Exactly three years ago, legendary Mexican singer, songwriter and composer Juan Gabriel left this Earthly plain to delight audiences in the afterlife, likely shimmying in all-white sequins as he belts the heavenly classics.
The outpouring of love has taken many forms over the years, sparking costume choices, merchandise and even a viral urban legend claiming El Divo de Juárez had gone into hiding and would make a triumphant Christmas-time return, late last year. Of course, Juan Gabriel’s catalog of more than 1,800 songs and countless iconic performances have also been the source of much homage, and while every tribute is special in its own way, there’s a unique perspective to gain when the love comes from a dear friend.
“I grew up thinking of Juan Gabriel as the greatest artist in Latin America,” reflects Georgel, the Mexican singer-songwriter putting a new guapachoso spin on one of El Divo’s most beloved chart-toppers, “El Noa Noa.” Georgel and his husband, Guillermo Rosas, were close friends of Juan Gabriel, lovingly remembering him as Alberto, his legal name and off-stage identity. Alongside Colombian pop sensation Esteman and powerhouse vocalist-producer Juan Pablo Vega, the musical dream team has taken the country-western flavored earworm and reimagined it as a dreamy cumbia of fantastical proportions. The effervescent tribute is accompanied by a whimsical and hedonistic new video setting Georgel and Esteman in a campy cabaret of neons, sequin and dramatic gender-bending aimed at spotlighting the song’s foundational queer significance.
“‘El Noa Noa’ was an international hit during the ’80s and a social phenomenon for the LGBTQ+ community,” Georgel writes via e-mail. “It gave strength to the phrase, ‘ser de ambiente’ (being part of the LGBTQ+ community) and in my opinion, it was a window into the world where [Juan Gabriel] always wanted to live.”
Juan Gabriel’s sexuality has been the subject of speculation for decades and while never directly confirmed, the overtness of his personal style, performances and quotable interviews cemented his place in the pantheon of queer deities long ago. Regardless, “El Noa Noa” is based on the story of a Juarez nightclub, where you could dance and let loose as your unencumbered self, a message that has spoken to fans across generations.
“From the onset, the fact [Georgel] offered me ‘El Noa Noa’ was wonderful because it’s a song that in its heyday was an anthem for many people,” Esteman writes, underscoring the influence of Juan Gabriel’s bold songwriting. “But because of the times and how that generation was, it was just a little taste of everything Juan Gabriel couldn’t fully make visible. What’s beautiful about bringing it back in this day and age is that we are showing it to a new generation, reviving it and making it alive again with two voices that are part of the LGBT community.”
Earlier this year, Esteman released a new album titled Amor Libre, a narrative milestone unraveling his ongoing journey of love and sexuality in songs like “Noche Sensorial,” “Fuimos Amor” and the title track, which features Chilean indie pop diva Javiera Mena. For Georgel, a long-time songwriter and rising soloist, his queerness has been on display from the jump, co-writing songs like “Que Me Duela” with Gloria Trevi and “Pa Morir Nacemos” with Mexican duo Mitre, as well as in solo releases “Meteorito” and “Colibrí.”
“El Noa Noa” will always represent safe harbor for revelers seeking dance floor refuge and thanks to this exciting update, it seems its legacy will continue far into a shimmering future.