“Oye Como Va” is a song written by Latin jazz and mambo musician Tito Puente in 1963. Mexican-American rock group Santana’s rendition further popularized the song, which reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 11 on the Billboard Easy Listening survey, and number 32 on the R&B chart.
The title comes from the first words, which can be translated as “Listen to how [it] goes” or “Hey, how is it going”.
The song has the rhythm and tempo of cha-cha-cha. It has similarities with “Chanchullo” by Israel “Cachao” López. The Latin Beat Magazine wrote: “Cachao’s tumbaos for his 1937 composition of Rareza de Melitón (later changed to Chanchullo) inspired Tito Puente’s signature tune ‘Oye Como Va’.” On the original recording of the song the voice of Santitos Colon, the Puente orchestra singer at the time, can be heard in the song along with those of Puente and other orchestra musicians. Cachao can be heard playing contrabass in some of Tito Puente’s live versions of “Oye Como Va”.
The song has had many arrangements and remakes by a number of artists in various tempi. NPR included the song in its “NPR 100: The most important American musical works of the 20th century”.
Santana’s arrangement is a “driving, cranked-up version” in a new style of Latin rock (attributed to musicians like Santana), adding electric guitar, Hammond B-3 organ, and a rock drum kit to the instrumentation and dropping Puente’s brass section. The electric guitar part takes on Puente’s piccolo melody, and the organ provides accompaniment (with organist Gregg Rolie’s discretional use of the Leslie effect). There are several guitar solos and an organ solo, all of which are rooted in rock and the blues but also contain licks similar to those of the original arrangement. The song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
Tito Puente, speaking in the intro to his recording of “Oye Como Va” on the album “Mambo Birdland,” said “Everybody’s heard of Santana. Santana! Beautiful Santana! He put our music, Latin rock, around the world, man! And I’d like to thank him publicly ’cause he recorded a tune and he gave me credit as the composer of the tune. So, since that day… all we play… is Santana music!” The version of the song on “Mambo Birdland” is a Santana-ized version.