Leslie Grace Reimagines Gloria Estefan's 1985 'Conga' with Her 'Blessing' — and Does It Justice
The Dominican-American queen — set to star in In the Heights this Summer — talks to PEOPLE about giving the iconic Latinx song a 2021 refresh
Come on, shake yo body!
Redoing a classic song is no easy feat, but Leslie Grace does it with ease. On Thursday, Grace released a refereshed version of Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine's 1985 hit "Conga" featuring Meek Mill as part of a collaboration with Bacardí — and she did it with the Estefans' "blessing."
"When they told me they were thinking about doing a remake of 'Conga,' I was like, 'Are you sure that's even allowed?'" Grace, 26, tells PEOPLE. "The Estefans have given us their blessing every step of the way and that to me was the most important thing."
The new song — and its electrifying, "mini-musical"-style video — successfully finds the in-between honoring the legacy of the past generation of Latinx leaders who paved the way for artists like Grace while playing into the music and styles of today. For Grace, that's what sold her.
"It's reflective of us, of our generation," the "Qué Será" singer says. "It's really reflective of who I am because I grew up in New York with Dominican parents who migrated here. And so I've always straddled that fence."
"Gloria was one of the first artists that I ever knew of as a kid that was able to dominate both markets and be a global superstar while being completely just authentic to who she was and where she came from," she adds. "That was a huge inspiration for me. So that's another reason why this moment is full circle and really special for me."
The track, using its original chorus, is refreshed with Spanish and English lyrics written by Grace herself — it's also layered with a rap verse from Meek Mill. ("I wanted to make sure it was right and that all the vocals sounded pristine. We had to do it justice," she says.)
The tropical music video — and its smooth scene transitions — was shot in August. When Grace watched it, "it blew my mind," she says.
Kicking off with "CONGA," which will be featured in ads before and after the Super Bowl, Grace's 2021 will be filled with excitement as she prepares to star as Nina in the film adaptation of In the Heights.
Like with the new track, Grace helps tell a quintessential Latinx story in the film.
"Filming this movie was the best summer of my life, hands down," Grace says. "I just feel a really personal connection to my character. I feel like a lot of us first-generation kids that have grown up here, but our parents are from our originating countries, we feel a lot of pressure to strive, to do our best, to make everybody proud and to also adapt and conform and but not lose and forget your roots."
"Nina is in that crossroads," she adds. "It's such an important story to tell. I think it's just so reflective of our culture and the beauty of who we are."
And while she preps for a jam-packed year, Grace is also reflecting on the year that was. In October, she penned a letter about what it was like for her to not only search for, but make meaning during a year filled with uncertainty.
"Finding and making meaning is something that you have to do on a daily basis," she says. "I'm starting to come to terms with that, because I think forever, we've been told, 'Find your purpose.' And that usually is your job or this big talent that you have. And really I'm starting to learn that meaning is found in so many little things."
"Quarantine was the first time that I hadn't fully jumped into something immediately after a work gig," she adds. "And I moved to LA, I did all of these things I had never done before for the first time on my own. And I was like, what do I want all this time to mean? And really I just wanted to discover myself more and see who I am outside of my work, which is hard for all of us to do. I'm still learning."
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