Born in the South Bronx, New York, Willie Colón has been a leader in the salsa tradition for over 50 years. In an interview, he discussed the music and its background.
“A lot of people like to characterize salsa as a pastiche of Cuban son. There’s no denying that there is a Cuban influence and a Cuban base to it, but it’s so much more.”
“Salsa is not a rhythm, it’s a concept. It’s a way of making music. It’s an open concept and the reason that it became so popular is because it was able to evolve and accept all of these other musics. We put the bombas and plenas in it; we put calypso, samba, bossa, and cumbia in it. It’s definitely not even a Puerto Rican or a Cuban music. It’s a reconciliation of everything you can find.”
“I think it could have only happened here in New York, where you had so many different kinds of people living and playing together. We used to get a lot of the black jazz players. They wanted to come and play salsa so they can blow over the changes. Where are you going to find players like that other than in a big city like New York? This was not going to happen in Cuba or Puerto Rico; it had to be here.”
Quoted in “Willie Colón: Salsa is an open concept” by Frank J. Oteri (NewMusicBox 1 March 2009).
Today is Colón’s 70th birthday! Above, an iconic record cover from 1971 (right-click to enlarge); below, a 2018 performance.