¡Fuerza, Joe! (A heartfelt tribute to Joe Arroyo)


Joe Arroyo, one of our musical heroes, is (not for the first time) battling with serious health complications. The Colombian media and the fans, partly out of love and partly out of sensationalism, keep speculating about the nature of his illness and recovery, even (and also not for the first time) declaring him dead.

I was moved by an article talking about how Joe asked his kids to give him strength by staying by his side, and singing to him constantly. I’m thinking we can contribute to the cause, so let me try to get a few of his songs stuck in your head.

El Joe started his musical career as a pre-teen in Cartagena, doubling up as a choirboy in his catholic school by day and a child prodigy in the red light district by night. At age fourteen he dropped out of school to play with Michi Sarmiento (genio!), and La Protesta (genios!). He eventually joined Fruko (genio!) in the early 70s, at age 18 – the band that catapulted him to fame. With them he recorded one of his first compositions, a swinging salsa cumbiambera-rocanrolera for his daughter:

After his huge success with Fruko, Joe Arroyo recorded some killer albums with Los Latin Brothers. Here’s one of DJ Franz Tunda’s favorite tracks:

Finally, in the early 80s, Joe Arroyo formed his own band “La Verdad”, which recorded scorching salsa as well as some of the best executed fusion with Colombian genres like cumbia and mapalé, and Caribbean genres like compas and zouk (somewhat shamelessly rebaptized “Joesón”) A cumbia from his first album:

I’m not sure if they know it, but US salseros are big fans of Joe Arroyo. It seems that every single salsa night in this country will feature his *classic* song “Rebelión” (usually right before Oscar de León’s “Llorarás” and after Fruko’s “El Preso” – where Joe sings backup vocals). I always find it a bit awkward to see American salseros in their fancy outfits and shiny dancing shoes — spinning around like tops, and swinging their arms around like they’re directing traffic — while Joe is telling them about the time that the slave revolted against his Spanish master, screaming at him: “You’re not going to beat up my woman”.

An amazing track, no doubt, but you always hear that one. Instead, from the same album, un Joesón sabroso:

Joe Arroyo became the unrivaled star of the Carnaval de Barranquilla, winning the “Congo de Oro” award six times in a row. Eventually, in 1990, the organizers decided to introduce the “Super Congo de Oro” award just for him, and declare him out of competition, to give other artists a chance to win.

From this era are “En Barranquilla me quedo” (which I wake up to every morning, courtesy of DJ China Tu Madre), “La Noche” (a favorite of reggaetonero Don Omar) and:

The man has no intention to slow down, recording hit after hit and touring all over the world. I just read that, when the doctors get him off the sedatives, his close friends and bandmates Wilson Manyoma, Chelito de Castro, and Juan Piña are plotting to convince him to take it easy and retire. He insists he will die on stage.

¡Mucha fuerza, Joe!

Con inmenso respeto y cariño,