5th September, 1998
If it's possible to draw conclusions about long-term trends in Latin pop from the very top of the Billboard Latin chart (a very shaky proposition), it might be useful to consider Gloria Estefan a bellweather. On the cusp of the 90s, she pointed to the overwhelming preponderance of adult contemporary that would make up the majority of the decade's number ones; and four years later she predicted the revitalization of traditional roots music that would be the major thrust of the decade's second half. Now, as the 90s wane, she returns with the first #1 to invest in modern club music since José Luis Rodriguez' "Baila Mi Rumba" in 1989. This is rather a large hint as to the direction in which Latin pop (or indeed all pop) is headed; but no spoilers.
But "¡Oye!" (listen!) also positions itself in the newly vital salsa current, as jump-started in this travelogue by Marc Anthony; one of the repeated refrains is "mi cuerpo pide salsa" (my body wants salsa), and the production connects the dots between Nuyorican salsa and Detroit house, never more explicitly than when the electric piano beats out a steady melodic rhythm. As a piece of dance music, it's wonderfully and characteristically inventive, balancing the steady bass 4/4 required for modern dance music with trad mambo (which is to say swing) horn charts, Cuban percussion, and call-and-response gritos (from, I belive, Emilio) that urge a physical response.
The Estefan machine was by now world-conquering, of course — Gloria's only real peer at this point was Madonna — and the slickness and efficiency of the production is a little breathtaking even today. 1998 is, it's worth noting, when the Loudness Wars began to heat up in earnest, which means that from the perspective of 2012, it's when everything begins to sound completely modern, mastered at an ear-popping volume which lets you feel the bass in your gut even through tinny Apple buds.
The final marker of modernity is the fact that the video linked above is a remix. The parent album, Gloria!, was mostly in English, and the original Oye! (the video's here) has English-language verses. This is the Pablo Flores Spanish Mix, which is only slightly different (the clubby synths were Flores' addition — he's been the Estefans' in-house mixer and remixer since the 80s), and as far as I can tell this was the version that got playlisted on Latin radio. (It's the one included on her Spanish-language greatest hits package, for instance.) As this travelogue slowly catches up to the present, and artists continue to record and release multiple versions of their songs in order to maximize revenue streams, I'll have to make more of these judgment calls as to which version to feature on the blog. Which in this case isn't much of a big deal; both versions are fantastic.