The “Latin Sounds” of Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine: Their rhythm is gonna get ya!

By on November 7, 2016

“The breakthrough Latin artist of the Eighties,” says Pat Prescott in Night Flight’s “Latin Sounds” — a special segment which originally aired on December 11, 1987, which you can now watch streaming on Night Flight Plus“… Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine… their first hit “Conga” took them straight to the top of the charts.”

“According to Gloria Estefan,” Prescott continues later in the segment, “Miami Sound Machine uses cross-cultural musical influences.”

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“We’re a mix,” Estefan clarifies, in an interview taped at Night Flight’s New York offices.“We’re a cultural mix, a musical mix of sounds, and our Hispanic heritage brings us our percussive Latin music mixed with the American pop music we grew up listening to all our lives.”

In 1975, Gloria Estefan — her name at the time was Gloria Fajado — was a student at the University of Miami when she went to a local wedding and was persuaded by the band — led by keyboardist Emilio Estefan, who worked as a salesman for Bacardi Rum for his main source of income — to sing some songs with the band, who at the time were called the Miami Latin Boys.

Each member of the band took turns singing lead vocals, but during a break, Emilio asked Gloria and her cousin to sing with them.

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That night, Estefan realized that Gloria had added something to the band that took them to the next level, and he asked her to join the band, which Gloria did, along with her cousin Merci Navarro Murciano (Merci didn’t stay long with the group, however).

Considering that they were now comprised of both boys and girls and therefore couldn’t be called the Miami Latin Boys, Emilio suggested the change to Miami Sound Machine.

Gloria would only have time to sing with the group on weekends, but she began to help change their sound immediately, adding softer vocals, in both English and Spanish, and the band began to adapt to the addition of Gloria’s influence by mixing the two cultures.

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Emilio and Gloria, of course, fell in love and were married in September of 1978.

By that point, the band had recorded their first of the group’s first seven albums — Renacer, Miami Sound Machine, Imported, MSM, Otra Vez, Rio, and A toda máquina — which today are referred to as their “Spanish” albums even though they contain songs in both English and Spanish.

These albums produced Spanish-language hits, all of them ballads, including “Quiéreme,” “Te quiero, te quiero,” and “Without Your Love” (the latter song was in English).

The success of their first English-language hit and its popularity led them to record their first English-only album, Eyes of Innocence, in 1984, and a single from the album, “Dr. Beat,” reached #10 in the U.S. as well as charting in Europe.

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In 1985, Emilio Estefan began to write songs for the Miami Sound Machine’s next album, Primitive Love, and when the entire album was finished, he and Gloria both knew which song they wanted to release as the album’s first single: “Conga.”

The conga and songs featuring the conga beat were a tradition at Cuban parties. At the end of the party, or closing time at a nightclub, after a night of partying and dancing, often the last song of the night would have a conga beat, and participants would get up out of their chairs and head to dance floor, forming a single-file line, and dance the Conga, everybody taking three steps forward, followed by a kick.

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It seemed only natural, then, that the Miami Sound Machine’s “Conga” would be picked as a single, but their record company weren’t too sure it was a good idea. They told the band that it was too American for their Latin audience — since it featured lyrics in English — but was also too Latin to appeal to their crossover non-Latin pop fans.

Eventually, however, they agreed to release the song as a single, and it proved to be a huge hit, of course, reaching the Top Ten on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart, and by the time it had dropped off the charts, the Miami Sound Machine — and Gloria Estefan — were household names in the United States.

Gloria Estefan would go on to win the American Music Award for Best New Pop Artist and Top Pop Singles Artist.

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The video — as you can see from our “Latin Sounds” segment — appears to be set in a fictional Miami (or is it New York City?) nightclub called the Copacabana, which is apparently hosting a visiting ambassador.

The video begins by showing the well-heeled crowd of patrons sitting around listening to a classical pianist.

Then, the Miami Sound Machine is announced as the next featured act (though Gloria insists the setting is not appropriate for the song), but they end up performing the song as its intended to be heard, which certainly stirs things up a bit, turning the club into a epic carnival-style fiesta, complete with feathered cabaret dancers in the style of Havana’s world-famous Tropicana.

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“Conga,” as far as we can tell, remains the only song in history to appear on Billboard‘s pop, soul, dance, and Latin charts at the same time.

A second single from the album, “Words Get in the Way,” soared to #1 on the Billboard U.S Adult Contemporary chart, and the band realized it was moving further away from its American pop roots toward a soft salsa sound with English lyrics.

In 1986, the Estefans officially became a corporation, with Emilio as president and Gloria as vice president of Estefan Enterprises, Inc. Each owned half of the company.

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Primitive Love turned out to be Emilio Estefan’s last album with the band as a performer, as he began to concentrate therafter as their full-time manager and producer.

The band — now officially called Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine — would also sign with the Epic Records label, a mainstream music imprint and division of CBS (the Miami Sound Machine had been recording for Miami-based Hispanic division, CBS Discos), and their next album, 1987’s Let It Loose would go on to sell four million copies, propelled in no small part by the success of the second video by the band featured here, “Rhythm is Gonna Get Ya.”

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Our “Latin Sounds“segment also features sizzling South of the Border-inspired music videos by Los Lobos, Buster Poindexter, Rubén Blades, Konk, Terry Hall and Colourfield, Kid Creole & the Coconuts and Madonna. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.