21st October, 1995

This song begins what, scanning the horizon, looks like becoming a semi-annual tradition: another Gloria Estefan album, another Gloria Estefan number-one single. After having thoroughly ingratiated herself to the Latin Pop audience with Mi Tierra (the album that produced three chart-topping songs), she'll never again go without that audience's appreciation for her work — at least as of press time. And she repays that appreciation with some of the most joyful and glorious music we've yet encountered in this travelogue.

"Abriendo Puertas," as even a Sesame Street-level Spanish education should tell you, means "opening doors," and the light, scattered-tempo vallenato rhythm of the song reiterates the dance-yrself-free message of the lyrics, which on the chorus run something like "And we're opening doors, and we're closing wounds/Because in the new year we're going to live life/And we're opening doors, and we're closing wounds/Step by step down the path we're going to find our way." It's the sort of pleasingly universalist message that could, frankly, be a hit at any time, but in the fall of 1995 it perhaps inevitably recalled the great grief of that year (at least as far as US Latin Pop fans were concerned), and its call to get up and dance anyway, to tear down barriers and dismiss failure as a lie, sounds both thrilling and, well, healing.

That vallenato rhythm is worth remarking on: it's a close cousin of the cumbia rhythm that Selena exposed us to, with similar origins in the mixed-race cauldron of coastal Colombia, and the guitar/accordion combination (unrelated to the similar combination in Mexican norteño) is one of the genre's trademarks. Perhaps unusually for the highly-vertically-integrated Estefans, the song was written and arranged by Colombian songwriter/producer Kike Santander, who will be a name to remember in the years to come, as the late 90s fade into the 00s.

Still, Gloria and producer husband Emilio, ever the ambassadorial multiculturalists, make a point of letting the opening guitar sound not only tropical but African — a hint, perhaps, of Congolese rumba echoing back to her own native Cuban rhythms? — and mix the rest with salsa horn charts, funky urban bass, Afro-Cuban percussion, and a call-and-response chorus that could have grown out of any of the above, but which in this travelogue is a Gloria Estefan hallmark. They don't call themselves the Miami Sound Machine anymore — they're bigger than Miami, and far more eclectic than any Sound Machine — but she's had the same band her whole career, and they've kept up with her every swerve and wild goose chases. If she sounds now content — like she could just make variations on this record for the rest of her career and not miss a thing — she has perhaps earned it. How many other openers to fifteenth albums sound so irrepressibly joyful?

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