Dress, very chic
One, two, daiquiris
Dancin' to the Cuban beat
Read full Lyrics
On January 14, 2012, Gloria Estefan made history by becoming the first female artist to achieve a Number 1 hit song on the Billboard Latin Songs chart since the chart was first introduced in 1986. The song that made history is “Hotel Nacional,” a dance tune celebrating the glamour and party vibe of the legendary Hotel Nacional de Cuba as it was in its heyday.
The Havana of the 1930s – now dubbed Old Havana, a district in the modern capital home to some two million people – was still recovering from war, but enjoyed a new era of development thanks in part to newly made Cuban tycoons. The tourist industry boomed and Havana complied, enriching the city with luxury hotels, casinos and upmarket nightclubs. The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was one such hotel.
Located on the Malecón esplanade running along the northern seawall of Havana, this historic hotel was known for its luxurious accommodation and VIP clientele. The hotel opened in 1930 at a time when Cuba was the 'it' tourist destination for Americans. The hotel hosted movie stars such as Marlon Brando and John Wayne, musical legend Frank Sinatra, writer Ernest Hemingway, scientist Alexander Flemming and even political and foreign dignitaries, such as Winston Churchill and the Duchess of Windsor.
In 1933, the hotel became the site of a bloody siege between the army supporters of Marchardo and the US-aligned Fulgencio Batista. In 1946, the hotel hosted an infamous mob summit as depicted by Francis Ford Coppola in his film The Godfather Part II
, and by 1957 Meyer Lansky had turned the hotel into one of his notorious gambling dens. But Lansky's prosperity was short lived. After almost two years of bloody revolution, Fidel Castro came to power and shut down the hotel in 1960, reserving it solely for accommodating visiting diplomats.
Alejandro de Humboldt National Park
After the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, Cuba opened its border to tourists and the Hotel Nacional once more welcomed visitors. Despite its restoration, today the hotel can no longer boast luxurious accommodation. Although still splendid architecturally, the hotel serves only as a reminder of Cuba's once rich and vibrant times, snuffed by war and revolution.
Released as the second single off Estefan's 2011 album Miss Little Havana
, "Hotel Nacional” celebrates the hotel as it was. The song itself Estefan describes as having “a very woody, old fashioned sound, 'cause it's jitterbuggy, this song. It's got clarinets, it's got saxes, and a whole different vibe – it sounds like you could be in the 1920s, but with hardcore dance.”
Hardcore dance or not, the music video certainly channels the swing era with its depiction of a rip-roaring party in a hotel complete with women in pearls and feather boas being tossed about the dance floor by men in suspenders and bowler hats. The smattering of French lyrics seem somewhat out of place, however, in a song celebrating Spanish Cuba, while the more Latin elements, usually evident in Estefan's music, are conspicuous by their absence in “Hotel Nacional.”
Despite Cuba's chequered history, songs like “Hotel Nacional” serve as a bitter-sweet reminder of the flamboyant personality of a nation still struggling against the tide of political unrest. ~ Suzanne van Rooyen
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Finland and finds the cold, dark forests nothing if not inspiring. Although she has a Master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include
Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and
The Other Me. When not writing, she teaches dance and music to middle schoolers and eats far too much peanut-butter.
Hotel Nacional Songfacts
Browse all Songplaces