It’s that time of year again. You get in the car, you turn on the radio, and your favorite station has switched to all Christmas all the time. It’s the same songs every year, over and over and over again. You can’t escape it. It’s everywhere. This year I bring to you some good news – there’s great Christmas music out there, and I mean really great. I present to you, dear reader, Willie Colón’s Asalto Navideño. Looks like Spanish, right? Well it is, but it doesn’t matter, you don’t need to understand the words, it’s about the music here, specifically Willie Colón’s band and Hector Lavoe’s voice. It’s so good that I’ll give it a spin or two before Thanksgiving, something I would never ever do with a Christmas record. In my world, that’s a serious violation.
Let’s take a step back here. Who is Willie Colón? He’s an American trombonist and band leader born to Puerto Rican parents in New York City. He was there in the 1960s when Bugaloo music morphed into what we now call Salsa. Willie Colón is and was a big deal. And Hector? He’s the greatest male salsa voice there ever was. Remember that movie with Jenifer López and Marc Anthony in 2006 that got panned by the critics? That was about him. Marc Anthony wishes he could sing like Hector. Willie and Hector made some amazing music together, which I encourage you to explore, but their best work is somehow a Christmas album.
Asalto Navideño literally means “Christmas Assault”. The cover features Willie and Hector dressed as Santa with a cigar and an Elf either delivering presents or stealing them from someone’s apartment. The title is a double meaning that also refers to the island practice of bringing an overwhelming amount of Christmas cheer to your neighbors around the holidays. Most of this amazing record is songs about Christmas and how great Puerto Rico is. If you speak Spanish, you’ll just want to tell them to shut up already about Puerto Rico. We get it. It’s beautiful. If you don’t speak Spanish you can just listen to the instrument that is Hector’s voice and how it floats over Willie’s band. Jump in with the word navidad every now and again and you are good to go. Personally I really enjoy the interplay of Willie’s squeaky, almost cartoonish voice with Hector’s amazing flow.
Some of the songs aren’t even about Christmas as far as I can tell, I guess it’s just their gift to us. In the end it doesn’t really matter, because you’ll get hooked on it either way. In Latin America it’s the greatest selling Christmas Record of all time. I bet you’ve never heard of it, right? Go find it on Spotify. You’re welcome.
Craig Snyder is the Owner and President of The Language Academy of the Carolinas, Inc.