En español | Boleros are eternal. With their tales of passion and falling-outs, boleros could easily be dismissed as cliché love songs. But they refuse to be so commonly treated, and they have remained captivating throughout the decades, thanks to their Afro-Cuban roots: the rhythmic beats of percussion, the refined melodies of the piano or the requinto guitar, the saxophones, trumpets and trombones. The bolero was born in Cuba. It grew and was worshipped in Mexico. From there, it spread through all Latin America, thanks to the great number of singers who succumbed to its charm. More than any other genre, boleros possess a youthful energy, a charm that remains fresh and compelling through the years. In celebration of boleros, we have selected 10 songs that represent the magic and diversity of styles that this genre has to offer.
Eydie Gormé - Gilles Petard/Redferns Getty Images / Los Panchos - Michael Ochs Archives Getty Images
Vereda Tropical (Tropical Lane)
Los Panchos with Eydie Gormé
It is impossible to a walk along the shore of any Caribbean country without thinking of the lyrics of "Vereda Tropical," written by Mexican composer Gonzalo Curiel Barba and interpreted by artists such as Toña La Negra, Javier Solís and even Henry Mancini. But none matches the tenderness and frankness of the musical collaboration between the trío Los Panchos and Eydie Gormé, an American singer of Turkish origins. Los Panchos are a real institution of boleros, pioneers of the caressing sounds of trios that so impacted the music of the 1950s. The high-pitched sound of the requinto and their harmonious voices were their main virtues. The added female voice was a wise move, particularly with Gormé's pure, delicious foreign accent.
The album Sabor A Mï features the title song by Rolando La Serie.
Sabor A Mí (A Taste of Me)
Known as "El Guapo de la Canción" (the good-looking singer), Rolando Laserie is one of many Latin American singers whose talents have been unjustly ignored with time. Born in Cuba, Laserie became famous by adapting songs from other genres to the tropical sound. Two of his most famous songs are the tango, "Las Cuarenta," and Palito Ortega's song, "Lo Mismo Que a Usted." The legendary "Sabor a Mí" is transformed by Laserie into an explosion of longing, intensity and unforgettable phrases.
Cortesía Fania Archives
Llanto De Luna
Written in 1942 by prolific composer Julio Gutiérrez — pianist of Casino de la Playa, a tropical music orchestra — "Llanto de Luna" is one of the most elegant and somber Cuban songs. Puerto Rican singer Tito Rodríguez recorded its most widely known version. Rodríguez was a pioneer of the mambo explosion in New York. Rodríguez was an incredibly eclectic singer and band director. He will always be remembered for "Inolvidable" ("Unforgettable"), also written by Gutiérrez.
Stefan M. Prager/Redferns/Getty Images
Dos Gardenias (Two Gardenias)
Buena Vista Social Club
In 1997, a recording changed the history of Latin music forever. Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González and American guitarist Ry Cooder made a recording with Cuban musicians called the Buena Vista Social Club, which unleashed a fascination for the golden years of Cuban music — including boleros. Veteran Ibrahim Ferrer's rendition of "Dos Gardenias" is one of the most moving pieces of the recording, showing the importance of the bolero as a genre.
Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast Archive/Corbis
Noche De Ronda (Nightwatch)
Agustín Lara, born in Veracruz, Mexico, has expressed the sorrow of unrequited love with a sensibility that no other composer has been able to emulate. He loved women, bohemian life and beautiful melodies. Married to María Félix (and a few other beauties), he wrote more than 600 songs, many of which have become classics of the Latin repertoire, including "Noche de Ronda." Some Mexican music historians believe that the song was inspired by Lara's anguish while waiting for María Félix's arrival one night.
Next: Gema (Gem) — Los Dandys
The success acquired by Los Panchos inspired a whole generation of Mexican trios: Los Tres Ases, Los Tres Diamantes, the Virginia López y Los Dandys trio. The latter became a quartet when Armando Navarro joined the group with his requinto. Their first hit, in 1957, "Gema" ("Gem"), is a bolero with a particularly ethereal sound that quickly became a Latin American classic.
The title song is on the album Cenizas, Toña La Negra.
Toña La Negra
Toña La Negra, born in Veracruz, possessed a soft and milky voice, perfect for intoning the strong Afro-Caribbean hues. She specialized in Agustín Lara's repertoire, but her biggest hit was the torrid "Cenizas," by composer Wello Rivas. La Negra speaks about her broken heart with a dignity and pride that set this song apart from others with similar themes. Thus, "Cenizas" ends up being an ode to broken hearts, enveloped in the irresistible textures of wind instruments.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Plazos Traicioneros (Treacherous Chapters)
The lyrics are fantastic — full of irony and reproaches to the endless false promises of a woman. Written by Cuban composer Luis Marquetti, "Plazos Traicioneros" has been recorded by Celio González, Julio Jaramillo and salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, among others. This version was recorded by Celia Cruz in 1977, under the musical direction of trombonist and producer Willie Colón.
Envidia is on the album Vicentico Valdés, La Voz Elástica de Cuba.
Boleros are based on excesses, with volcanic, uncontrollable feelings. They tell legendary stories of hopeless love. Restraint is their enemy. Few boleros express this esthetic with the conviction of "Envidia." Boleros, more than any other musical genre, have given composers — and performers — the liberty to explore obscure, obsessive, unexpected territories. Such is the case of Vicentico Valdés, born in Havana in 1921. He collaborated with Sonora Matancera, the pianist Noro Morales and Tito Puente. With time, the bolero became his favorite genre.
Bésame Mucho (Kiss Me A Lot)
Our tribute to the bolero concludes with a song that transcends the Latin American musical anthology, a part of popular culture everywhere. It was in the Beatles' initial repertoire, it was recorded by Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra — but first made popular by Lucho Gatica. Andrea Bocelli's rendition is among the best. It is a simple melody, full of tenderness that, like the best boleros, will never grow old.