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Latin Music Lovers Book List

Give the Gift of Books to Latin Music Fans

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If you or someone on your shopping list loves Latin music AND reading, here is a great list of books that will make the holiday a special occasion.

1. Tito Puente - 'When The Drums Are Dreaming' (Biography)

Josephine Powell was Tito Puente's former dance partner, artistic adivsor and now the author of what promises to be a colorful, first-hand rendition of the life of a man who brought us so much pleasure with his music. Powell is a gold medal ballroom dancer, a Cuban music historian and acted as consultant to films such as Salsa, Havana, and The Mambo Kings.

Puente's first dream was to become a dancer and only gave it up when an ankle injury caused him to explore other musical endeavors. Too bad for him, lucky for us.

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2. Sarah Bird - The Flamenco Academy (Novel)

Sarah Bird - The Flamenco Academy

Sarah Bird is one of my favorite authors, although The Flamenco Academy is the first book she's written about dance. This is a wonderful book, telling both a contemporary and historic story about flamenco dancers. With prose that is often as staccato as the sound of a dancers pounding feet, she brings the world of flamenco to life in a way I've never read before - you can hear the gypsy canto and the burning guitar rifts, feel the passion of the dancer as you read this story.

A great book for anyone who loves flamenco or loves to dance, the book is not rated-PG, so you might avoid this as a gift for younger dancers.

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3. Patricia Chao - Mambo Peligroso (Novel)

Patricia Chao - Mambo Peligroso

I was a dancer in my youth, and this novel is so true to life I could not put it down until the final, fateful pages. It tells the story of a group of dancers who live for salsa, and it tells it with such an authentic flair for what the life is like, that I found it an eerie (though by no means identical) image of an obsessive life.

If your obsession is salsa music, dancing salsa or both, this is a book you won't be able to put down. There are lots of references to the songs that make dancing salsa a sheer pleasure so you might be able to find more great music to add to your dance music repetoire. This is also another novel that needs to be rated 'R' for scenes of steamy sex and some drug use.

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4. Monica Brown - My Name is Celia / Me Llamo Celia (Children's Biography)

Celia Cruz, the "Queen of Salsa", led as colorful a life as the colors of this vibrant story. This is a lovely book for a child interested in music or in Cuban heritage. It is also bilingual, with text in both English and Spanish on every page.

The text is listed as appropriate for Grade levels 1 & 2, but I think that might be a little ambitious. Winner of Americas Award for Children's & Young Adult Literature, this is one of several books in Luna Rising's bilingual Latino storybook-biography series; if you like this one, you might check out some of the other children's biographies they offer.

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5. Marc Shapiro - Passion & Pain: The Life of Hector Lavoe (Biography)

With the release of Jennifer Lopez / Marc Anthony's El Cantante, interest in Hector Lavoe is at an all-time high. There are a lot of biographies out about the tortured Puerto Rican singer, and I can't say that this is the best one. But it is the easiest one to read; those curious about the life of Hector Lavoe can get a pretty comprehensive picture of the singer's life in an hour or two.

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6. Celia Cruz/ Ana Cristina Raymundo - My Life (Autobiography)

If there's one artist in Latin music that most people in the world are familiar with, that person would be Celia Cruz. She was colorful, outspoken and a consummate artist. There are lots of biographies written about her extraordinary life, but this is the story of her life in her own words (well, with the help of Ana Cristina Reymundo).

From her beginnings in Havana, her defection to the U.S., the Fania years and the birth of salsa, this book is full of people, stories and the heat of those most exciting years in the history of Latin music.

Spanish Version

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7. Ximena Diego - Shakira: Woman Full of Grace (Biography)

One of the most well-known Latin stars in the world, the life of Shakira (so far) is good reading and good inspiration for would-be artists. Shakira's irrepressible spirit and unique outlook on life, music and the world that differentiates her from other Latin music stars.

There are any number of biographies about Shakira - even though she's only in her early 30s - but this is the one that I believe does her the most justice. If you're as fascinated by belly-dancing diva as much of the world is, an evening spent reading about her life should be mucho rewarding.

The book is available in both English and Spanish.
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8. Sue Steward - !Musica! (Music History)

Sue Steward - Musica

This is one of my very favorite books on Latin music, focusing on the tropical genres (salsa, rumba, merengue, etc.), although the focus is primarily on salsa and its roots. Well written, easy to read, full of trivia about the artists that created and performed the compelling rhythms of the tropics, it covers the genres from Afro-Cuban beginnings through Marc Anthony and La India. The book was published in 1999, which gives you an idea of the newer tropical genres which are not covered.

T!Musica! has lots of pictures - pretty much on every page. In many cases, there are mini-biographies that go along with the picture, so if you're not in the mood to read lots of prose, you can just thumb through and learn about your favorite artists.

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9. Ruy Castro- Bossa Nova (Music History)

Ruy Castro - Bossa Nova

If Brazilian rhythms stir your blood, then Ruy Castro's history of bossa nova and the artists that made it such an international sensation, might be just the gift you're looking for. It covers the musical course of giants like Joao Gilberto, Tom Jobim, Gilberto Gil, Caetano Velos and oh so many more.

This is fascinating, well-written musical history that offers serious insight into the course of bossa nova and tropicalia via stories, quotes and an incredible wealth of insider knowledge about how the music was created and where it goes from here.

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10. Ed Morales - The Latin Beat (Music History)

Ed Morales - The Latin Beat

The Latin Beat is a wonderful, comprehensive journey through Latin music from its roots until about 2002. It pretty much covers it all - tropical,pop,rock,alternative,Brazilian,Mexican and more. Ed Morales is a noted writer and journalist who has spent years writing about Latin life and music for periodicals like Village Voice, Rolling Stone, New York Newsday, Miami Herald and much more.

The book is very well written and full of interesting stories and profiles, but it's not an easy reading book that you would pick up for 10 minutes at a time (although I guess you could). This is a book for someone seriously interested in the course of Latin music.

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11. Raul Fernandez - Latin Jazz: The Perfect Combination (Music History)

Raul Fernandez - Latin Jazz

If you love Latin jazz as much as I do, then this book is one you will cherish. The book is in a large, coffee table format. It's chock full of pictures and and mini-biographies, covering Latin jazz from its roots in the 19th century through modern times.

This is a good book for browsing, but it's easy enough to read it straight through in one sitting. The other great thing about it: the prose is in both English and Spanish, sitting side by side.

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