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Hamilton creator Lin Manuel Miranda has never been shy about the fact that he’s a proud Puerto Rican. So it’s not surprising that the musician slash writer slash all around good guy chose to step up and help Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island just a few short weeks ago.
And what better way to help than through the power of song? Miranda used his Hollywood connections (and created some new ones) to assemble the world’s foremost Latinx musicians and record “Almost Like Praying,” a passionate, upbeat Puerto Rican love letter that names all of Puerto Rico’s 78 towns to remind the island’s citizens that they are not and will not be forgotten.
“Almost Like Praying” borrows some of its lyrics (and title) from West Side Story’s “Maria,” the song that the lovesick Tony belts out after meeting his soulmate for the first time. And if you’re familiar with Miranda or Hamilton, you know that every reference he makes to other existing songs or works of art has meaning behind it.
“I knew that “Maria” would forever have a different connotation on the island,” Miranda recently told NPR. “And that’s my favorite song from West Side Story. So I began thinking about that song and the lyrics and a way to flip it into something positive.” Miranda also consciously turned “Almost Like Praying” into a song meant for, as he explained in a tweet, “dancing AND catharsis,” to try to generate a sense of hope in the midst of terrible loss.
The track not only features Latin music superstars like Jennifer Lopez, Camila Cabello, Marc Anthony, and Gloria Estefan but also highlights artists who haven’t yet broken in to the mainstream, such as rappers Joell Ortiz and Dessa. Even actors John Leguizamo and Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film version of West Side Story, chime in for a line or two.
“Despacito”’s Luis Fonsi, whose breakout hit encouraged Miranda to record “Almost Like Praying” partly in Spanish, also appears on the track. On Twitter, Miranda thanked Fonsi for agreeing to lend his voice to “Almost Like Praying” before hearing the song or even meeting Miranda.