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Charlie Aponte’s contribution to El Gran Combo has been meaningful and yet subtle enough to go unnoticed. As El Gran Combo spends three years celebrating its 50 years, I have not heard much about Charlie Aponte‘s 40 years with the legendary Salsa music band.
Pellín Rodriguez’s Substitute in El Gran Combo
That was Charlie’s role…to come in to substitute possibly the most beloved face of El Gran Combo. Pellín Rodriguez was more than a singer; he was an entertainer. An exceptional singer of Boleros and Guarachas alike, Pellín had a gift to make people laugh. He was so natural on stage that people couldn’t help but relate to him.
When Pellín Rodriguez left in 1972 to pursue a solo career, Andy Montanez sang the next album of El Gran Combo “En Acción” by himself. That’s the only time that has happened in El Gran Combo’s history after their very 1st album with Joseito Mateo.
Charlie Aponte entered El Gran Combo in 1973 for the group’s 2nd Christmas album “El Gran Combo 5“. As I recently wrote in a blog about that album, this was a perfect entry point for Charlie as he liked singing folk music as much as Salsa. But after “5” came the true test; his 1st Salsa album with El Gran Combo, titled “12 Aniversario; Disfrútelo Hasta el Cabo“. He immediately established a Salsa hit with “La Salsa de Hoy“. The song established Charlie as a singer with a good voice, character, and Puerto Rican charm.
Charlie Aponte’s Two Main Contributions
From my viewpoint, the two main contributions Charlie Aponte brought to El Gran Combo were his Puerto Rican charm and his Dancing/Choreography ability.
Showcase the Puerto Rican charm – one of the characteristics that distinguish El Gran Combo from any other Puerto Rican Salsa music band, is their ability to genuinely expose the Puerto Rican charm and idiosyncrasy through their on-stage and off-stage behavior. Their funny songs, their comedic album covers, their stage presence, everything about El Gran Combo reflected the common Puerto Rican spirit. No other group comes even close to this. La Sonora Ponceña, Bobby Valentin, Willie Rosario, Tommy Olivencia, none have that Puerto Rican charm as evident as El Gran Combo.
Although Pellín Rodriguez was the king of showcasing the Puerto Rican charm, Charlie proved he could do it too. There are many examples, but one of the ones most memorable for me is his comment in the song “Mas Feo Que Yo” when he says..”ella jura que esta saliendo con Rock Hudson….mira recógete“.
By bringing this personality trait to El Gran Combo, Charlie helped pass the torch of this unique characteristic of “los mulatos del sabor“.
Keep the Choreography – but El Gran Combo has also been distinguished by their choreography upfront. Roberto Roena was the original choreographer, as he was not only the bongo player but also a great dancer. When Roberto left to form his Apollo Sound, Rafael Ithier had to bring in two guys to substitute him. Baby Serrano entered to play the bongo, and Mike Ramos to do the choreography.
Charlie Aponte is an innate dancer, so when he entered the group, unlike Jerry Rivas, he immediately picked up on the choreography from Mike Ramos. When Mike Ramos left the group, Charlie took over choreography duties that have kept El Gran Combo’s trademark stage entertainment alive and well.
El Gran Combo After Charlie Aponte
At some point down the road (hope far, far done the road) Charlie will retire from El Gran Combo. Somehow at that point, I feel El Gran Combo will change its personality as a Salsa music band.
I do realize that that has been said many, many times before with El Gran Combo. It started when Roberto Roena left, then when Pellín Rodriguez left, and then when Andy Montañez, left. Through all those major changes, El Gran Combo has remained the same.
But somehow I still believe that Charlie’s departure will mark a turning point. I’m not saying that El Gran Combo will decline, as was said of the previous changes. However, I do think they will change their personality. It will be a different Gran Combo. I already feel that with Willie Sotelo’s influence in the band as arranger and pianist.
But before going too far down that road, it’s worth appreciating what Charlie Aponte continues to do for El Gran Combo and all that he has done for over 40 years.
Do you think El Gran Combo will change when Charlie Aponte leaves?
Charlie Aponte Interview Video
Here is a video of an interview with Charlie Aponte, where he talks about his beginning in music and how he entered El Gran Combo: