Gloria Estefan has long been a trailblazer in the Latino community, but one of her most famous songs almost didn’t come to pass because it was “too Latin sounding.” That song was “Conga.”
Appearing on ABC News’ Soul of a Nation, the Grammy winner revealed she never thought she’d become a professional singer. “I sang since I talked,” Estefan said. “It just came with me, but I didn’t feel the need to do it for other people.”
That changed when she met husband Emilio Estefan, who asked her to join his band, The Miami Latin Boys, upon hearing her sing. The newly formed Miami Sound Machine released its first album in January 1976, but nearly a decade later, Estefan said she and her husband still faced pushback.
“They didn’t want ‘Conga’ to be the single. They wanted another single and we told them ‘Conga’ is the single. They still put out another one.” Estefan said. “They thought that it wasn’t going to be the hit because they thought it was too Latin sounding.”
Songs like “Conga,” nonetheless, grabbed the nation’s attention and launched Miami Sound Machine up the charts. Despite their success, some still viewed the band’s Latin influence as a weakness.
Gloria recalled being told it’s “not a Latin market” and to “lose the percussion… lose the horns” by the industry. “Some guy even told Emilio, ‘Lose the girl singer,"” she said.
Embracing her Cuban identity would ultimately be a key component to her meteoric rise to fame, as the group’s Latin beats and Cuban sounds resonated with both English and Spanish-speakers.
Alongside her husband, Gloria would eventually pave the way for the many successful Latin artists who succeeded her, such as Jennifer Lopez and Shakira; she continues to open doors whenever possible.
Soul of a Nation is streaming now on Hulu.
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