Latin

From Celia Cruz to Rafa Pabón, 10 Emblematic Afro Latin songs to Discover

Celia Cruz
KMazur/WireImage

Celia Cruz

Celebrating Black History Month, here are some of our favorite tracks celebrating Afro Latino heritage

As we enter week two of Black History Month, we’ve rounded up some of our all-time and current favorite Afro Latin tracks, classics that were not only performed by Black Latin artists, but that also celebrate Afro Latino culture. From Celia Cruz’s “Quimbara” to Danay Suárez’s “Yo aprendí;” from Grupo Niche’s quintessential “Cali Pachanguero” to “Rafa Pabón’s” “Sin Aire,” here are 10 tracks you need to add to your playlist.

Celia Cruz, "Quimbara" Live in Zaire, Africa, with Fania, 1974

So many songs by Cruz could and should be on this list. This time, we settled on her seminal “Químbara,” performed live with the Fania All Stars in Zaire in one of the most exhilarating performances ever by the “Queen of Salsa.” And, considering how top grade every Cruz performance was, this is no small compliment.

Danay Suarez: “Yo aprendí”

The Cuban rapper has more current music, but this heady mesh of hip hop and electronica and fine, fine, soulful lyrics that remind us what’s right and wrong, is still mesmerizing 10 years after its release.

Grupo Niche, "Cali Pachanguero"

The ultimate homage to Colombia’s capital of salsa, “Cali Pachanguero” is also the best-known song from a group whose very name -- Niche is slang for Black in some countries -- celebrates Black Colombia and was crucial in developing Colombia's salsa and spawned a generation of  singers. Sadly, there is no "official" music video, much less one featuring the late legendary founder and bandleader Jairo Varela. But this gives you an idea.

ChocQuibTown, "Qué Lástima"

So many songs by this Colombian trio from Chocó could be here. But this new track with Panama's Sech highlights a new sound and aesthetic. Fun fact: ChocQuibTown's Goyo and Flow are the younger cousins of Niche's Varela.

Orishas with Beatriz Luengo and Ara Malikian, "Amame como soy" 

Cuba’s groundbreaking hip-hop trio, led by Yotuel Romero, pushes the boundaries yet again with this breathtaking collaboration with Romero’s Spanish wife, Beatriz Luengo, and violinist Ara Malikian.

Herencia de Timbiqui, “Sabrás”

Colombia’s Herencia is a blend of many cultures from that country, but their essence is their Afro Latino heritage. “Sabrás” is a ballad, a departure. But by incorporating the percussion and marimba of Colombia’s Pacific Coast, the group drives home their music’s universal appeal.

Rafa Pabón, Sin Aire

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Puerto Rican rapper Pabón wrote one of the most chilling, and compelling responses. “I’m guilty, of my curly hair and my thick lips, if being Black is a crime, then arrest me,” says Pabón in the impactful “Sin Aire” (Without Air).

Joe Arroyo, Rebelión

The late Arroyo’s story of an enslaved couple in colonial-era Cartagena continues to captivate music lovers worldwide.

Susana Baca, "Negra Presuntuosa"

Black Perú’s best known musical ambassador is the exquisite Baca and her elegant folk which celebrates her African roots. Watch the enticing, entreating “Negra Presuntuosa.”

Aymée Nuviola, “Dónde Estabas Anoche,” feat. Septeto Santiaguero

Nuviola is reminiscent of Celia Cruz in her powerful vocals and assertive stage presence. But this 2021 Grammy nominee (for Best Latin Jazz Album) has a style and sass that’s all her own (plus a killer afro). We love this track, and video alongside venerable Septeto Santiaguero, from her A Journey Through Cuba, which won a 2020 Grammy for Best Tropical Album.

Alex Cuba, “Esta situación” 

Cuba brings contemporary flair and romantic lyrics to the tradition of the Cuban troubadour.