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The Collaboration of Willie Colón/Rubén Blades at Fania Records - Page 5

Siembra - page 4       Maestra Vida - page 6

In 1988, Rubén will put a new version on an album entitled "With Strings" which, as its name indicates, was recorded with a string orchestra. Syrupy and kitschy, it keeps only the original melody line, and transforms the piece into a languorous bolero.

Willie Colón/Rubén Blades

With Strings

The other pieces of the disc, Maria Lionza, Ojos and Dime, all three excellent, are a little less diversified than those of the album "Metiendo Mano". At the time, it was common to record discs including a little bit of everything (as is done again today). One will remember the bolero and the rumba of the preceding disc. Again this is one of the commercial obligations to which the duo did not want to yield, recording a coherent disc here, presenting a true unit, and closing the circle in a certain way, the two songs with messages being located at the opening and the conclusion. A way of designing a disc which will be fully exploited, two years later, in following recordings.

El Cantante (Héctor Lavoe) lyrics : 1978, year of the release of "Siembra", is also the year when the album "Comedia" by Héctor Lavoe was released. Produced by Willie Colón, this disc contains a song written by Rubén Blades, which he had wished to use for himself. At a moment where Héctor Lavoe had to relaunch his career following many personal problems, Rubén decided to offer it to him, trusting that Héctor would make something of good of it. When one remembers that Rubén wrote 6 of the 7 songs of "Siembra", one may suppose that "El Cantante" was originally to be recorded on this one, and that it was exchanged with another intended originally for Héctor. An assumption which engages only me, because I have not found anything to confirm it.

At all events, "El Cantante" is THE piece that everyone continues to associate with Héctor, and constitutes, with its arrangement 10 minutes 20 all in a syrup of violins, an excellent example of what one can do with string instruments without falling completely into commercial kitsch. The words speak about the role of the singer and the difficulty in assuming it. The public waits for him to make them forget their sorrows and their concerns for a time at a concert, while nobody bothers to know if he is himself happy.

Willie Colón/Rubén Blades

Doble Filo

In 1986, Rubén reappropriated the piece on the album "Doble Filo". In his version, the violins disappear, the rhythm is a little more energetic. To compare the two pieces, in particular the 'soneos' of the two singers, it becomes completely interesting for somebody who does not know salsa well. As we saw in a preceding piece, the singer has a part, the 'montuno', on which he improvises his text, its rhythm and its melody, giving free rein to his imagination and his qualities as interpreter.

It is obvious that, during the recording of a disc, this part is not really impromptu. But the 'soneos' do not form part of the text of the song, even when they are prepared and not impromptu, it is the singer who decides on them. And in the case of "El Cantante", the 'soneos' of Héctor - quasi lyric, and those of Rubén - more rhythm, give to the piece a completely different colour.

Apart from the simple musical differences, it is in the texts that the difference is notable. Héctor answers his critics, quotes the singers who inspire him and takes again the theme of the text which precedes, insistent on the fact that while singing, he helps the public to forget their concerns. For his side, Rubén uses the 'soneos' to explain what justifies him in singing: to depict the life in the popular districts of the large towns of all America, the South and North, and to be the voice of a population to which one never gives a voice. A profession of faith which makes it possible to understand the political career that Rubén will carry out a few years later.

The following year seems to be devoted (apart from the publication of a solo album for each artist), as far as I could judge, with a tour of all America. In New York, the reception was excellent, and the concerts brought out more than the usual groups only directed towards dance. But it is in Latin America that success was enormous, the public having the impression of finally receiving a group who was concerned with what happens outside of Puerto Rico and New York.

February 10, 1979, in particular, Rubén and Willie took part, in company of Héctor Lavoe, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente, with one of the historic concerts in the history of salsa, known under the name "Combinacion Perfecta", in Radio City Music Hall of New York.

Siembra - página 4       Maestra Vida - página 6

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