Classic songs in Cuba – and crazy modern covers

Occasionally I lead groups to Cuba. (Yes, legally!) I’ve become friendly with some of the musicians I regularly cross paths with, whether at the hotels or restaurants where they work, or when they’re just sitting around playing for fun.

I’m a big music lover and not a bad singer. Sometimes a group will invite me to join them for a song or two. In touristy settings, that’s mostly classic songs of Cuba and Latin America, plus anything popularized by Buena Vista Social Club. I know some of the classics already, and I’ve been learning others that I keep hearing them play.

I’m heading to Cuba again this week and was reviewing some of my favorites. Then I started watching different versions on YouTube. Fun stuff. Here are a few classics – together with modern renditions that don’t sound much like the original! See what you think.

And – if you have a favorite version or song I didn’t list, please leave a comment about it!

Piel Canela

Piel Canela means “cinnamon skin.” The song basically means: Let the whole world go to hell, all I need is you, with your dark eyes and cinnamon skin.

Original by Bobby Capo, Cuba:

Cover by Natalia LaFourcade y la Fourquetina, Mexico. I love this.


This one’s about love, loss, and betrayal. Classic torch song, covered a million times. English and instrumental versions have been popular, too.

Original by Lupita Palomera, Mexico:

Cover by Los Rabanes, Panama. This is one of those songs I liked better before I paid attention to what they were saying. The musical revamp of Perfidia is cool, but the rap they added is all chauvinistic. Skip the rap.

Cover by La Portuaria, Argentina:

Perfidia – instrumental

Original by the Xavier Cugat Orchestra, United States:

Cover by Cafe Tacuba, Mexico. I got this CD about 15 years ago and listened to this version a million times before ever hearing any other… kind of a weird introduction to such a classic song.

Quizas, Quizas (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)

Another classic torch song. The singer needs to know: Is this true love, or not? But the answer is always just “Perhaps.”

There’s no canonical version that I’m aware of. But here are a couple of the greats. First, Celia Cruz, Cuba/USA:

In English and Spanish by Desi Arnaz, Cuba/USA:

In English by Doris Day, USA. I learned this version from the movie Strictly Ballroom. Great movie, great song.

Cover in English and Spanish by Lila Downs, Mexico:

Cover in English by Cake, USA:

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