WILLIE COLÓN as told to Jesus Triviño - 1988
In 1968, Willie Colón, an 18-year-old Puerto Rican trombone prodigy .from the Bronx, signaled the arrival of a brash new salsa sound with the innovative compositions and born arrangements of his debut album, El Malo (The Bad Guy). Ten years later, collaborating with Panamanian vocalist Ruben Blades, he revolutionized the genre with vivid sociopolitical tales on Siembra (Sowing); the song "Pedro Navaja" ("Mack the knife”), a sordid story about a whore and a petty thug, challenged Latino perceptions of the American dream. Colón has released more than 40 albums, earned Grammy nominations, and countless salsa legends, including Celia Cruz and the late Hector LaVoe. At 52, Colón is performing, speaking out on Latino political concerns, and making as much meaningful noise as ever.
Art and politics are the same. You have to make statements. You have to take risks. Music and art are like photographs of a certain time. You're making a record-that's why they call it a record. And if you do it for the wrong reasons, you can have a hit, but it's going to be forgotten. I grew up during the apartheid era of the 50s, in the rugged South Bronx. They didn't bullshit around with racism in those days. It was right in your face. In the summers when we would get together for jam sessions, the Italians and Irish in the neighborhood would call the police because the music was threatening to them. If we were playing the drums we were disturbing the peace. The cops would come, and they might take one of the drums, but we'd just have another session if not the same day, the next day. And they'd come again, but this time they'd take a drum and pop someone on the head.
Although the lyrics weren't explicit, the music became a form of civil disobedience. People immediately wanted to identify me as a communist. As a solo artist I had trouble with censorship from different record companies. I would write songs about the nuclear age and homeless children, and the companies would ask me, "Why don't you write songs that make people feel good so they can dance?" It's not only about making hits- it's about using the medium to Bring out ideas amd the things that are in your heart.