“Suavemente” may be the most omnipresent merengue classic of all time. Yes, that’s due in part to the multitude of non-Latinx folks who’ve danced (awkwardly) to the energy-filled beat, but above all the song is a mainstay of Latinx family gatherings: holidays, quinceañeras, birthdays and even coed baby showers. “Suavemente” easily fits into our Latinx Family Songbook, a collection of songs played during times of joy — songs that celebrate our culture and our memories.
“I feel honored that ‘Suavemente’ has overcome cultural and generational barriers, and even more so that it is used at family parties in order to unite and bring happiness,” says Elvis Crespo of his seminal song, 22 years after its release.
For Latinx Heritage Month, we chose “Suavemente” and nine more of these most celebrated songs from our shared history — Willie Colon and Héctor Lavoe’s “La Murga”; Joe Arroyo’s “La Rebelión”; Oscar D’León’s “Llorarás”; Daddy Yankee’s “Gasolina”; Toño Rosario’s “Kulikitaka”; El Gran Combo’s “Brujeria”; Fernandito Villalona’s “Tabaco y Ron”; Wilfrido Vargas’ “Abusadora”; and La Sonora Dinamita’s “Se Me Perdió La Cadenita” — and asked artists to share their memories of and love for them. Cheers to our música.
“For a Colombian my age and older — and I might suspect younger as well — ‘La Rebelión’ is a synonym for nighttime and the sound we recognize from the very first parties we attended at age 13 or so. Way before understanding who El Joe [Arroyo] is and what he means for our culture, you love him through dancing. ‘La Rebelión’ is the soundtrack to striking up a conversation with the girl you’ve liked since forever and you finally have a chance to spend six quality minutes with her. It’s not only a song you listen to, it is a song you live.” – Daniel Álvarez (Diamante Eléctrico)
“Fernandito Villalona’s ‘Tabaco y Ron’ for me is a peculiar merengue because of the rhythm it has. Since I was a child I listened to it, and it’s a well-coupled merengue and I like it because it is contagious. It is one of the strongest and most popular merengues that has been made in the Dominican Republic, and internationally.” – El Chaval de la Bachata
“Se me perdió la cadenita/Se me perdió la cadenita! is a song that reminds me a lot of my childhood at family parties. The whole family listened to it and got up to dance! Today I continue to listen to it at some of my events before starting a performance.” – Julian Mercado
“‘Suavemente’ is so special to me because a friend of mine taught me how to dance merengue with it. It’s just such a classic Latin song, and I love that it pops up where you least expect it. The first time I heard it was at a friend’s house in Houston. We got home and her mom was dancing while cleaning the house. I never forgot how happy it made her to get in cleaning mode to Elvis Crespo.
“I’ll never forget how hard we laughed, and it also surprised me how well known it was outside of Latin countries. After that I kept hearing it at every single wedding I went to and in the most random places, like Grand Theft Auto IV. I even heard it recently in the background of Jimin’s [from K-pop group BTS] IG Stories! It’s just the song that’s basically a guaranteed good time, and it makes me so proud to be Latina that anyone around the world can get a kick out of belting that “¡Suavemente Besame!” – KORDELYA
“Elvis Crespo’s ‘Suavemente’ and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Gasolina’ mean a lot to me, because they remind me of when I was a child. At the time my mother was alive, and [these songs] remind me a lot of her. All my youth I was dancing to those songs; they were the ones that inspired me to be a musician.” – DJ Conds
“‘Gasolina’ by Daddy Yankee is part of the soundtrack of my life. That song made me fall in love with reggaeton, and with time Yankee became my favorite artist.” – El Uniko
“Wilfrido Vargas’ ‘Abusadora’ transports me to those quinces or weddings that last until dawn and to get people amped, they put on the song and everyone gets up to dance.” – Katie Angel
“In general La Sonora Dinamita was present practically all my childhood. The influence it had on my tastes [and on my decision to] dedicate my life to cumbia is very direct; there was no party or celebration in which my grandparents and/or uncles did not put their music on. My great uncle Pancho could dance forever — there was no way to get him off the dance floor (the living room of the house). Of course, ‘Se Me Perdió La Cadenita’ was one of his favorites. He could spend whole afternoons dancing to the rhythm, in the company of the cumbia, livening up our days with his joy. A great guy, a good man, he and the music of La Sonora Dinamita gave us beautiful moments.” – Jordan
“In 1998 I was beginning my international career and I had to settle down in the United States. And in my farewell I remember that together with my family we listened for the first time to ‘Suavemente’ by Elvis Crespo. That moment of celebration will live forever in our lives, a very important moment in my career. Then, when I arrived in Miami, this song ‘Suavemente’ was already a hit and it sounded from all the radios of the U.S.A.” – Andrés de León
“‘La Murga’ makes me remember those family gatherings where everyone danced with joy. It’s incredible, because it transports me to those happy moments of my childhood where we were all together.” – Katie Angel
“‘Gasolina’ by Daddy Yankee brings back great memories for me, as the first concert I ever went to was when he performed this song. I was 10. It was such a great experience that I’ve been listening to reggaeton ever since. It’s a song that always reminds me of dancing and partying with my cousins. You could say it’s why I make the kind of music I make now.” – Maria Pino
“‘Kulikitaka,’ apart from being one of my favorite songs by Toño Rosario, is the perfect song to show the mood of Dominicaness at a party. The vibe takes my imagination to the beach — with two bottles of Brugal and the crew lit!” – Cromo X
“I identify with ‘Llorarás’ by Oscar D’León, a song I grew up listening to. My parents always played it, and today within our group we use it as a reference, since it’s a song one listens to to get people dancing. I also love that it’s a song from the past but it still sounds current — and I know it will be with us forever.” – Tony Santana (Grupo Extra)
“There are songs that last, and in my case, on both the maternal and paternal side, Oscar D’León’s ‘Llorarás’ has remained in the present. My mother, who is an instructor of physical modalities, has always used it in her classes, and I’ve heard my father talk about the peculiarity of the dance between Oscar and his bass, so it’s a classic I remember clearly.” – Andrea Cruz
“One of the first bands I was part of was Son Andino. It was a school band I had with my friends where I played percussion. We chose important songs whose legacy in the music industry, besides being a total success, identified us, and we dedicated hours of practice, aiming to get closer to the original version. One of these songs was ‘Llorarás,’ written by Oscar D’León. Today it still touches me every time I listen to it at a bar or even in my salsa playlist. I had the opportunity to watch him live at a Latin Grammys party in 2008, and his energy was unbelievable! This song brings beautiful memories; it takes me back to those days when I was starting my professional career and searching for a rhythm with Latin roots.” – Gusi
“I hadn’t realized ‘Suavemente’ was so good until I heard it on a Diplo live set in 2013 and it was the song that got the party going the most. ‘Gasolina’ was the beginning of my love for reggaeton, clearly without knowing it — a hit that transcends decades, generations and styles.” – Juan Ingaramo
“There is no way to have a New Year’s Eve without some food, dancing and ‘Brujeria’ by El Gran Combo.” – Andrea Echeverri (Aterciopelados)