De ti depende

Lavoe, Héctor

album cover

El Cantante de los Cantantes

Puerto Rican singer Héctor Lavoe (1946–1993) led a tragic life graced with moments of artistic greatness. After coming to New York in 1967, and quickly causing a sensation with Willie Colón's orchestra, Lavoe encountered a steady stream of trouble. He lost his brother (car wreck) and his seventeen-year-old son (gun accident), suffered through a fire at his home, the murder of his mother-in-law, and then the death of his father. He became addicted to narcotics and alcohol, contracted AIDS, and struggled to make it to gigs on time. Once, during a particularly bad patch, he jumped from the ninth floor of a hotel in an apparent suicide attempt. And lived.

Lavoe's bad luck tends to color, if not overshadow, his reputation as a singer. It takes only a few minutes with De ti depende, his second solo effort, to appreciate how unfair that is: Sure, the dude had problems. But as he moves with foxlike stealth through the opener "Vamos a reir un poco," and dashes off delirious vocal animations on the theme of "Periódico de ayer," he sounds like someone who knows what it feels like to dance to a great band and is determined to spread that feeling.

Part of that skill can be attributed to his background: Unlike many Puerto Rican singers, Lavoe (born Héctor Pérez) was proud to call himself a "jibaro," the island nation's equivalent of a rural hayseed. He considered this heritage (which he sang about on the single "Mi gente") to be a crucial element in his music: Not only are Puerto Rico's "country" singers among the loudest and most powerful, they're also capable of stirring deep emotion without sounding melodramatic. Lavoe coupled that earthy approach with a jazz singer's knack for bold improvisation. When he's "on," as he is here, nobody in salsa gets near him. His chattering, quick-witted ad-libs don't just cover up whatever he was suffering through offstage; they sail right over it, to a utopia far away from the daily struggles. Which, of course, is one measure of a true artist.

Genre: World, Puerto Rico
Released: 1975, Fania (Reissued 2006)
Key Tracks: "Vamos a reir un poco," "Periódico de ayer," "Hacha y machete."
F.Y.I.: Lavoe's life was the inspiration for the 2007 biopic El Cantante, starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez.
Catalog Choice: Comedia
Next Stop: Ismael Quintana y Papo Lucca: Mucho talento
After That: Rubén Blades y Seis del Solar: Escenas
Book Pages: 439–440

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