The Drama of Hector Lavoe's Life

El Cantante a should-watch for Latinos, a must-see for salsa lovers

By Dena Burroughs
Published on LatinoLA: August 4, 2007

The Drama of Hector Lavoe's Life

There had been so much commentary on the movie El Cantante prior to its nationwide release to theaters on Friday 8/3 that I could hardly wait to see it. El Cantante is singer Marc Anthony and actress Jennifer Lopez‘«÷ film, which tells the story of Puerto Rican Salsa singer Hector Lavoe (1946-1993)

Now that I have, I am ever so happy I made it on opening night, and I wish that Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony make a bunch of money with it.

It was my enjoyment to recognize, through the development of the movie, the faces of those who stand to me as Salsa icons on their own right: Ismael Miranda, Domingo Qui??onez, Yomo Toro, and Victor Manuelle for example; even the popular dancer Edwin Rivera doing the part of Roberto Roena.

Some negative comments have been made by folks who participated first hand in Hector Lavoe‘«÷s life. The ever-outspoken Willie Colon, for example, is quoted by the L.A. Times as saying: "The creators of El Cantante missed an opportunity to do something of relevance for our community‘«™ The real story was about Hector fighting the obstacles of a non-supportive industry that took advantage of entertainers with his charisma and talent. Instead they did another movie about two Puerto Rican junkies.‘«ō

With my respect, I beg to differ. While I understand that having known Hector Lavoe intimately gives Willie Colon and a few others an insight the rest of us will never have, I believe the exposure that this movie is giving to this music we love, to our Salsa musicians and dancers, and to our Latin actors and producers, is priceless.

I don‘«÷t remember ever before attending a Latino-themed movie for which the theater was tightly packed (I‘«÷m talking even the neck-breaking seats in the front,) and before which the 15 minutes of trailers were all about upcoming Latino-produced and cast films. It is not often that I get goose bumps during a movie at the sound of La Lupe singing in the background, or at a representation of what it would have been to see Hector Lavoe up on stage acclaimed by thousands. What the old timers of Salsa must keep in mind is that for the ‘«£new kids in the Salsa block‘«ō these images are now part of the very few we have to help us picture years past.

Hector Lavoe, along with a magnificent voice, had a knack for trouble. He became a heroin addict, which is, no matter how one may put it, an ugly addiction. That the movie chooses to portray the tumult of Lavoe‘«÷s life has been criticized, but the reality of the matter is: how do you hide the effects of long time addiction while trying to tell the life story of an addict? Hector Lavoe‘«÷s addiction dictated several years of his life, and while his trouble was great, so was his talent. Perhaps that bittersweet combination even helped turn Hector Lavoe into the icon he is. In my opinion, a movie of Hector Lavoe without the depiction of his troubled life would have resulted in a CD turned DVD of one song after another, and that already exists out there.

Some have said that too much film time is given to Jennifer Lopez‘«÷s character ‘«ˇPuchi‘«÷, rather than to Hector Lavoe. I say that, for purposes of exposure, it is necessary to have Jennifer Lopez be a main character. Her name is recognized by the mainstream much more than Marc Anthony‘«÷s, never mind the rest of the cast. Her name is bringing into the theaters people who would not have watched it otherwise. This film could have been only a cult movie, but with her name attached to it, it has an actual chance of mainstream exposure.

Let‘«÷s face it‘«™ most people don‘«÷t know anything about Hector Lavoe. I had a conversation with the webmaster of a popular Latino L.A. website recently, during which he candidly said that, as a Mexican-American who was raised enjoying a different type of music, he had never heard of Hector Lavoe until now. My boss said that she wants to watch the movie because of ‘«£J Lo and Marc Anthony‘«ō, but ‘«£who‘«÷s Hector Lavoe?‘«ō she asked. I even dare to say that quite a few Salsa dancers in Los Angeles didn‘«÷t (or don‘«÷t) know anything about Hector Lavoe. Well, all of the above will at least have an idea of him after watching this film. Perhaps they‘«÷ll buy the movie soundtrack. Perhaps they‘«÷ll look up an actual Lavoe CD!

As far as Marc Anthony‘«÷s rendition of Hector Lavoe‘«÷s songs, I say they‘«÷re great. He doesn‘«÷t sound exactly like Lavoe because only Lavoe could sound like Lavoe, but every song sounds good. Were we expecting Victor Manuelle to sound like Ruben Blades too? because I don‘«÷t think that happened too well‘«™ but only Blades can sound like Blades.

One great decision made was the subtitles provided for the lyrics of the songs. It gives the non-Spanish speakers the important knowledge that those songs are more than tra-la-las; that they have lyrics that deliver a message.

The film is, in my opinion, a should-watch for the Latino community, and an absolute must for the Salsa lovers.

It is about paying homage to Hector Lavoe, ‘«£El Cantante de los Cantantes‘«ō, one of Salsa‘«÷s greatest voices, and it is also about supporting our community. Think of it as Salsa pianist, Larry Harlow, another member of the Fania All-Stars does, as he said it to the L.A. Times: "I think it's good for the business‘«™It'll create a little stir in the Latin music scene, and believe me, New York really needs it. Anything we do about Latin music is good for Latin music."

Preach it, Larry!

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