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The first memory I have of El Gran Combo was watching them singing funny songs on TV while I was at my grandma’s house.
She liked to watch “El Show de las 12” mainly to see “Don Cholito” (José Miguel Agrelot) who was Puerto Rico’s premier comedian of the time. However, I watched those guys playing funny songs and having such a good time doing so.
Watching El Gran Combo was a show in itself. Pellín Rodríguez would devise the most bizarre thing to sing or say. Martín Quinonez would make faces to the camera while playing congas. Eddie Perez would raise a leg, lean backward, and shake his shoulders while playing the sax, Roberto Roena and later Mike Ramos would be doing the most amazing choreography with Andy and Pellín. The music was catchy and the lyrics funny. How would a 4-year-old want to miss that? But as I grew up, the songs made a lot more sense and seemed funnier.
El Gran Combo Early Funny Songs
Salsa music, in all its components (“son“, “guaguanco“, “son montuno“, “cha cha cha“, “bomba“, “plena“, “guaracha” etc.) was first and foremost a form of entertainment. Its purpose was to make people forget or ridicule their daily problems. It was about having a good time. This modality preceded El Gran Combo by many years, as bands like La Sonora Matancera and Cortijo y Su Combo were already doing this.
El Gran Combo was able to take funny songs to the next level. They got great songs to work with, and due to the TV exposure, were able to semi-dramatize them in their performances. Martín Quinonez and Pellín Rodríguez were willing to put up with El Gran Combo’s pranks. An example of this was dressing Martín as a Chinese man on the cover of the “Ojos Chinos” album.
In the early days of El Gran Combo they recorded humorous songs like “El Caballo Pelotero”, “Le Dicen Papá”, “Acángana”, “Ponme El Alcolado Juana”, “Ojos Chinos”, “La Muerte”, “El Barbero Loco”, “Los Zapatos de Manacho”, “Masculino y Femenino”, etc. Listening to these songs was almost like listening to Alvarez Guedes make jokes. Now that I say that, it makes me think about what influence the Cuban comedian had on El Gran Combo. Remember that he was their record producer in those days.
The Evolution of Funny Songs
As time passed, El Gran Combo kept the funny song formula in its recordings. Later releases featured funny songs like “La Reina”, “Resignación”, “El Teléfono”, “Goyito Sabater”, “Se Me Fué”, “No Hago Mas Ná”, “Amor Brutal”, etc. With these, the pranks continued, with Papo Rosario wearing a wig for “La Reina”.
Part of “El Gran Combo’s” winning formula was to provide good entertainment. Funny songs, along with front-line choreography, made them a favorite among Salsa music bands. Rubén Blades once said that he wanted to use Salsa music as a mass communication medium for social ideas. He wanted to go beyond the “mamita ven pa’ aca y vamo’ a goza” thing. El Gran Combo’s response to that would fit what Rafael Ithier said at the end of “El Telefono”…”este no es Rubén, este es….hello…no, que no es Rubén, este es El Gran Combo”!