What you haven't heard about "Bailando"

The Cuban song "Bailando", soared to astronomical heights in worldwide charts during 2014. With over 900,000,000 combined visits to its Youtube channel, the song literally put the whole planet to dance. Written by Cuba's lyricist and composer, Descemer Bueno, and interpreted by a foursome that included Spanish pop star Enrique Iglesias, Cuban reggaeton duo "Gente de Zona" and Descemer Bueno himself; the song put Cuban music on the international radar by winning 3 Latin Grammy Awards. This blog piece will let you into the secrets of the "Bailando" phenomenon, while exploring the careers of its star interpreters.

What you haven't heard about "Bailando"

The song "Bailando" composed by Cuban musician Descemer Bueno and sang by Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias together with Descemer Bueno himself and Cuban reggaeton band "Gente de Zona", received various nominations in the last edition of the Latin Grammy Awards.

Upon winning 3 awards, including Best Song of the Year, the world's spotlights turned to Cuba. Nothing even near this had happened since 1997, when Buena Vista Social Club's premiere CD, attained an academy award after selling 8 million copies.

But where are the song's hidden secrets to its success? The 900,000,000 (combined) plus visits to its Youtube video keep going up a year after its launch. So, I invite you to read on and discover the reasons that make "Bailando" such a contagious song.

Firstly; the song's lyrics are simple and easy to understand for any audience (it also has an English version), with key words like "heart", "fire", "love", "night", and "wild".

Secondly; its Caribbean rhythms mixed with a touch of electronic music and an addition of Spanish flair with clapping and flamenco guitar strumming. And thirdly; and probably its most significantly, it's catchy and intoxicating chorus that sticks in your mind like chewing gum.

Add to this a pair of extras that favoured the song spreading like wildfire on all social networks: one was the brilliant commercial move of including the song in the latest album of an international star like Enrique Iglesias. The other; the recording of different versions of the same video clip (one of which is in Spanglish and features Jamaican singer Sean Paul) in the middle of the Caribbean, with skilled dancers, beautiful choreography, colorful people, bicycles, beaches and endless parties, all of them displaying the charm and charisma of its interpreters and the places in which the videos were shot.

But, these things alone couldn't bring forth the song's success unless it also had its magic; unless it weren't also a great pop song. To me "Bailando" is a fantastic song to dance and smile to. It's precisely that. It's one of those songs in which you're always smiling and your eyes never leave your partner while you're dancing.

I'll now reveal to you some secrets that only a few people know about the Cubans who made "Bailando" a musical hit.

An earlier orginal version

To start off, what most people don't know is that this song had a previous original version featuring only Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona, before Enrique Iglesias decided to join in and another version was eventually filmed. In this earlier version you can better appreciate the contrast between the flawless traditional Spanish flamenco dancing (with added Cuban flair) and the beautifully choreographed street dancing.It was during the filming of this first video clip that the leading dancer, Karla was discovered and later featured more prominently in the next version, as Enrique Iglesias’ love interest.

Descemer Bueno

A king with the Midas touch in Cuban music

Descemer Bueno

Descemer Bueno, aged 44 at the time of writing, is one of Cuba's most gifted musicians and composers. As an exceptional bassist, internationally renowned composer, lyricist, musical producer and interpreter; he's come a long way to become the famous musician he is today.

After completing his conservatory studies, Bueno played the bass in "Estado de Animo" (State of Mind), a band of young jazz players founded by pianist Roberto Carcasses during the 1990s, which brought forth a more alternative and contemporary musical approach to Cuban jazz.

Playing for "Estado de Animo", Bueno shared his first musical dreams with other music "monsters" like guitarist Elmer Ferrer and drummer Ruy Lopez-Nussa. The band is still venerably remembered (and I believe that it will be forever), for having offered musical accompaniment to Santiago Feliu, the brilliant singer/author who like no other in Cuba, accomplished the crossover of la trova (troubadour music) with rock and electric jazz.

Later on; and after establishing himself in USA, Bueno was first known as a composer and member of "Yerba Buena" (Mint), a fabulous international hip-hop and psychedelic funk group who earned a Grammy Award nomination in 2005. He later became known as a musical producer and excellent composer.

Descemer Bueno upheld a career well respected by the island's melomaniacs, a long time before the releasing of "Bueno"; a beloved CD in Cuba, for whose recording he had invited popular Cuban music stars like Haila and Alain Daniel. He had by then, also written songs for Latin pop stars like Thalia, Luis Fonsi and Enrique Iglesias himself. Among those that Bueno had written for Iglesias, was his well-known super hit "Cuando Me Enamoro" ("When I Fall in Love").

The fact is that for more than ten years, Bueno has been turning to gold his imagination's bottomless sounds. He has sung and played the bass with many outstanding artists, and written memorable songs like "Violeta" ("Violet").

"Se Feliz" ("Be happy"); together with a Cuban bolero (romantic musical genre) master like Fernando alvarez, "Haydee"; which represented the debut of a refined and elegant singer named Haydee Milanes and "Breathe" ; an expression of the constant search for subtleties which a musical genius like Yusa displays in his CDs, are among Bueno's most cherished works as a producer. This last one, Breathe; was released in the UK by the Tumi Music record company.

Gente de Zona

Joyful folks, town folks

Gente de Zona

"Gente de Zona's" story has been equally successful. Borne out of the hip-hop movement of east Havana's Alamar vicinity, the trio was founded in 2005 by Alexander, Jacob Forever and DJ Nando Pro, as part of the reggaeton explosion that the island experiences since then. The group who since 2013 is a duo formed by Alexander Delgado and ex-singer of "La Charanga Habanera" orchestra; Randy Malcom, stands out for its catching lyrics and pure dancing music.

You might want to know that Cuban reggaeton has a trend to contain explicit sexist and violent lyrics, but that there's another dimension to it, a more sublime and witty approach, that relies more on double meaning and on a rhythmical concepts closer to salsa, in which "Gente de Zona" truly excels.

"Bailando's" tremendous success enabled "Gente de Zona's" overnight entry in the Latin America reggaeton and urban music market along with artists such as Pitbull and Chino y Nacho.

A song that opens many doors

There are two other Cubans that have much to do with the success of the "Bailando" wonder. One of them is talented Maykel Barzagas1 who aside from being the only Cuban sound engineer to have earned a Grammy Award (2007), was also the person who came up with the initial idea of joining Descemer Bueno with "Gente de Zona".

The other is audiovisual film-maker Alejandro Pérez, who has an impressive film-making curriculum in Cuba and who after the "Bailando" boom, was invited by Puerto Rican star Marc Anthony, to film a video clip with him.

I can assure you that during 2015, Descemer Bueno as well as "Gente de Zona" will put a temporary hold on their contracts abroad, in order to present themselves in Cuba. Bueno usually invites fellow artists, friends of his to his great concerts at theatres like "Teatro Karl Marx" or "Teatro Mella", so you might get lucky and have the chance to listen to them live, singing "Bailando".

But if that weren't the case, then I suggest you look for them and enjoy them separately. Either in the explosive dancing shows with "Gente de Zona", or in Descemer Bueno's versatile presentations that range from jazz and bolero to pop music songs, you'll have the fun of your life enjoying the cosmopolitan and uninhibited spirit that moves Cuban popular music nowadays.


1 We spell Maykel's name with a "y" as per his "carnet de identidad" (ID card every Cuban should carry at all times) but some other sites, most notably Grammy, spell it as Maikel.

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