Arthur Hanlon does it again. After thrilling audiences with his 2021 HBO Max special Piano y Mujer, the “gringo with a Latin soul” returns in time for the holidays with Piano y Mujer II, along with a diverse group of Latin female stars that includes reggaetón queen Ivy Queen and Mexican sibling duo Ha*Ash.
The special concert, which also features Costa Rican singer/songwriter Debi Nova, Colombian singer Catalina García (of eclectic popsters Monsieur Periné) and Mexican singer Lupita Infante, is out Nov. 25 in album format on Sony Music Latin, and will stream on HBO Max beginning Nov. 29.
“I’m extremely proud. When we filmed the first Piano y Mujer, it was like a tribute and a celebration of strong, intelligent and creative women, like the women in my home,” Hanlon told Billboard. “I grew up with three sisters, my mom and my grandmother in the house – five women who listened to me play the piano every single day, who pushed me and supported me. Now, with this second concert, I am so very happy.”
The first Piano y Mujer, where Hanlon had Kany García, Natalia Jiménez, Goyo, Evaluna Montaner and Nella as guests, is still streaming on HBO Max. This makes the piano virtuoso the only music artist currently with two concerts available simultaneously on the streaming service.
Piano y Mujer II was filmed on a stage decorated with an exuberant garden, where each female artist took turns to sing next to Hanlon, accompanied by an all-female band, performing both Latin standards and new versions of their own hits. The repertoire includes classics like “Bésame mucho” by Consuelo Velázquez (Catalina García), “Quizás quizás quizás” by Osvaldo Farrés (Debi Nova) and “Ya te olvidé” by Marco Antonio Solís and originally recorded by Rocío Dúrcal, performed here by Ivy Queen in one of her most sublime renditions. New takes on current hits include “Lo Aprendí de Ti” (Ha*Ash) and “La Canción” (García).
“The formula is a smash hit by each singer, and a second song that each of them have always wanted to sing,” explains Hanlon, who did all the musical arrangements and co-produced along with Eddie Pérez.
For example, Ha*Ash, the duo of Mexican-American singers Ashley and Hannah Pérez, harmonize beautifully on their hit “Lo aprendí de ti” and also on a gorgeous version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And Lupita Infante shines with a powerful bilingual rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” The ’70s star had recorded a little known Spanish version of the song, titled “Sin Ti,” before the English version became a hit in the 1990s when Mariah Carey covered the song.
Hanlon met Nilsson when he moved to Los Angeles as a young pianist fresh out of Manhattan School of Music who dreamt of a recording career in Latin music. Nilsson, says Hanlon, became a kind of mentor, and personally played him the Spanish version of “Without You.”
“He was way ahead of his time,” says the pianist. “I was very impressed […] And now, when we were looking for the right song, I remembered that one. I thought, now is really the perfect time to record this, with someone like Lupita who’s an amazing vocalist.”
Hanlon also performs two of his own compositions: The instrumental track “Toccata,” which he wrote in Colombia during the Feria de Cali, inspired by the music he heard late at night; and “We’re Going To Make It Tonight,” a bilingual song conceived especially to close the concert and performed by all the guests together onstage.
In the video, Hanlon says the seeds for Piano y Mujer were planted during his teen years in Detroit, where, as a 15-year-old, he played in a local band at events and parties. Often, when hosts couldn’t afford the full band, Hanlon’s agent would offer the pianist with a female singer. Being able to bring that concept to life in a big way with not one but two HBO specials “is a dream come true,” says Hanlon.
Piano y Mujer II took about six months to bring to life, from January 2021, when the project was approved, until July, when it was filmed in a Miami studio. Hanlon says it was important to him, particularly coming out of the pandemic, to take time to personally meet with every one of the singers and work on the arrangements.
“I feel people know when something has been forced or rushed,” he says. “I totally believe in connecting over empanadas, coffee and wine.”
With so many great female Latin artists, and such a rich and wide songbook, he hopes for new renditions of the project.
“Some of my artist friends have said, ‘Ay Arthur, how cool, congratulations — and what about me?’” he says with a laugh.
“For me, the thrill of the music, is that the piano, more than an instrument, is a vehicle to transport people to another place, and with these women I have the opportunity to do so. This project is out of this world for me.”
Y Mujer… The Guest Artists Speak
Catalina García: One of the beautiful things for me was to return to the origin of the song: The voice, accompanied by such a special instrument, which can create rhythm and harmony. And of course, knowing it’s a project that honors women as interpreters and composers, and of course, being part of a group of powerful women who have listened to each other during our lives.
Ha*Ash: It’s always a pleasure and a joy to work with Arthur and we feel honored to be part of this beautiful project with him and such talented women. We were able to perform “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song that is particularly significant for us, and that made the experience all the more special.
Lupita Infante: When he brought me the song and he told me the story behind it and why it’s so special to him, I knew we were making history together. I’d never heard a Spanish version of “Without You” and when I did, it brought tears to my eyes.
Debi Nova: The experience of being part of Piano y Mujer II was wonderful. Not only is Arthur a musician I profoundly admire, but I also have the honor to be surrounded by women who greatly inspire me. Both songs I perform are very close to my heart.
Ivy Queen: For me it’s about listening to my songs in different way, from a different perspective, because I feel the piano is as pure as the guitar, as intimate and romance. And we gave my song a different twist here.
Editor’s Note: Hanlon is married to Billboard’s Chief Content Officer, Latin/Espãnol, Leila Cobo.