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Decoding Despacito: An Oral History of Latin Music

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A behind the scenes look at the music that is currently the soundtrack of the globe, reported on and written by Leila Cobo, Billboard's VP of Latin Music and the world's ultimate authority on popular Latin music. Decoding Despacito tracks the stories behind the biggest Latin hits of the past fifty years. From the salsa born and bred in the streets of New York City, to P A behind the scenes look at the music that is currently the soundtrack of the globe, reported on and written by Leila Cobo, Billboard's VP of Latin Music and the world's ultimate authority on popular Latin music. Decoding Despacito tracks the stories behind the biggest Latin hits of the past fifty years. From the salsa born and bred in the streets of New York City, to Puerto Rican reggaet�n and bilingual chart-toppers, this rich oral history is a veritable treasure trove of never-before heard anecdotes and insight from a who's who of Latin music artists, executives, observers, and players. Their stories, told in their own words, take you inside the hits, to the inner sanctum of the creative minds behind the tracks that have defined eras and become hallmarks of history. FEATURING THE STORIES BEHIND SONGS BY: Jos� Feliciano Los Tigres Del Norte Julio Iglesias Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine Willie Col�n Juan Luis Guerra Selena Los Del R�o Carlos Vives Elvis Crespo Ricky Martin Santana Shakira Daddy Yankee Marc Anthony Enrique Iglesias with Descemer Bueno and Gente De Zona Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee J Balvin with Willy William Rosal�a


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A behind the scenes look at the music that is currently the soundtrack of the globe, reported on and written by Leila Cobo, Billboard's VP of Latin Music and the world's ultimate authority on popular Latin music. Decoding Despacito tracks the stories behind the biggest Latin hits of the past fifty years. From the salsa born and bred in the streets of New York City, to P A behind the scenes look at the music that is currently the soundtrack of the globe, reported on and written by Leila Cobo, Billboard's VP of Latin Music and the world's ultimate authority on popular Latin music. Decoding Despacito tracks the stories behind the biggest Latin hits of the past fifty years. From the salsa born and bred in the streets of New York City, to Puerto Rican reggaet�n and bilingual chart-toppers, this rich oral history is a veritable treasure trove of never-before heard anecdotes and insight from a who's who of Latin music artists, executives, observers, and players. Their stories, told in their own words, take you inside the hits, to the inner sanctum of the creative minds behind the tracks that have defined eras and become hallmarks of history. FEATURING THE STORIES BEHIND SONGS BY: Jos� Feliciano Los Tigres Del Norte Julio Iglesias Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine Willie Col�n Juan Luis Guerra Selena Los Del R�o Carlos Vives Elvis Crespo Ricky Martin Santana Shakira Daddy Yankee Marc Anthony Enrique Iglesias with Descemer Bueno and Gente De Zona Luis Fonsi with Daddy Yankee J Balvin with Willy William Rosal�a

30 review for Decoding Despacito: An Oral History of Latin Music

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jairo Gomez

    A delightful and insightful look into the Latin music industry spanning five decades worth of history from the early 1970s covering its rise to popularity, resonating beyond niche markets, and becoming part of the pop culture mainstream and our contemporary social constructs. Leila Cobo, a pianist, novelist, journalist, TV host and executive editor for Latin content and programming for Billboard, delivers a rigorous and carefully constructed historical outline using 19 songs as its vehicle, each A delightful and insightful look into the Latin music industry spanning five decades worth of history from the early 1970s covering its rise to popularity, resonating beyond niche markets, and becoming part of the pop culture mainstream and our contemporary social constructs. Leila Cobo, a pianist, novelist, journalist, TV host and executive editor for Latin content and programming for Billboard, delivers a rigorous and carefully constructed historical outline using 19 songs as its vehicle, each becoming a stepping stone in the fabric of the Latin music’s industry. As we read through the book and listened to each of the songs (something which we highly recommend), we found a much larger sense of appreciation, thanks to Cobo’s technical insights into the tunes, arrangements, and melodic quality, as well as the carefully outlined backstories that provided the appropriate context to better understand their origins and what made them so unique. Decoding Despacito is a history lesson on what makes Latin music so fascinating. Each of the songs representing a major milestone towards becoming familiar sounds in the mainstream. These were songs that served as flag bearers for the Latin culture, written by pioneers and innovators, sometimes staying dormant for years until finding their voice. The book presents a unique perspective of each of those who fought to bring the song to life and into the market; songwriters, artists vocalists, producers, arrangers, spouses, and the anonymous stories that inspired some of the lyrics. The beautiful and poetic narrative full of colorful and rich stories are evidence of Cobo’s mastery as a seasoned storyteller and her extensive knowledge of the music industry. It all makes for a beautifully written, timeless, and extremely relevant read. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Not quite as educational as I was hoping, but delightful nonetheless, and a great excuse to go back and listen to all these wonderful songs.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    Cobo's oral history of latin music in the U.S. reads like that of an editor for Billboard Latin: incomplete. I have no nitpicks with Cobo's selections, though there are notable absentees ("La Bamba," "Rico Suave," "Bailamos," etc.). But much of the history of each songs avoids the influence the song has on mainstream American (largely white America) consumer and listening habits, which is her thesis. Instead, many chapters break down into minutiae that does not define anything about the song, th Cobo's oral history of latin music in the U.S. reads like that of an editor for Billboard Latin: incomplete. I have no nitpicks with Cobo's selections, though there are notable absentees ("La Bamba," "Rico Suave," "Bailamos," etc.). But much of the history of each songs avoids the influence the song has on mainstream American (largely white America) consumer and listening habits, which is her thesis. Instead, many chapters break down into minutiae that does not define anything about the song, the musicians, the circumstances, the goals, etc. There are glimpses of it, such as the chapters that cover "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Smooth" but its rare. And in these instances, the magic is often about ancillary characters (for example, Draco Rosa who has a great career of his own as a singer/songwriter and producer) that aren't the main focus of the chapter. That said, as a starter kit for people interested in some Latin music benchmarks and basic stories, Cobo's book has merits. But there's more to mine in the undercurrents that helped bring more and more Spanish, Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Columbian, and other Latin nations and territories into mainstream music charts. And there are better examples of oral histories (such as the recent one on the film Dazed and Confused) that do a great job of allowing the storytellers to weave a captivating story.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    I cracked Decoding "Despacito" ready for a deep dive into the roots and evolution of Latin music, expecting a heavy history full of songs I don't know but should. Then I saw the chapter titles. "Feliz Navidad." "Conga." "Macarena." "Livin' La Vida Loca." And, of course, "Despacito." These are not obscure cuts; in fact, they're some of the hugest hits of the past half-century. By the time I finished the book, I realized that a complete history of Latin music would be even more daunting than I'd im I cracked Decoding "Despacito" ready for a deep dive into the roots and evolution of Latin music, expecting a heavy history full of songs I don't know but should. Then I saw the chapter titles. "Feliz Navidad." "Conga." "Macarena." "Livin' La Vida Loca." And, of course, "Despacito." These are not obscure cuts; in fact, they're some of the hugest hits of the past half-century. By the time I finished the book, I realized that a complete history of Latin music would be even more daunting than I'd imagine. This is a genre that includes entire nations, even entire continents, worth of music: sounds from Spain, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Mexico, and the United States, just to name a few hubs. Even the common-denominator definition Cobo offers for Latin music — literally anything sung primarily in Spanish — doesn't include songs like "To All the Girls I've Loved Before," "Smooth," and "Whenever, Wherever," all of which get chapters in Decoding "Despacito." Leila Cobo's focus is understandable; the author has been a leader of Billboard’s Latin music coverage for the past two decades. She's fascinated with songs that moved the needle for the growth of Latin music in the U.S., and her oral history makes clear that there were plenty of stories to tell about these huge hits alone. I reviewed Decoding "Despacito" for The Current.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Myersakrawiec

    This is a solid 3.5 stars for me. The author chose 19 songs which I am sure was too few to really tell the history of the Latin Music, but after about 15 songs, they all started to run together. A lot of the stories were very similar. The artist or artists come up with a new song that is like nothing ever before, they try to sell it or distribute it, but no one thinks it will be a hit except for the artists who believe in it passionately and eventually get it out there and everyone loves it. The This is a solid 3.5 stars for me. The author chose 19 songs which I am sure was too few to really tell the history of the Latin Music, but after about 15 songs, they all started to run together. A lot of the stories were very similar. The artist or artists come up with a new song that is like nothing ever before, they try to sell it or distribute it, but no one thinks it will be a hit except for the artists who believe in it passionately and eventually get it out there and everyone loves it. The song is a hit and the artists were right after all! My favorite songs to hear about were Shakira's Whenever Wherever, Feliz Navidad, and Ricky Martin's Livin' La Vida Loca. I loved hearing about what a nice person Ricky Martin is, I think I would like to meet him! This was a very interesting book and made even better when listening to the Spotify playlist with all the songs from the book. It was like taking a music history class from home!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Interesting survey of modern Latin music. I think the oral presentation was appropriate considering how oral storytelling is such a prominent form of narration throughout Latin America. Sometimes information gets repeated a lot, especially when it appears in different talking heads’ sections, but I think that was Cobo’s attempt to stay authentic to the reportage. It’s also fun to hear these musicians and artists and technicians be confident in their songs, know they were going to be a hit, only t Interesting survey of modern Latin music. I think the oral presentation was appropriate considering how oral storytelling is such a prominent form of narration throughout Latin America. Sometimes information gets repeated a lot, especially when it appears in different talking heads’ sections, but I think that was Cobo’s attempt to stay authentic to the reportage. It’s also fun to hear these musicians and artists and technicians be confident in their songs, know they were going to be a hit, only to have the tracks explode. Or buck against the label, who always want to classify them as being one thing. Good stories. Good music. (Not sure why they didn’t talk about “La Bambi” though. Maybe it was out of the range Cobo gave herself.)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily Dybdahl

    This is a great survey of Latin songs that became mainstream hits, and the artists behind them. I've been learning more about the recent artists and their work so this book was interesting to me as it provided more background to the artists I'm currently listening to, and also taught me about the forerunners, starting with Jose Feliciano and "Feliz Navidad". In reading the chapters, I look up the songs on YouTube and understand the interviews and descriptions of the process in making the songs. This is a great survey of Latin songs that became mainstream hits, and the artists behind them. I've been learning more about the recent artists and their work so this book was interesting to me as it provided more background to the artists I'm currently listening to, and also taught me about the forerunners, starting with Jose Feliciano and "Feliz Navidad". In reading the chapters, I look up the songs on YouTube and understand the interviews and descriptions of the process in making the songs. Serendipitously I saw that Jose Feliciano is performing near me soon! What a great follow-up to reading about his hit.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lorie

    Loved it. Loved telling my smart speaker to play the song I was reading about and I like how my smart speaker suggested other songs I liked too. I didn't love how this book was put together. It read like disjointed, verbatim interview excerpts instead of each chapter having more of a narrative arc. Never the less, I enjoyed learning about the history of the songs and their impact on music and culture. Loved it. Loved telling my smart speaker to play the song I was reading about and I like how my smart speaker suggested other songs I liked too. I didn't love how this book was put together. It read like disjointed, verbatim interview excerpts instead of each chapter having more of a narrative arc. Never the less, I enjoyed learning about the history of the songs and their impact on music and culture.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    As a human of mixed ethnicity, and a huge fan of Latin music in general, I enjoyed it, though it did all sort of run together. This is an audiobook but feels more like a podcast binge, if that makes sense. Perhaps that would have felt differently if I had spaced out my listening over a longer time frame. I liked the set up, and it did give me a handful of Latin songs to dig in on for my personal music collection, which I am always here for.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Alex Martinez

    A fun, interesting, quick read about the relatively recent evolution of Latin music. Learned some new songs and learned about some favorites - Conga! lol. Listened to the audio which was nice since the book is told through interviews/in the artists/producers/writers/etc own words. Also, fun and helpful to listen to the songs as I went through the book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    An interesting short history (comprised of interviews) of Latin music's rise in the USA. I read some parts and listened to the audiobook for others and I have to say the audio format was far more enjoyable. An interesting short history (comprised of interviews) of Latin music's rise in the USA. I read some parts and listened to the audiobook for others and I have to say the audio format was far more enjoyable.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Spectacular and super fun to read. If the author does more books like this one, I’ll read them! This book definitely needs a podcast or Netflix series a la Song Exploder. It was so lovely to revisit these songs while reading about them.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Elayna Tekle

    Really enjoyed this, throw on some headphones and listen to the songs while reading!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joey Loya

    I loved hearing the back story of where songs I know and love came to be. I also was introduced to a lot of new and great songs. Over all a great book for music lovers or someone in a musical funk.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cat

    this book would be more illuminating if the author's own summaries and analysis featured more prominently before we get into the oral histories this book would be more illuminating if the author's own summaries and analysis featured more prominently before we get into the oral histories

  16. 4 out of 5

    Monica Bond-Lamberty

    What a great read! Some of the material was known to me, some was not. Some of the stuff about Juan Luis Guerra was completely unknown to me - inspired by the Beatles?! I listened to the book and kept on pausing to play songs and watch videos. I do hope there is another volume. Though there is a lot of repetition. I appreciated the quotes, but felt that at times they repeated what had already been said.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katey Mata

    This was incredible delightful and so much fun to work through. I learned a lot and shared with my Cuban American family, and I think everyone's shared the fun facts we learned about some of their most beloved songs. There's a lot of insight into how the music industry operates and how intentional people have to be to cross over into another market. This book is actually more fun to think about after the fact and discuss, it gets better with time. This was incredible delightful and so much fun to work through. I learned a lot and shared with my Cuban American family, and I think everyone's shared the fun facts we learned about some of their most beloved songs. There's a lot of insight into how the music industry operates and how intentional people have to be to cross over into another market. This book is actually more fun to think about after the fact and discuss, it gets better with time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ink Drinker

    I was looking for a book on Mexican culture. I found this book and loved it!! It’s like reading a documentary. Each chapter is about a different artist and how they influenced American culture through music. I listened to each artist on Spotify while reading about them. 5 out of 5 and recommend this book 😍👌🇲🇽🇵🇷🇨🇴🇪🇸💃

  19. 5 out of 5

    Yadira Flores

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steph

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allie

  23. 4 out of 5

    Panagiotis

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Burke

  25. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  26. 5 out of 5

    Marisa Balogh

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bob Entwistle

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Nicole

  29. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lina

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