Since his musical beginnings, Willie Colón's image was associated with that of an intrepid, sage, and fearless boy who –forced himself a space among the big names of Caribbean music, in the complex world that was the New York City of the 60s.
Before the astonished look of those responsible for the Latin sound of the era, this young neophyte, a "nameless", unknown figure in the field of popular music and, particularly, a musician of scarce resources, strange, inexperienced and foreign.
At first he was admonished and censured for his strong, strident style. He was even accused of being un-harmonic by the veterans of Latin music.
Some say teasingly, that he earned his nickname of "El Malo" (Bad Boy) as an epithet referring to his interpretive capacity on the trombone when he made his first appearance on the musical stage, at fifteen years of age. Others say it was because he was a brawler.
Bronx-born of Puerto Rican grandparents, William Anthony Colón Román was born April 28, 1950 in the South Bronx. He learned very early in his adolescence to address the negative stereotypes that are foisted upon the latin community and the raw reality of the immigrant in the "The Big Apple".
Willie’s artistic work became a most compelling social testimony dressed in music, with memorable lyrics that related the stories of marginality, prejudice, poverty and misery.
Although there were other musicians of the era that endeavoured to work the same thematic line, nobody better than he knew how to conjugate in harmonies the pain and loneliness of the diaspora.
His music simultaneaously reflects a rhythmic traditional lyric, the lament of farewell and the hope of a new generation forced to abandon their homeland to be congregated in the American metropolis.
Willie Colón is, without doubt, a painter of the faces of his people, an artist that expressed in his songs –above all with a his strong sound– the conscience of a generation that demanded social respect and that fought for a validation of its humanity.
A WISE MAN AMONG GENIUSES
Willie Colón, The musician and arranger, took his first steps in the arts as a trumpetist until he developed a fascination with the work of Mon Rivera and Rivera’s use of the trombone in the interpretation of the Puerto Rican folkloric rythms of Bomba and Plena..
His musical passion, on the other hand, he derived from his grandmother, who raised him whispering the melodies of her Puerto Rican homeland, planting in him a fascination with the typical rhythms of the country.
Early in 1965, this intrepid youth launched himself to the streets to test his talent, during New York’s Latin American music craze, where Tito Puente, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow and Ray Barretto, ruled.
In 1967, when he was 17 years old, he joined a group of artists that formed part of the nucleus of Jerry Masucci talent pool and who were responsible for creating the boom and the new record label that would unite new Latin American musical expression: Fania Records.
The arrival of Willie Colón to this group marked the most significant moment of Salsa, in fact it was the most impacting and identifiable point of departure in the development of this new musical expression, it was the attempt to homogenize the works that for many years were created in the latin american world of New York, as part of a new sonorous proposal.
In that context, the glory of Willie Colón rested in his capacity to devise the precise sound that symbolized the new rhythmic time, because of it’s broad social acceptance it became the representation of Latin America. Nobody better than he could harmonize the musical tendencies of the Anglo-saxon world with the "old" latin american school of the mambo, the pachanga, the cha-cha-chá and the guaracha, adding the nostalgia of the traditional puerto rican sound, that is etched in Puerto Rican folkloric music of the bomba and the plena.
The great success off Willie Colón’s grandiose musical project is owed, in great measure, to his partnership with a singer from Ponce, Héctor Lavoe, with whom he created the most important duo in the Salsa genre.
Together with the "Singer of Singers"(Hector LaVoe), he elevated his proposal to the highest echelons of the musical scene. Above all because of his assertiveness in projecting a new musical concept that combined the wry and piercing tone of LaVoe’s voice and his attachment to the traditional melodies of Puerto Rico, with the passion of daring young trombonist’s and his ability to project the nostalgic sound of the roots of Puerto Rican music with the aggressive, strong sound of the urban world that surrounded them.
During the seven years that the union of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe lasted, Salsa reigned and prospered. The formula for success was to embrace the established rhythmic patterns of the day in order to mark the tempo of the new time for Salsa, armed with modern compositions and New York slang and embellished with the familiar, typical phrases of rural Puerto Rico.
Translated from Spanish: History of Salsa Project, a special series for PRIMERA HORADirector General: Jorge Cabezas Villalobos Editor: Hiram Guadalupe Pérez Supervisor Gráfico: Diego Méndez Hernández Ilustrador: Gary Javier Artista Gráfico: Omar A. Cadena Negrón Audio y vídeo: www.primerahora.com