Willie Colón, the Salsa Social Activist
When someone mentions “salsa music”, what is it that you think of? Perhaps you think of the dance itself, the rapid yet graceful moves of the dancers. Perhaps you think of a salsa club, the live band playing and the pairs of people moving quickly around the dance floor. Perhaps you even think of some tropical locale where you’re sitting on the beach with a drink in hand, the sound of salsa drifting in the background.
Whatever it is that you’re thinking about, chances are it’s not social activism and engagement in local and international politics. But for one renowned salsa musician, social activism has played an important role in his professional as well as personal life.
Willie Colón was born in 1950 in the South Bronx, New York City to parents with ancestral roots in Puerto Rico. As a child he began playing the trumpet, but he eventually switched to the trombone, the instrument that would make him famous. He spent summers with family members in Puerto Rico, and these experiences helped to solidify his connection with the island that his grandparents called home. They also came to influence his musical style.
Colón eventually went on to become one of the most popular and best-selling salsa musicians of all time, but rather than rest on his laurels he used his profile to become a social activist. He has served on the boards of many prominent organizations such as the Latino Commission on AIDS and the United Nations Immigrant Foundation. He was the first minority to hold a spot on the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and continues to play a role in that organization. Recently, Colón has spoken out regarding the politics of Venezuela—perhaps a divisive move but true to his activist character.
Willie Colón, the salsa social activist, has shown that music and activism can in fact go hand in hand. Always refusing to compromise on music or morals, Colón still serves as a beacon for politically engaged salsa fans.