Luis Enrique Shares His Picks for Top 5 Salsa Singers of All Time

Omar Cruz
Luis Enrique for Billboard's Greatest of All Time

One of the pioneers of the salsa romántica movement, Luis Enrique knows a thing or two about making music that moves you. Now, the artist affectionately known as “The Prince of Salsa” is back with an uplifting new single, “Yo Voy Pa Encima,” about embracing life even when the odds are stacked against you. Like Marc Anthony’s “Vivir Mi Vida,” it has the potential to reach anthem status.

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But just because he’s a veteran, the Nicaraguan-born salsero never forgets who paved the way. Here in his own words are (in no particular order) five of his greatest musical maestros.  

 

1. Ruben Blades: "He definitely influenced me from a storytelling perspective. Thanks to him, I realized you could have danceable salsa without sacrificing a message. Even if I didn’t write a song myself, I always looked for that deeper layer within my repertoire, the possibility of talking about something real. For instance, one of my best-known songs, 'Date un Chance,' written by my friend Omar Alfanno, came out in 1990 and reflected the reality of the drug epidemic at the time."

2. Celia Cruz: "She was a marvelous being, full of light. Wherever she went, she left this positive energy. With her colleagues, she was generous and humble. One of the first things she said to me -- mind you, I had looked up to her since I was a little boy -- was, 'Luis, you’re one of the good ones. Keep pushing forward and good things will come your way.' That was so special to me. I always looked up to her like this motherly figure."

3. Johnny Pacheco: "I remember a song of his, 'Prestame los Guantes' that intrigued me. It was before I could even understand its controversial lyrical content. The old salsa tended to be very machista. It always portrayed the woman as the cheater, she was the bad one, and so forth. And all of that changed with the romantic salsa movement. I didn’t understand that until much later. So even though I wasn’t paying much attention to the lyrics back then, what drew me to Johnny’s music was that swing. It became his signature. I loved all the work he did with Celia [Cruz] as a producer. He was synonymous with Fania [Records]."

4. Louie Ramirez: "Out of the romantic salsa movement, I really admired what Louie Ramirez did as a producer with the Noche Caliente series. For me that was the spark that jump-started my career. I realized, 'Wow, you can be romantic in salsa. How cool!' Influences are great when you’re not trying to be like that other person or copy them, but rather are moved by them to start your own thing. So all of the Noche Caliente albums were important to me in that way."

5. Oscar D’Leon: "I had the joy of playing with him in Miami when I was just starting out. This was in 1986 or 1987. One of his musicians couldn’t play that night so I filled in for him. I wasn’t so much nervous as I was excited. When you’re young you dare to do lots of things and you have the energy for them. I really just wanted to do a good job that night as a percussionist, which is what I started out as, and from there, great things happened. People always talk about luck. But I think success happens when preparation meets opportunity. I was always a student of this genre, analyzing where it came from, who started it, and I’ve never stopped learning."