Beyond being one of the main architects of the Fania salsa sound (think Dr. Dre and the West coast hip-hop style), Willie Colón always infused his music with a consciousness rarely seen from artists—Spanish or English language. And "El Gran Varón" is the perfect example of his revolutionary thinking. The song, released in 1989 as a single from his album, Top Secrets, tackles homophobia, machismo and AIDS. You read correctly: 1989. With the vicious hate crime/terrorist attack/mass murder at Orlando’s Pulse Night Club this past Sunday, it’s apparent that people need more songs like “El Gran Varón.”
“El Gran Varón” follows the story of Simon, who per his father, is destined to follow in footsteps—well, because that’s what Latino men do. We have to be manly men, learn our father’s trade, bed as many women as humanly possible and never once shed a tear. Fast forward, Simon leaves his native land and immigrates to the U.S., where, without the pressure of his father, he embraces his sexuality and his true identity.
“If we talk about what organically made the song cross all barriers,” Colón tells us, “it was the use of an ancient proverb as the hook, cleverly used by writer Omar Alfanno combined with Marty Sheller’s arrangement and, of course, modesty aside, my vision for this song.”
The hook goes, “No se puede corregir a la naturaleza / Palo que nace doblado jamas su tronco enderesa (You can never correct nature, the tree that is born bent will never straighten its trunk").
Remember: This is a salsa song released in the late ‘80s. At the time, being gay was often viewed as a disease or something learned rather than just a normal sense of being. The mark of a great song isn’t a danceable beat or a catchy hook; It’s its influence.
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