Artist of the month – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

Taking a break from the Intro to salsa series, today I will present to you to one of my favorite classic salsa bands – El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico!

Salsa style: Mostly salsa clasica and salsa dura
Years active: 1962 to present
Nickname: The University of Salsa

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico (or El Gran Combo for short), is a salsa orchestra based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is considered to be the most popular salsa group to have existed, and is definitely one of the most successful.

The members of the band have changed numerous times over the years, and due to the number of well-known salsa musicians and musical groups the band has nurtured and developed, the band is also fondly nicknamed La Universidad de la Salsa (The University of Salsa). Some of the well-known musicians include Andy Montañez, Hector Santos, Elias Lopes, Jerry Rivas, and many more!

On November 11th, 2012, El Gran Combo will be celebrating its 50th anniversary, and will hold a grand world tour that will take the band to five continents. (No news of the tour coming to Ottawa yet, but here’s hoping!)

Here is a good selection of their more well-known works:

Acángana (1982)
One of the classics! The album by the same name became the number one hit in New York, Puerto Rico, and Panama!

¡Ámame! (1989)
El Gran Combo’s take on salsa romantica.

Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso (2010)
A song from the latest album, still going strong!

As Halloween is approaching, I would like to end this article with one of my favorite songs from El Gran Combo – La Muerte (Death). The song is based on quite a morbid (pun not intentional… initially) subject, and is sung from the perspective of Death personified. The song talks about the inevitability of dying, and describes the people who are fleeing from it. While this is quite an unusual topic to sing about, it is a pretty straight concept – Death is scary, but it fascinates us.

El Gran Combo took this idea and ran with it. They brought Death to life (I need to stop with the puns) with their music; they made it dark and mysterious, yet pulsing with energy and excitement. The song humbly begins with a single repeating piano melody paired with subdued percussion rhythm in the background. Suddenly, the brass comes in, creating a stinging contrast to the ongoing melody. This is then propped by the wall of bass at the bottom, rounding out the entire ensemble; and before you know it, the song is coming in full swing, so start the vocals:

 

Ohhhh the goosebumps. I’ve heard this song many times for years and I still get them. Instead of creating something downright disturbing, El Gran Combo crafted a masterpiece of campy salsa music. The entire piece, from its teasing intro, to the catchy chorus, the instrumental solo, and even the back and forth between the main singer and the backup, is nothing short of perfection. Think Tim Burton, but with a serious Latin twist.

Is there an artist or the band you’re curious about? Let us know in the comments and you might see them featured here next month!

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