Remembering the King: Latinos' tribute to Michael Jackson

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We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when the news of Michael Jackson‘s death reached us, exactly three years ago today. It was one of those things that shocked music fans all over the world. It was the most tweeted event, up to that point. Nobody was expecting it, we even doubted if he was mortal at all. We had taken him for granted, because, well, he was a huge music icon since like forever–since way before most of us were born.

I personally remember when Thriller came out (that’s how old I am) and kids at school traded Michael Jackson collectible cards. I remember a couple years later, around the time when Bad came out, I attended my first school dance and I shocked my classmates when I won an impromptu MJ impersonation contest on the dance floor. I was lucky to see him live once, during the Dangerous tour that brought him to South America for the first and only time in 1993 and I was so absorbed by Michaelmania that I was one of the kids hanging out outside his hotel in Buenos Aires hoping to meet him in person. My first night club gig wasn’t as a DJ, almost a decade before I even touched a turntable, I went on stage at a club doing my lame imitation of a moonwalking and all his other dance moves to the song “Jam” that was huge at the moment.

Then, of course, the whole child molestation scandal broke out and he kinda faded out of the mainstream and I partially lost interest in his music, I even almost forgot about him until that afternoon when I walked into a store in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury and I overheard the clerk telling another customer about the big news. Suddenly everybody was talking, tweeting and blogging about it. That night I DJ a special Michael Jackson tribute set, the following night I attended a Michael Jackson tribute party and I busted out my old, rusty, moves in public again and it was then, right there, that I met this woman who would eventually become my wife.

So, as you can see, Michael Jackson’s music has been, one way or an other, always intertwined with my own biography and I’m not the only one. He has influenced many others all over the world and particularly in Latin America (our area of interest) and to prove that I put together this list of ten songs that pay homage to the King of Pop done by Latin artists.

by Omega feat. Michael Jackson
[Dominican Republic]

For his “mambo” tribute to the King of Pop, Dominican singer Omega imagined a collaboration or more accurately a featured appearance on one of Michael songs. “Remember the Time” was originally about reminiscing over a love story with a woman (an Egyptian pharaoh, if we are to follow the video‘s storyline), but in Omega‘s tribute, it’s about remembering Michael and his legacy. Still, it’s just a half-assed cover with some really horrible vocals and it’s practically an insult that he listed Michael Jackson as his guest when in reality all he did was overdub his own vocals over Michael’s original track.

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by Aiken

“Billie Jean” is probably amongst the all-time most covered pop songs, right next to “Yesterday” and “Girl from Ipanema,” and of course there’re plenty of versions of it done by Latin American artists. This one here, by a Chilean hard-rock band Aiken, is pretty cool. It reminds me of that rock cover of “Smooth Criminal” that turned Riverside’s Alien Ant Farm into an overnight one-hit-wonder back in 2001.

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by Seu Jorge & Almaz

Everybody loved Seu Jorge‘s Portuguese language covers of David Bowie‘s classics on The Life Aquatic. This stoner cover of Michael Jackson’s pre-Thriller hit, however, didn’t get that much appraisal. Not only did he removed all the funkiness and disco glamour off it, he sung it in English. I really don’t know what he was trying to achieve with this but oh well, the rest of that album with Almaz wasn’t too bad.

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by Dead Menems

I remember I DJ’d at a party the night after Michael’s death was announced and I opened my set with this song. Nobody understood it. I was there laughing my ass off at the DJ booth with my friend, until I realized what was going on and I had to switch to the next song. OK, maybe it’s not the best “tribute” to the gloved one (they’re telling a girl “your face is so ugly that you remind me of Maicol Yacsn”) but I still think it’s freakin’ hilarious and it’s definitely the most original covers on this lists. Note: It desperately needs a video.

by Frescolate feat. Genesis

Why make yet another cover, when you can actually create a whole new song dedicated to honor your fallen idol? Before he was a champion b-boy and Buenos Aires’ undisputed king of freestyle rap, Frescolate was a huge Michael Jackson fan as a kid (weren’t we all?). In his latest album he decided to pay homage to his childhood hero with this song featuring his brother Genesis on chorus. It could’ve worked better without the (bad) English singing, but the rap verses are not bad at all and you can tell he’s really pulling those words from his heart, he really loved Michael.

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by Caetano Veloso

Mr. Veloso has one of the most beautiful male voices ever and whatever he sings will inevitably sound gorgeous. Even when improvising live a sorta bossa-nova cover of Michael Jackson’s biggest hit in an intimate, unplugged fashion. Completely changed the melody of the original but only he can get away with stuff like that.

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by Los Negros Fumancheros

When I found out Los Negros Fumancheros did a cumbia cover of Michael Jackson, I wasn’t expecting this. At all. I mean, these guys are known for doing ganja-inspired, barrio cumbia, heavily influenced by cumbia villera. And this is the song they chose to cover? For reals? Of all Michael Jackson’s extensive catalog they went for “Heal The Word”? And did it without any irony, in a respectful manner and even sung the lyrics in proper English? Honestly, I thought I was in for a laugh, but this is actually pretty decent.

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by Los Míticos del Ritmo

After the successful reception of his classic hip-hop tunes in instrumental cumbia versions, British producer Quantic and his Colombian band Los Míticos del Ritmo included two Anglo-pop covers on their self-titled album released earlier this year. One of them is Queen’s “Otro Muerde El Polvo” the other one is this one by the king of pop. I loved the song titles translated to Spanish, that’s how the record industry in Latin America used to roll back then.

by Capri

By just listening to it, we really wouldn’t know why Capri titled his song “Michael Forever.” The song doesn’t explicitly mention him or anything, and honestly, he has some other songs (on his previous album, 2004’s genius Mamma Killer Night) that sounded way more influenced by Michael’s style. Then you watch the video and it’s even more confusing, Michael is there, watching him perform, as if Capri was auditioning to be in Michael’s band, or something. One thing is for sure, Capri loves Michael Jackson and he wanted to somehow pay homage to his idol after his death, he did so with an awesome video.

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by Los Terapeutas del Ritmo

Yet another cover of “Billie Jean,” you had the hard rock version, and the bossa-nova, what’s next? Of course, a cumbia version! Peruvian cover band Los Terapeutas del Ritmo managed to obtain the first place on this list thanks in part to this amazing video with a cameo appearance by the South American Youtube queen of bizarreness hereself: La Tigresa Del Oriente! Of course, a Michael impersonator is also there, mixed in this contrived storyline (is he the same one from Capri‘s video?) and to see king and queen together, doing a dance duel and her majesty calling him “papucho”… epic win!

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Bonus Track!
Brazilian taxi driver beat-boxer Michael Jackson impersonator

This guy became a viral celebrity overnight in Brazil and all over the interwebs thank to this short video and his incomparable skills. He can sing, in a perfect Michael Jackson imitation, at the same time he plays the drum and bass lines of the track with his mouth… and does all this while driving! The fact that he doesn’t know any English and he’s just making up words that sort of match the phonetics of the original doesn’t even matter, in fact, it makes this cover even better.

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Tell us which MJ cover/tribute song is your favorite, if or if not on this list.