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'Súbeme La Radio' Is Cuba's Heartbreak Anthem Of The Summer

In Latin America — and in the U.S., for that matter — it's been hard for a song this summer to break past Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's super-hit "Despacito." But "Súbeme La Radio" — a track about how a good song takes your mind off heartache — might just give "Despacito" a run for its money.

"Súbeme La Radio" is sung by Enrique Iglesias and was written by Cuban composer-turned-jazz bassist Descemer Bueno and Puerto Rican reggaeton duo Zion and Lennox. Its lyrics depict a familiar scene: turning up the radio while nursing a broken heart. And it's climbing the charts.

This isn't Bueno and Iglesias' first collaboration: They worked together on 2014's homage to dancing, "Bailando," with Bueno's fellow Cuban musicians Gente de Zona. The song won several Latin Grammys that year.

The lyrics to "Súbeme La Radio" may be filled with heartbreak, but the song is upbeat, Bueno says from a soundcheck in Havana. He was rehearsing the hit song for a solo concert in the historic Hotel Nacional.

Bueno's foray into Cuban reggaeton is a new turn for him. "I come from more romantic songwriting," explains the songwriter, now 46.

The Cuban reggaeton sound of "Subeme la Radio" is a departure for Descemer Bueno, pictured here at a Spanish gala in July.
Daniel Perez / Getty Images
Getty Images
The Cuban reggaeton sound of "Subeme la Radio" is a departure for Descemer Bueno, pictured here at a Spanish gala in July.

He started his music career playing bass with famed Cuban troubadour Santiago Feliú, later breaking out in his own jazz bands. After stints in the U.S. and South Africa, his music turned grittier, bearing influences of everything from New York rap to Caribbean calypso and reggae. By the 2000s, Bueno was producing songs for pop stars and Hollywood movies.

"He's the best songwriter right now in Cuba," says Celia Mendoza of Cuban music magazine Vistar (Bueno graced one of the magazine's first covers). "And even though he's not the best voice there is in the market, his lyrics are so good that his songs are good."

Bueno wrote "Súbeme La Radio" not expecting to solo in it, he says — but Iglesias insisted he write himself a special verse.

"Huyendo del pasado en cada madrugada / No encuentro ningún modo de borrar nuestra historia," he sings. It translates to "Running from the past in the early morning / I can't find any way to erase our history."

"Súbeme La Radio" captures how Bueno hopes to contribute more sensuality in his songwriting. His lyrics are more positive, he says, portraying women in a role that's fundamental to love without the exploitation and violence that sometimes shows up in pop music these days. And his approach is proving popular: The video for "Súbeme La Radio" has more than half a billion views.

And, perhaps most importantly: Bueno says the song is great to dance to.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.