November 2007

Willie Colón
Presented by Cocolatino
November 3, 2007The Docks Toronto
Waiting for Willie
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
It was a long wait for Willie Colón whose last visit to Toronto was 17 years ago. The publicity said: Show starts at 7:00. Doors opened at 7:30. Dance troupe Rhythmic Energy showed off their moves at 9:30. An indeterminate interval followed with good recorded music to move to — an Afro-Latin-Caribbean mix that included reggaeton, salsa, bachata, merengue and cumbia. Then the talented Dominican-Canadian Carlos Cruz and his band exploded onto the stage with a stirring mix of merengue, bachata and salsa — but something didn’t quite jive. Carlos had the voice and the moves, the sound was good, but… the ears heard bongos, the eyes saw bongos lying on the stage. Hmmm…

Another interval and the crowd grew impatient, erupting with increasing frequency into chants of “Wil-lie, Wil-lie”. The stage lit up — no Willie yet. Latin Energy’s Oscar Naranjo and Vanesa Stay appeared to murmurs of “now what?” But the impatient quickly fell silent as the elegant and energetic dance duo’s choreography captivated even their attention.

Midnight. Another brief wait before the dissolution of all but musical time upon the entrance of the five foot six giant of salsa, Willie Colón. El rey de la salsa would rule the hearts, minds, ears, eyes, feet, the entire being of the audience for the ensuing hour and half — two hours? Who was counting?

For any readers unfamiliar with the stature of Willie Colón in the world of Latin music and culture, now is the time for a little briefing. Bronx-born pioneer of the bold and exciting New Yorican sound with 15 gold and 11 platinum albums behind him, this recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in 2004, is the best-selling Latin artist of all time. He has worked with such figures as Hector Lavoe, Ruben Bladés and Celia Cruz. And, not only is he a trombonist, singer, composer, producer and actor, he is also a political and community activist who has worked with various groups dealing with many different issues from immigrants’ rights to AIDS. Sadly, for his fans, this latest tour may be his last. Colón is retiring from the stage to write his autobiography. At least for now.
Willie Colón
The unity of all Latinos is a cherished idea for Willie Colón. Fittingly, his music draws on his own Puerto Rican roots and a mix of styles from many countries. He is huge in Mexico where he was also a soap opera star, he draws crowds of thousands in Panama, Columbia, Venezuela — the list goes on. Judging from the response of the audience to Colón’s questions, this Toronto audience was also mixed — Columbians, Ecuadorians, Salvadorians, Mexicans, Venezuelans and others.

Colón and his 8-piece band hooked the Toronto crowd immediately with the rhythm and the classic trombone herald of “Che Che Colé” — “come on everyone and dance African style, you like bomba, you like baquiné now let’s celebrate bembé — they dance it in Venezuela, they dance it in Panama, the rhythm is African” Que bueno es! I cannot imagine a more joyous start to a show. The Afro in Afro-Latin became more pronounced with the deeply moving Afro-Cuban “Ingrato Corazon” sung over a rich matrix of percussion. The much-loved songs — “Te Conozco Bacalao”, “Idilio”, “Gitana”, “El Cantante” — kept on hitting the sweet spot, for the most part flowing seamlessly from one to another. The audience knew them all and many sang along. The feeling of being at the concert of a musical giant co-mingled with the feeling of being at a community centre, the latter atmosphere coming to the fore when Cocolatino Productions’ Sylvia Rodríguez presented Willie Colón with a glass sculpture of himself in profile playing trombone.

During the exuberant encore of “La Murga de Panamá” complete with a detour through “Mandinga”, even some of the bartenders were seen full-out dancing behind the counter.

It was a memorable night and some were reluctant to leave. I will always remember filing out after the show and catching the eye of a man leaning on the barrier and gazing at the empty stage singing “El gran varon”. Sated but lingering. Everything must come to an end sometime. But let’s hope Willie Colón’s absence from the stage is temporary. In the meantime, I will dance to the songs planted in my head and wait for the book.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2007