ListN Up: Carlos Carrillo (May 18, 2023)

ListN Up is a series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice.

Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, composer Carlos Carrillo holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Yale University (MM), and the University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.). He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Joseph H. Bearns Prize in Music, the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and BMI and ASCAP awards. Carlos has taught composition at DePauw University, Reed College, and the Conservatory of Music in San Juan. He is currently an associate professor of composition/theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Hello everyone, my name is Carlos Carrillo, and I am a composer from Puerto Rico living in Urbana, Ill. I have created a playlist not of the modern classical music that encompasses my professional life, but rather of the music from my native Puerto Rico and our sister island Cuba that has accompanied me since childhood. Although it is not the style of music that I write, it is a very personal list of music that I constantly listen to and which informs my life and creative work. I hope that you enjoy it!

“Amada Mia” by Cheo Feliciano

“Amada Mia” is one of the most iconic songs in Puerto Rican music. In an unforgettable performance by the great Cheo Feliciano, “Amada Mia” is a musical referent, often quoted in other songs.

“Mamá, cuídame a Belén” by Paracumbe

A beautiful and powerful example of Puerto Rican African heritage, Bomba music, and dance, are fundamental to our island identity. This particular song has been part of my personal playlist since the first time I heard it.

“Alondras en el bosque” by Quique y Tomás

This particular recording by Quique y Tomas of a Puerto Rican danza, a 19th-century musical style, has always been a favorite of mine.

“Bello Amanecer” by Ruth Fernández

Like Cheo Feliciano, Ruth Fernández is one of the most revered voices in Puerto Rican music. It is not only her voice that I love but also the orchestral arrangement, and that this song is an ode to the island that I miss every day while I am far from it.

Mi triste problema – Cheo Feliciano

A long time ago, I heard the story that the composer of this song — Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso — was informed that a slow song was needed to complete a new album by Cheo Feliciano. Legend says that he wrote this masterpiece while driving to the studio after that call and proceeded to demonstrate and record once he arrived there. I am not sure about the story’s accuracy, but I love how it talks to the genius of “Don Tite.” In addition, I have always loved this album’s cover, where we can see my favorite city, San Juan.

“Las ingratitudes” by Cortijo y su Combo

Another example of Bomba-influenced music by two of the greatest musicians from the island, Rafael Cortijo and Ismael “Maelo” Rivera.

“La loma del tamarindo” by El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

It is hard to select one single song by El Gran Combo. But this song shows multiple things at once: the hybridity common to Caribbean music — a salsa band playing a song that mixes “decima” (music from the mountains of Puerto Rico) with rhythms more common to salsa.

“Esto no es una elegia” by Silvio Rodriguez

The last two selections in this list have a very special meaning to me. They are not by Puerto Rican musicians but rather by Cubans. If there is a playlist that accompanies me every day, it is the songs of Pablo and Silvio.

“Pasan Dias” by Pablo Milanes

I played this song daily while my father was ill, until he passed away. The profoundness of the lyrics, a sonnet by Nicolas Guillen, paired with the beauty of Pablo Milanes’ music, gave me great comfort.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, and is made possible thanks to generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.

You can support the work of ICIYL with a tax-deductible gift to ACF. For more on ACF, visit the “At ACF” section or