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Divas & Superstars

Chapter 2: Gloria Estefan & the Miami Sound

The Latin Music explosion was ignited fifteen years before Ricky Martin's triumph by one song — "Conga."

The creation of a Cuban-American band, the Miami Sound Machine, "Conga" was a winning fusion that would define Latin pop for decades to come.

[FOOTAGE: GLORIA ESTEFAN AND THE MIAMI SOUND MACHINE "CONGA"]

SERGIO GEORGE (OC) It never lost the base. It had the timbales, the piano. (VO) It did accomplish all these things in one song that (OC) we were about, that Latinos were striving for. That American sound, but that had the Latino culture underneath it.

[STILL: EMILIO ESTEFAN IN STUDIO]

The man behind "Conga", Emilio Estefan, arrived in Miami in the 1960s, at the height of the Cuban exodus.

EMILIO ESTEFAN It was a time that we all had a lot of hopes, a lot of dreams, but it was difficult. Because, especially for me it was very difficult because I came without my dad and my mom.

[MUSIC: HORA DE ROSA, AMANECER]

[STILL PHOTO MONTAGE: MIAMI SCENES, EMILIO WITH ACCORDIAN]

Emilio found refuge in Miami's growing Cuban enclave, 300,000 strong in 1968.

He got a job in the mailroom of the Bacardi Corporation. To make ends meet, he bought an accordion and began playing at restaurants...for tips.

EMILIO (VO) We needed the money so bad but it wasn't all about money. (OC) It was the only thing that kept me alive, being separated from my family. I knew that was the only time I was happy — when I used to play music.

[MUSIC: PARA TI]

[STILL MONTAGE: CUBAN ALBUM COVERS]

WILLY CHIRINO (VO) One of the things we brought from Cuba — we brought music. It helped us survive (OC) the early years. It helped us to keep us focused as to who we were.

[STILL: EMILIO AND BAND]

Emilio put together his own band, the Miami Latin Boys. They played American covers, Brazilian bossa novas, but mostly Cuban classics.

EMILIO ESTEFAN (VO) I grew up with the congas, (OC) and you know the old syncopation about pianos and everything. And uh, I always wanted to keep that. But I said if, you know, we can do this in two languages it will be a lot better, because I think that's who we are, that's the Miami Sound.

[STILL: EMILIO AND GLORIA AT PIANO]

Emilio had been looking for a girl who could sing in English as well as Spanish when he met Gloria Fajardo.

GLORIA ESTEFAN (ARCHIVE) We ran into each other in a wedding. We had met shortly before at a friend's house and he heard me sing on my guitar from the folk masses and things. And he says, "I remember you. ...Why don't you sit in with the band?" So I sat in, sang a couple of songs.

[FOOTAGE MONTAGE: "FEELINGS"]

EMILIO ESTEFAN (VO) I love her voice. It has this warmth when she sings that is fantastic.

[STILL: EMILIO AND GLORIA]

He asked Gloria to join his band — and before long asked her to marry him. With Gloria in the lead, the Miami Latin Boys needed a new name.

GLORIA ESTEFAN (ARCHIVE) We weren't boys anymore. And he thought , "Okay, she's gonna stay." We'd been there long enough for that, so we changed. They gave us the "Sound Machine", the small local company that signed us. We wanted to be just "Miami."

[STILL: ALBUM COVER - MIAMI SOUND MACHINE]

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "HOLA VILLA DEL MAR" TVN]

They played a fusion of American popular music-Rock and Roll, Funk and Disco -- but always with Cuban rhythms at its heart.

[STILL MONTAGE: GLORIA AND EMILIO AND MIAMI SOUND MACHINE]

For five years they toured constantly throughout Latin America for CBS records-selling out venues, promoting their albums.

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "OTRA VEZ"- TVN]

[STILL: GLORIA AND EMILIO ON BUS]

But Emilio could see beyond the grueling road trips to success in the much bigger English-language market. And in 1984, he took a chance.

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "DR. BEAT"]

EMILIO ESTEFAN I went to the label all excited. I said we have an English song that has all the beats. They said they will never play this on radio.

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "DR. BEAT"]

Dr. Beat was the B-side of a Sound Machine Spanish-language single, but Emilio hand-delivered it to every DJ he knew in clubs from Miami to New York. LINDA CABALLERO (LA INDIA) (VO) "Dr. Dr. Dr. (OC) Beat, Can you help me Dr. Beat?" I liked that song. It was cute.

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "DR. BEAT"]

Dr. Beat jumped to number one in Miami. Weeks later it topped the charts in Europe.

[FOOTAGE: MUSIC VIDEO - "DR BEAT"]

EMILIO ESTEFAN (OC) We went to Holland. People went crazy in Holland. (VO)They was dancing [FOOTAGE: EUROPEANS DANCING] jumping up and down. The people wanted more. I told Gloria, "Let's do a Cuban conga." She said, (OC) "They will never understand this." "They will!" We played the Cuban conga — people went crazy. (VO) And that night Gloria came (OC) out with idea, said "listen we should record a conga with English lyrics."

[FOOTAGE: MIAMI SOUND MACHINE: "CONGA" - REELING IN THE YEARS]

"Conga" was a true cultural hybrid -a fusion ahead of its time — the beat — resoundingly Cuban — the lyrics — an invitation for all to join in.

CONGA LYRICS: Everybody gather 'round now,_ let your body feel the heat. Don't you worry if you can't dance, _let the music move your feet. It's the rhythm of the island, _and like sugar cane, so sweet._ If you want to do the conga, _you've got to listen to the beat.

Come on shake your body baby do the Conga I know you can't control yourself any longer Come on shake your body baby_ do the conga beat.

"Too Cuban for Americans and too American for Cubans," executives predicted. "Good," replied Gloria "because that's who we are." EMILIO ESTEFAN I was so excited with the piano and the horns, and I mean. I went to SONY and SONY told me, "This will never happen. You're totally crazy."

JOSE BEHAR I was at CBS when Gloria was there and Emilio. That's where we met for the first time. (VO) And I remember going to the radio stations and taking the "Conga" single (OC) and they looked at me like — what are you...What is this?

[FOOTAGE: "CONGA" - MUSIC VIDEO]

Emilio produced the video on a shoestring — with no help from the record label.

EMILIO ESTEFAN (VO) My mom, my dad, my uncle my aunt, (OC) everybody is in the video. My niece is on the video.

[FOOTAGE: "CONGA" - MUSIC VIDEO]

"Conga" was a monster hit-appearing on Billboard's Dance, R &B, and Hot 100 charts -- all at the same time.

[FOOTAGE: MIAMI SOUND MACHINE CONCERT FOOTAGE]

WILLY CHIRINO (VO) There was this documentary on TV about (OC) Budapest and all of a sudden they had a shot of a disco in Budapest. And what song was playing? "Conga!" [FOOTAGE: MIAMI SOUND MACHINE CONCERT FOOTAGE] (VO) This is unbelievable! This is what we have done and (OC) what our music has achieved. This is tremendous.

[FOOTAGE: MIAMI SOUND MACHINE CONCERT FOOTAGE "O - EH - O - EH"]

For the music industry, it was an awakening. Latin record sales had mostly been tabulated in the tens of thousands, but the Miami Sound Machine was selling albums in the millions.

[FOOTAGE: MIAMI SOUND MACHINE CONCERT "THE RHYTHM IS GOING TO GET YA"]

JOSE BEHAR (VO) Freddie Fender, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, they all had successful crossover ventures. (OC) But Emilio and Gloria hit it out of the ballpark. (VO) It was one hit after the next.

[STILLS AND VIDEO: MONTAGE]

Their success caught the attention of the new president of Sony Music Entertainment, Thomas D. Mottola, an influential record executive with a reputation as a risk taker.

TOMMY MOTTOLA (VO) In looking at Gloria and Emilio, I saw an opportunity to take this great Miami sound that they had come up with and (OC) take it and make it into popular music throughout the world.

[FOOTAGE: CONCERT MIAMI SOUND MACHINE]

The Estefans would anchor Tommy Mottola's Latin music venture. Gloria would be his first star, soon to be known as "the Queen of Latin Pop."

SERGIO GEORGE (VO) She made Hispanics hip. She took 'em out of the barrio. And Americans said WOW you know what? They are all not just a bunch of people holding people up in elevators (OC) in the projects and breaking into cars. They are pretty intelligent and it's great music. So she gave it credibility.

LEILA COBO She spoke in both languages. She sung in both languages. She's a very accessible woman. She's very personable.

[FOOTAGE: GLORIA IN CONCERT "YOUR TEMPERMENTAL MOODY SIDE."]

SERGIO GEORGE (VO) It gave the American record labels the impetus to say "Hey! (OC) You know what? There is a big business here. We're going to try to find other Gloria Estefans." And it put Latin music on the map in a big way.

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