El Gran Combo Survived Departures of Pellin and Andy
“Los Mulatos del Sabor” have been there and done that, twice! Twice in their history they lost a singer, and twice many naysayers said they would not be the same nor as successful after the singer change. And twice they were wrong!
Pellin Rodriguez and Andy Montañez were the original singers of El Gran Combo. They helped build the Salsa band into a Latin music institution. (You can read more of El Gran Combo during the 60’s in my blog HERE)
Pellin Rodriguez was not only an accomplished singer, but a great entertainer. He was El Gran Combo’s MC, and would talk and sometimes joke in-between songs. He had the ability to attract and get an audience, and as we say, have them in his pocket.
When Pellin Rodriguez left to pursue a solo career, Latin music fans saw not only the loss of a singer, but of the true spirit of El Gran Combo. “They will never be the same” was heard frequently. That was the situation under which Charlie Aponte arrived to substitute Pellin.
During the 1972-1973 transition of Pellin to Charlie, Andy Montañez had recorded the album “En Accion” all by himself. He had become the voice of El Gran Combo, and went on to stay with “La Universidad de la Salsa” for another 5 years.
When Andy decided to leave for a lucrative offer to join Venezuela’s orchestra Dimension Latina, which was recuperating from the departure of singer-bassist Oscar D’Leon, the naysayers were at it again. Cries of “they will never be the same” were heard all over. A young Jerry Rivas was selected to substitute Andy. And the naysayer were wrong again! (You can read more on El Gran Combo during the 70’s in my blog HERE)
The Disruptive Departure of Charlie Aponte
Charlie Aponte‘s departure has awaken the naysayers once again. But this time the circumstances are different. Yes, Charlie will be missed for many reasons; his hits, his choreography, his affable personality. More importantly, there are 2 reasons why this change in singers is very different from previous ones:
Point #1 – consider this: Pellin Rodriguez remained in El Gran Combo for 10 years. Andy Montañez remained in El Gran Combo for 15 years. Charlie Aponte was with them for 41 years! Not only that’s a lot of songs and hits for people to remember, but that’s almost a full generation. In that period of 41 years, many people were born, got married, and even had kids.
Point #2 – the previous two new singers were contemporaries of the current singer and of the band as a whole. Here are some stats:
– Pellin Rodriguez and Andy Montañez: age difference = 16 years
– Andy Montañez and Charlie Aponte: age difference = 8 years
– Charlie Aponte and Jerry Rivas: age difference = 9 years (with Papo Rosario = 9 years)
– Jerry Rivas and Anthony Garcia: age difference = 27 years (with Papo Rosario = 35 years)
So previous singers of El Gran Combo were more or less contemporary of each other. Anthony Garcia, regardless of his skill as a singer, is about 3 decades younger than Jerry and Papo. With the aging Gran Combo, perhaps Jerry and Papo will follow Charlie into “retirement” in a few years, which will give Anthony time to become seasoned in the band. When the full renovation of front line of singers occurs in a few years, Anthony will be the one to lead them.
In the meantime, this will make it hard to make it a cohesive team of singers, and also creates a dilemma for El Gran Combo on how to use the new singer.
Bringing Newcomer Anthony Garcia Creates a Dilemma
Should El Gran Combo use Anthony as another singer of its style of music, or should it go after the younger generations of Salsa lovers, who prefer the softer Salsa Romantica? Anthony Garcia will appeal more to fans of the latter than of the former.
If Anthony sings traditional style Gran Combo songs, he will have to fit in with Jerry and Papo, and with a 3-decade difference, that will be a tall order. If he sings more Salsa Romantica style songs, El Gran Combo will be defecting their core style their followers are used to.
New Song with Anthony Points to Salsa Romantica
The new released song “Yo Soy Tu Amigo” seems to indicate that El Gran Combo is willing to use Anthony as magnet for younger generations with a softer Salsa, which has already caused some Gran Combo fans to say the song does not sound like El Gran Combo. (You can read my review of “Yo Soy Tu Amigo” HERE)
Despite the ups and downs, El Gran Combo has lasted this long for a reason. Most people seem to agree that the young substitute of Charlie Aponte is talented, so I’m sure El Gran Combo will figure out how to best use him and navigate through this transition to continue the long musical tradition they have provided for over 50 years!