Monday, June 27, 2011

TUNES FOR TUESDAY - El Cantante

When speaking the words Salsa music, Fania, and Puerto Rico, the name of Hector Lavoe immediately comes to mind. We are about to move on from the Fania era of Salsa, but before we do, we have to dedicate one entry to "El Cantante", The Singer.

He was born in 1946 and his actual name was Hector Juan Perez Martinez. Why Lavoe, then? Well, I'm pretty sure the origin of Lavoe is this: Hector had a great voice, unique in the world of Salsa. His friends would call him Hector La Voz, Hector The Voice. Now, if you are from the Caribbean, there's no need to pronounce the "s" sound at the end of any word, (so La Voz turned into La Vo), and if you have a catchy nickname like that and you move to New York, you have to Anglicize it, hence, LaVoe, Lavoe.

Soon after he moved to New York in 1967, Hector met Willie Colón and Fania. Over the next ten years, the three on them produced the albums that would solidify Salsa music as a genre. But Willie had a hard time keeping up with Hector's fast lane life style. At the same time, while Colón and Lavoe continued to collaborate, Fania began pushing them to become solo artists.

Eventually, Hector's career stalled and his life took a tragic turn. His mother-in-law and his son died. He fractured his legs when he jumped out the window of his burning apartment. He became even more entangled with drugs. Before a concert in 1988, he jumped out the window of his Hotel. The 10 story fall did not kill him, but rendered him unable to sing again. He died of AIDS in New York in 1993.

At some point, in an attempt to help Hector Lavoe jumpstart his career, Rubén Blades gave him a song he had written: El Cantante. Ironically, this would become Hector's best known song. It is a story about a lonely famous star who battles his loneliness off stage. "I am the singer, very popular everywhere, but when the show ends, I am just another human being . . . Today I am here to give you the best of my songs. . . . And no one ever wonders if inside I suffer or cry . .."




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