Overshadowed by the success of reggaeton and Latin pop, traditional Latin music is still alive and vigorous, as shown by our selection of albums to remember from the past year.

Roberto Fonseca – The Great Fun (Musiques cubaines/Cuba)

In an imaginary cabaret, the Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca depicts in a succession of paintings his vision of the great musical tradition of Cuba. Soundtrack to the eponymous show, “La Gran Diversión” is above all, as its name suggests, entertainment, great entertainment.

Omara Portuondo – Life (Chanson/Cuba)

Stuck by the pandemic, Omara Portuondo gave us some 90 people a magnificent album of duets (Natalia Lafourcade, Rubén Blades, Andy Montañez, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, to name a few) produced by Gaby Moreno. From classics (Gracias a la Vida) to surprises (Now by Lena Horne), “Vida” is carried by the intact voice and exceptional personality of the Cuban diva.

Havana D’Primera – Pueblo Grifo (Timba/Cuba)

Havana D’Primera, the Cuban timba war machine, led by its director, the trumpeter Alexander Abreu, at the top of his art, allows himself to subtly juggle between styles and references while offering formidable dance music.

Orquesta Failde – Dancing live from Matanzas (Danzón/Cuba)

It has already been ten years since Ethiel Failde, descendant of Miguel Failde, the creator of the danzón, spared no effort to successfully bring the official dance of Cuba up to date, not hesitating to rub shoulders with the rhythms modern. The Cuban flautist offers a return to his roots with recordings taken from the Danzoneando TV show, returning to the very essence of this music with eternal hits such as Cicuta Tibia, Almendra, Neriedas…

Hilario Duran – Cry Me A River (Latin-jazz/Cuba, Canada)

Former musical director of Arturo Sandoval based in Canada, Hilario Duran offers a work for big band of very good quality with, as it should be, very beautiful arrangements and impeccable production. Accompanied by prestigious guests such as Paquito D’Rivera, Horacio “El Negro” Hernández or the Okan duo, the Cuban pianist presents memorable versions of Cry Me a River, One Night in Tunisia or Frédéric Chopin’s Fantasía Impromptu.

Carlos Henriquez – A Nuyorican Tale (Latin-jazz/United States)

Double bassist of Winton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Carlos Henriquez offers remarkable work on the musical history of the Puerto Ricans of New York (Nuyoricans). Between ’60s Latin jazz and pre-Fania salsa, “A Nuyorican Tale” is an essential work full of flavor.

Ricky Campanelli – We Heal With La Rumba (Salsa/Canada)

Over the course of the albums, the expertise of Canadian DJ Ricky Campanelli has become indisputable and undisputed. His latest production, remarkable, tops a year full of releases with no less than 16 finely crafted titles. Salsa is not dead, and Ricky Campanelli proves it again.

Harold López-Nussa – Timba a La Americana (Latin jazz/Cuba, France)

New signatory of the Blue Note label, Cuban pianist Harold López-Nussa, with the help of Michael League of Snarky Pupy, brings to fruition a collaboration initiated before the pandemic with Swiss harmonica player Grégoire Maret and Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martínez, replaced here by Bàrbaro “Machito” Crespo. While retaining the initial sound, the result is experimental (the pianist happily trying his hand at Rhodes), often melancholic, always very original. A risk-taking that pays off and pushes Latin jazz forward.

Ricardo Izquierdo – Full With Me Come (Jazz/Cuba, France)

A sought-after sideman on the Parisian scene, Cuban saxophonist Ricardo Izquierdo took advantage of the pandemic to give birth to his second album. If it draws its inspiration from Cuban tradition and Afro-Caribbean religion, “Kikun Pelu Mi Wa” is resolutely a jazz album, free, demanding, fascinating.

Okan – Okantomi (Fusion/Cuba, Canada)

With “Okantomi”, the Toronto group founded by the Cuban duo Magdelys Savigne (percussion, vocals)/Elizabeth Rodríguez (violin, vocals) achieves international recognition. “Okantomi” is an enjoyable dance music album that opens up beautiful perspectives for Afro-Cuban music.

Result – Latopa (Jazz – soul/France)

With its first album, the young French group Abajade wins the distinction of Jazz Mag revelation. Recorded over three days in live conditions, “Latopa” explores the fusion of Afro-Cuban tradition with soul and jazz. An extremely interesting approach for a sound that is both spiritual and organic.

La Senora Tomasa – La Historia Se Repeate Live Sessions Show (Urbain/Espagne)

La Senora Tomasa is a collective from Barcelona that mixes salsa with rock, hip-hop and electro, like the Cubans Interactivo and Habana Abierta before them. “La Historia Se Repite” is a 360° concert where the musicians are surrounded by the public which was broadcast in 12 Spanish cities. At a time when urban music shines with its insipidity, the true heir of salsa, La Sra Tomasa represents what modern urban Latin music should be.

With a plethora of record production, the covid years seem far away. The musicians drew from this forced break the resources to renew themselves. Spectators also seem to have returned to festivals, despite the explosion in costs. More than ever, live music needs support. Support the artists! Go see the artists! Que viva la música!