Happy 20th Anniversary to Gloria Estefan’s eighth solo studio album gloria!, originally released June 2, 1998.
For Gloria Estefan, the night of April 14, 1998 was a night unlike any other.
The songwriter, vocalist, record producer and musician joined an assemblage of her preeminent female peers and predecessors for “VH-1 Divas Live,” a charity concert for the network's “Save the Music Foundation.” The roster on the Beacon Theatre stage in New York City induced wonder—Aretha Franklin, Céline Dion, Mariah Carey and Shania Twain. Each woman impressed, but Estefan stole the show with a breezy collection of her hits (six) and a new song, “Heaven's What I Feel.” A crowd pleaser, it was set to appear on Estefan's eighth solo studio album gloria! in early June of 1998.
gloria! represented an 18-year journey for the Cuban-born songstress that reached back to Miami Sound Machine’s Live Again/Renacer (1977) release on Audiofon Records. Miami Sound Machine, an enterprising collective of instrumentalists founded by Estefan’s husband Emilio, tasked tirelessly for seven years exclusively in the Latin American scene honing their abilities. In 1984, Miami Sound Machine landed their debut international hit “Dr. Beat” for the CBS/Epic imprint. That following year, they were warming the American charts with their smash “Conga.”
Overnight, Estefan, the band’s frontwoman, found herself among a cache of Latina women of the era—Sheila E., Lisa Lisa, Angela Bofill—that were breaking down gender, color, cultural and class barriers stateside and abroad. Specifically, Estefan's form of dance-pop, fueled by an authentic Latin musicianship liberated and reclaimed from the corners of American R&B/disco/rock session music, stormed the charts and cemented an enviable crossover blueprint.
As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, Estefan emerged as the solo superpower from Miami Sound Machine. Further acclaim awaited her with respective records that saw her embrace (and refine) both traditional Spanish language and English adult contemporary fare. But it was dance music that had won Estefan her initial favor. Posited as a “return to the dancefloor,” gloria! was eagerly anticipated from the moment it was announced and her teasing of “Heaven’s What I Feel” in April 1998 only heightened the excitement.
gloria! was penned and produced at Estefan's own Miami headquartered Crescent Moon Studios throughout much of 1997. As the sessions journeyed along, it was apparent that despite Estefan’s immersion in the Spanish/balladic sides of her creative persona, she hadn't completely forsaken dance. Two of her biggest hits in 1994 had been fiery reworkings of ‘70s floor-filler favorites “Turn the Beat Around” (by Vicki Sue Robinson) and “Everlasting Love” (by Carl Carlton).
There had been successful remixes of the singles “Tradición” and “You'll Be Mine (Party Time)” that acknowledged modish discothèque trends as well. Tony Moran, one of the disc jockey heavyweights of the period, had worked on club revamps for select material from Estefan’s 1996 LP Destiny. Because of this, she requested Moran write and produce gloria! with her. Moran’s involvement evinced Estefan’s grasp of dance music culture at that time. Additional writers, producers and players principal to the construction of gloria! included her husband, Kike Santander and Lawrence P. Dermer.
The solidity of gloria! lies in its awareness that dance music is fluid, its imagination determined solely by that of its wielder. Under Estefan's direction, gloria!’s eleven originating tracks—putting aside five bonus remixes—luxuriate in a merry-making blend of (then) modern disco (“Don't Let This Moment End”), salsa (“Oye!,” “Lucky Girl”), electro-funk (“Feelin’”) and a plethora of other dance sub-genres’ accents. Every jam on the LP fits Estefan’s sublime contralto beautifully, a benefit of her unending attention to her craft which ensures the utmost pleasure for the regardful listener.
Thusly, Estefan makes gloria! a sonic experience by segueing the entire affair, but more important is what she does to the internal workings of the songs themselves. Laden with production mechanisms that can briskly adjust their modulation at any moment, each number is its own mini-epic, full of scope, depth and drama. A notable example of this technique is the sensual “Don’t Release Me,” which uses the bait and switch of a slow groove opener before picking up the pace halfway through. Here, Estefan partners convincingly with the iconic Fugees founder Wyclef Jean. Their collaboration predates his union with Shakira on her own charter “Hips Don’t Lie” by eight years.
Polished and prepared to hit the floor, Estefan's most celebratory raft of songs was set loose on June 2, 1998. Certainly a soirée to remember, all four of the gloria! singles—“Heaven's What I Feel,” “Oye!” “Don't Let This Moment End” and “Cuba Libre”—were welcomed with open arms overseas and on the domestic dance/club charts. Mainstream pop radio in the United States kept gloria! at arm’s length though. It was an ironic predicament for Estefan considering that the so-called “Latin pop explosion” that would subvert the United States one year later owed everything to her pioneering efforts.
In any case, gloria! still racked up the requisite amount of gold and platinum certifications, Grammy nominations and other assorted industry accolades. In a discography rife with groundbreaking achievements, gloria! is nonpareil, a vital, joyful and sensuous love letter to the music of the mirrorball masses signed, sealed and delivered personally—and uniquely—by Mrs. Gloria Estefan herself.