Cuban Top Picks - Musical Tour of Cuba

It's really tough to get into Cuba these days, as the definition of a legal trip to the island gets narrower and the penalties for illegal tourism get larger.

Even though we might not be able to visit, there's no one stopping the joy of listening to Cuban music.Here is a list of the songs and albums that bring to life the island that has influenced modern Latin music like no other. Lean back, turn up the volume and feel the island breeze as we go on a musical tour of Cuba with these top picks.

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Celia Cruz & Friends: A Night of Salsa

Celia Cruz & Friends - A Night of Salsa
Celia Cruz & Friends - A Night of Salsa. Courtesy RMM

The Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz is a great opening for a Cuban tour, and this 2000 album offers not only Cruz, but guest artists Tito Puente, La India and one of the founders of Fania Records, Johnny Pacheco.

For that extra feeling of 'being there', you might want to check-out the DVD.

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Gloria Estefan: 90 Millas

Gloria Estefan - 90 Millas
Gloria Estefan - 90 Millas. Courtesy Sony BMG

90 Millas was Estefan's homage to her homeland of Cuba; this 2007 album boasts a host of world class musicians including Carlos Santana, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Pacheco, La India, Arturo Sandoval and lots more.

If you're a Gloria Estefan fan, you might also want to listen to the other album that delivers an outstanding set of Cuban tracks. Mi Tierra serenades with a little son, a little salsa, pure listening pleasure.

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Los Van Van: Llego...Van Van

Los Van Van - Llego Van Van
Los Van Van - Llego Van Van. Courtesy Pimienta Records

Los Van Van is (and has been for a number of years) the favorite salsa/timba band of Cuba. The rhythms are complex and instrumental interplay are complex, the pace frenetic. There's no way to tour Cuba without hearing Los Van Van everywhere you go.

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Arsenio Rodriguez: Legends of Cuban Music

Arsenio Rodriguez - Legends of Cuban Music
Arsenio Rodriguez - Legends of Cuban Music. Courtesy EMI Televisa

Arsenio Rodriguez was one of the original Mambo Kings and the creator of 'son montuno'. This album reflects the music of his time, but music has no expiration label on it and I think you'll enjoy these Cuban melodies.

If you're a fan, you might be interested in the boxed set collection (6 discs) that contains all his RCA Victor recordings from 1940-1956. El Alma de Cuba is pricey but worth the cost.

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Isaac Delgado: En Primera Plana

Issac Delgado - En Primera Plana
Issac Delgado - En Primera Plana. Courtesy La Calle Records

Isaac Delgado is the timba/salsa king of Cuba. Originally a member of NG LaBanda, he struck out on his own in the late 1990s then defected to the U.S. in 2006. This is his first album since he's settled in his new home and it was nominated for both a Latin and regular Grammy (and, in my opinion, should have won).

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Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club. Courtesy Nonesuch Records

Buena Vista Social Club revived the rage for Latin music when it came out in 1997. Five years later, "Chan Chan" was one of the most common songs played in the streets of Havana. If you haven't listened to the Social Club lately, maybe its time for an encore.

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Willy Chirino: Cubanisimo

Willy Chirino - Cubanismo
Willy Chirino - Cubanismo. Courtesy Sony BMG

Miami native Chirino pays tribute to his Cuban homeland in this mix of salsa and patriotism. Both are inspiring.

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Cuban Nights

Cuban Nights
Cuban Nights. Courtesy Narada

Cuban Nights offers a palette of top rated Cuban artist including Bamboleo, Laito, Maraca and Rolo Martinez in hot, contemporary, dancable numbers.

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NG La Banda: Toda Cuba Baila con LG La Banda

NG La Banda - Toda Cuba Baila con LG La Banda
NG La Banda - Toda Cuba Baila con LG La Banda. Courtesy Max Music

A leading Cuban group of the 90s, this group became known for their salsa timba-brava. Whatever you call the music, its urban, fresh and hot.

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Maraca: Descarga Total!

Maraca - Descarga Total
Maraca - Descarga Total. Courtesy Ahi-Nama Records

I like this album so much that a few years ago everyone I knew got a copy of it. Descarga means "discharge" and the word is used to describe Latin jazz that holds nothing back. It's tough for anyone listening to them to hold back, either.