Leslie Grace has been working in silence, preparing for her film debut in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights movie and the launch of the new version of “Conga,” premiering exclusively on Billboard today (Jan. 28).
Produced by Canadian producer Boi-1da and in collaboration with Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill, the reimagined “Conga” gives Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine’s ‘80s party banger a rhythmic-pop-urban twist. The new version, released under Sony Music Latin, is part of Bacardi’s “Conga Feat. You” campaign that launched in November.
“Bacardi presented this amazing plan, where they wanted me to recreate ‘Conga,’” Leslie Grace tells Billboard. “I couldn’t believe it was possible but they assured me that both Gloria and Emilio [Estefan] were on board. They wanted to entrust me with this project and I couldn’t pass on the opportunity.”
Calling the process “innovative,” Grace explained that the project originally began at the end of 2019 but was put on pause because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I went into the studio pre-Covid with Boi-1da. We immediately hit it off. I had written the first verse and the pre onto a loop he had sent me,” she notes. “Everything else was basically done remotely. Meek Mill jumped on the track later on after listening to the structure we built.”
The Estefans were also part of the process “every step of the way.”
Grace adds: “Everyone was really focused on maintaining the essence of this iconic track. Having their support and suggestions was beautiful. They approved every single thing on the project. This was really a labor of love and really intentional every step of the way with the original creators involved.”
“Conga” was the first Billboard Hot 100 hit for Gloria and Miami Sound Machine, peaking at No. 10 in February 1986. The song also hit No. 1 on Dance Singles Sales for one week in November 1985, and No. 7 on Dance Club Songs. The new version, at the helm of Grace, Mill, and Boi-1da, marks the first and only official remake of the original Latin dance classic in over 30 years.
“I’m a nineties baby, my generation grew up with ‘Conga’ and I grew up listening and dancing to the song in my living room,” Grace recounts. “Gloria is an inspiration to me. She’s one of the first artists I saw singing in both languages. I feel so honored and blessed to do this with Boi-1da and Meek Mill.”
Below, Billboard compares both tracks.
Artist: Gloria Estefan, Miami Sound Machine
Release year: 1985
Song: Written by the band’s drummer and lead songwriter Enrique Garcia, “Conga” was a party-starter in its totality. With its dance-pop melodies fused with heavy Latin rhythms, everyone that heard the song in the ’80s, ’90s, and beyond, knows it’s time to grab your friends and create a conga line. Penned by the band’s drummer and lead songwriter Enrique Garcia, “Conga” in an English-language song that forms part of Miami Sound Machine’s sophomore English-language album, and ninth overall, Primitive Love.
Video: Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine literally get the party started in the music video that kicks off at a classical music concert in Miami nightclub Copacabana. “I can’t believe how boring this is. Why did we come here?” asks an unamused Gloria. Jumping on stage to perform for the ambassador, the young musicians then light up the party with the “Conga.” Flashing heavy makeup, hairdos, and ’80s fashion, the group brings the fiesta to the upscale event, where they are joined by a group of carnival dancers and an entire audience on their feet.
Artist: Leslie Grace, Meek Mill
Release year: 2021
Song: For the most part, the 2021 version of “Conga” keeps its Latin dance-pop essence but 50-seconds into the track, Leslie brings in a catchy reggaeton beat. Full with attitude and a fresh modern twist, Meek drops his slick rap verses while the chorus preserves its tropical rumba flares.
Video: Filmed in Portugal and following all of the safety guidelines, the vibrant crowdsourced music video features, in addition to Meek and Leslie, a wave of celebs and influencers. Sports Illustrated 2020 swimsuit issue cover girl Jasmine Sanders, viral street-dance performer Lil Buck, singer, dancer, and TV judge Alesha Dixon, and Emilio Estefan himself, form part of the lively block party. The music video debuts Thursday (Jan. 28), in advance of the 2021 Super Bowl during which the official 30-second ad spot will air during pre- and post-game programming.