Dance music has always been a welcoming refuge for older divas. In fact, it’s probably the one popular genre where age really isn’t a factor at all. A dancefloor scorcher by a 50-something, 60-something or even a 70-something (hello 78-year-old Yoko Ono, owner of seven straight Club Play #1s — the most recent coming just last month) has as much chance of success as a track by a 20-something pop tart.
The music’s capacity for extending commercial relevance is a major reason why artists like Madonna, Cher, Donna Summer, Cyndi Lauper and numerous others continue to pas de deux with dance music well past the age that many of them would even care to step onto a dancefloor.
Another key motivator for working in the genre must be the artistic opportunity it creates for working with the hippest, most cutting-edge producers. For example, latin crossover superstar Gloria Estefan, 54, bonded across a generation with urban super-producer Pharrell Williams, 38, to craft her sizzling, new beat-heavy release, “Miss Little Havana.”
It’s the singer’s first English-language album since 2003 and her 26th overall. Perfectly underscoring my opening point, lead single “Wepa” hit the top of the Club Play chart the week of Oct. 2.
“Havana” loosely relates the tale of a 17-year old girl (“with a body just like a model”) who comes to the big city of Miami seeking love and adventure. In the album-opening title cut, she hooks up with a lothario on the dancefloor and begins a tumultuous journey that’s traced over 15 cuts, nine helmed by Williams and a closing quartet produced by Estefan’s husband Emilio.
Surprisingly, the project wasn’t conceived — or even written — to be a concept album. “Everything happened really naturally, and that’s always a good sign. When we finished, I pointed out to [Pharrell] that the songs told a story. It didn’t start as a concept, but that’s how it worked out.”
In the end, though, dance albums don’t succeed because of their tales; they succeed because of our tails — specifically, whether we feel compelled to shake them to the sound. As a longtime fan of Estefan, I’m delighted to say that the propulsive latin rhythms of “Little Miss Havana” had me movin’ from first cut to last.
And that, the diva says, is the entire point of the project. “It’s a celebration of dance. Dancing is one of the things that unites us, regardless of age, background or social standing. You can have just as much fun on the dancefloor as any millionaire.” : :