America, and the diverse artists inspired by the rhythm of two continents joined together.
Here’s a favorite list I often rely on. Enjoy!
“Yo Ya Me Voy”
The plain and plaintiff words of this traditional canto cardenche, a form of Mexican acappella music, never fails to move me: “Echenme su bendicion, que ya me voy. Mis padres me dicen: mira hijo, no te vayas.” This version is performed by the Coro Acardenchado, under the direction of Juan Pablo Villa.
Ricardo Arjona wrote and composed this corrido of the migrant refugee. One lyric within a dozen masterful reflections says it all: “El mojado esta mojado por las lágrimas que evoke la nostalgia.”
“Canto del Bracero”
Eugenia León and Trio Los Morales interpret this homage to nostalgia and necessity written in triple metre by Rubén Méndez del Castillo. Méndez’ use of 3/3 time — the language of old dances such as the waltz and mazurka — reminds us that modern policy issues are born from old memories.
The uber wonderful Peruvian ensemble Akinee interprets this classic bolero by Roberto Cantoral. “Nomás nos queda esta noche.” Hasn’t it always been thus?
This hip hop anthem from Bomba Estereo, indelibly captured by Sarai Isaura Gonzalez, desarolló el swag. Or, in the words of NPR’s Felix Contreras—greatness doesn’t diminish with less volume.
“I Want to Be in America”
Okay, this is not a Latin American song. It’s Rita Moreno and George Chakiris being subversive. Same thing, right?
“Gracias a la Vida”
I love watching Mercedes Sosa rock out to a folk song while Joan Baez beams. Chile’s Violetta Parrawrote this classic ode to life. Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto. Always.
This traditional Mexican folk song fused a legend with music and means many things to different women: strength, sorrow, independence, regret, defiance. This version is performed by Alana Ubach and Antonio Sol for Pixar’s Oscar winner, “Coco.”
Composer Consuelo Velazquez was a badass musician who wrote arguably the most badass song of all times. As of 2005, the year of her death, performances of Besame Mucho reached two million, and hundreds of artists have covered it. This version by Cesaria Evora is by far one of the best.
“Volver a los 17”
Let’s give the last song on the list to Violeta Parra — which is never a bad choice. Revered as the mother of Nueva Cancion, muse to Pablo Neruda, her artistry and storytelling chops are beautifully showcased in this performance by Mercedes Sosa, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento and Gal Costa. Here, Latin America’s diverse artistry asks a question and answers it. There’s no returning to our youth except through remembrance. And, whatever feelings can discover, knowledge never can:
Volver a los diecisiete
Después de vivir un siglo
Es como descifrar signos
Sin ser sabio competente
Volver a ser de repente
Tan frágil como un segundo
Volver a sentir profundo
Como un niño frente a Dios
Eso es lo que siento yo
En este instante fecundo