Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending my brother’s 50th birthday celebration. A true salsero, he decided to host a gathering of family and friends at an Andy Montañez salsa concert. Andy is the original lead voice of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico–the most celebrated, most legendary salsa orchestra of the latter part of the 20th Century.
One of the thoughts that I had while enjoying the music of maestro Andy Montañez, other than amazement at the quality and strength of his voice (he’s 76 years old), concerned how the salsa era is gone. Its influence will trickle down through the ages, but there will never be another musical era like it. Most of the musicians of that era are dead or very old, and not producing much new music. With the exception of a few very talented artists that added new blood to salsa–like India, Marc Anthony, and Boogaloo Assassins (below)–the genre has been replaced by reguetón and other genres, the best samples of which are in no way capable or worthy of replacing the classics of salsa.
I grew up in Puerto Rico in the 80’s, which was probably the best decade the island had in terms of both prosperity and culture. It’s the decade in which romantic salsa gained prominence–it’s the decade that gave us Luis Enrique. It’s the decade that gave us the best songs by Ruben Blades, by Hector Lavoe, by Celia Cruz, by El Gran Combo and many others. And the 80’s were the last stirrings of the salsa era and of the Fania craze, which during the 70’s brought the salsa genre even to Africa.
Salsa was born in New York after the mambo craze of the 50’s, when Latin people there started experimenting with Caribbean Afro-Latin rhythms and mixing them with African American jazz. Boogaloo and Latin jazz are sister genres from that era of experimentation that still have a cult following.
Among the songs I enjoyed in this concert were Hojas Blancas, an appropriate song for a 50th birthday and for reminiscing. Las hojas blancas siguen cayendo means “the white leaves keep falling”, and refers to the graying of one’s hair and how one gains wisdom and experience with age.