NYT Obituary for Joe Arroyo, Star of Salsa and Colombian Music Giant

JON PARELES pays tribute to the late Colombian musician in this obituary for The New York Times.

Joe Arroyo, a Colombian songwriter, singer and bandleader whose pan-Caribbean salsa hybrids and historically conscious lyrics made him one of his country’s most respected musicians, died on Tuesday in Baranquilla, his adopted home city in Colombia. He was 55.

The cause was hypertension and fluid in the lungs, his manager, Luis Ojeda, said.

His death drew tributes from Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia; the Colombian pop singer Shakira, who appeared in concert with Mr. Arroyo; and the Colombian rocker Juanes, who often performed the Arroyo hit “La Noche” in concert.

And it was mourned throughout Colombia. Fans thronged his funeral at a cathedral in Baranquilla on Wednesday in an outpouring of grief, and Cartagena, the Caribbean coastal city where Mr. Arroyo was born, declared two days of official mourning, with flags flown at half staff and Mr. Arroyo’s music played in the historic city center. The Latin Recording Academy said it would award Mr. Arroyo a posthumous Prize of Musical Excellence in November.

Mr. Arroyo claimed his own genre in Caribbean music: Joesón. His songs drew their danceable rhythms from traditions within Colombia, including cumbia and porro, and from all around the Caribbean, with elements of Dominican merengue, Jamaican reggae, Martinican zouk, Trinidadian soca, Cuban son montuno and more.

He had a high, fervent tenor voice, and the songs and arrangements he wrote were driven by supercharged horns and percussion. Although there were many love songs and party songs among his dozens of Latin American hits, Mr. Arroyo’s signature song was “Rebelión,” about a 17th-century slave uprising in Cartagena, with its chorus, “No le pegue a la negra” (“Don’t hit the black woman”). He named his band La Verdad — the Truth.

Alvaro José Arroyo González was born in Cartagena on Nov. 1, 1955, and began singing publicly when he was 8. At 12, he was performing with the bands Sarmiento and La Heróica at the brothels of Cartagena’s red-light district. He moved to Barranquilla in his teens, where he formed the band La Protesta de Colombia.

He was soon invited to join a leading Colombian band, Fruko y Sus Tesos, and with them he toured the Americas through the 1970s, often performing on the New York City salsa circuit. He also sang with another salsa group, the Latin Brothers.

Mr. Arroyo started La Verdad in 1981. He wrote hundreds of songs and recorded dozens of albums with La Verdad until 2007, when he released “El Super Joe.”

Throughout his career his health was unsteady. In 1983 he spent a week in a coma, near death, from a thyroid ailment. He had diabetes and kidney disease and was widely reported to have drug problems.

He was often an authoritative performer, though also at times a shaky one. But his songs were widely admired. At the annual carnival in Barranquilla, Mr. Arroyo won the highest award, the Conga de Oro, so often that a new category was created for him: Super Conga de Oro.

He is survived by his wife, Jacqueline Ramos, and eight children.

For the original report go to http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/31/arts/music/joe-arroyo-superstar-of-colombian-music-dies-at-55.html

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