WE REMEMBER THE DAY "THE SINGER" WAS SILENCED
There's a funny hubris amongst many in the United States that believes that only music sung in English could be internationally famous. It's a blind spot that keeps us insulated from the world, secure in our monosyllabic cocoon. But, from the beginning the U.S. has had myriad linguistic undercurrents, some of which crested into musical waves around the globe. Such was the case with Héctor Lavoe, a son of Puerto Rico (yes, a part of the extended U.S. as our recent democratic primary made clear) with a golden voice that reverberated from San Juan to NYC to Africa and beyond. One of the popularisers of salsa music in the 1960's & 1970's, Lavoe possessed a singular voice, creamy as dulce de leche one minute and then sharp and hard like a crow's beak the next. His phrasing and flow left one stymied, and when he was on he glowed like a human searchlight, chasing away shadows and illuminating human beings in the throes of celebration.
Lavoe was also a sad figure that struggled with drug problems most of his professional life, and he died at the age of 46 on June 29, 1993, due to AIDS related complications. Tomorrow is the anniversary of his passing and we want to give a celestial shout-out to an artist that put some class and style into popular song. His collaborations with Willie Colón, Rubén Blades, Tito Puente and countless others continue to thrill listeners with their unpredictable mixture of the smooth and sour. As a member of the legendary Fania All Stars, his inner light shown very, very brightly even amongst all those luminaries next him on stage. Perhaps it is his troubled soul, his frail and battered humanity that one reacts to most in his music. Lavoe had the persona of a giant but his weaknesses were rarely hidden from others, even as they remained frustratingly beyond his ability to conquer.
We remember the 15th anniversary of Héctor Lavoe's death by offering a few glimpses of him in all his bristling, intense, flawlessly romantic life, starting with one of his signature tunes, "Mi Gente," live with the Fania All Stars in Kinshasa in 1974.
Next, Lavoe leads his band through a smoky "Soy Vagabundo" from Venezuelan TV in 1981.
Here's a saucy jaunt through Spanish language super hit "Todo Poderoso" from Lavoe's 1978 solo debut, La Voz.
No honoring of Lavoe's work would be complete without the Blades penned "El Cantante," which gave Héctor his nickname of "The Singer." Lavoe is especially limber on this version, smiling and living the role of God's archetypal crooner to the fullest.
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