Hector Lavoe’s Comeback: “Comedia” at 40 Years

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After a couple of years out of the music scene trying to get his life back in control, Hector Lavoe made his anticipated comeback with the album “Comedia”.

Following his first two albums as a soloist, “La Voz” (1975) and “De Ti Depende” (1976), “Comedia” (1978) was also well received by Salsa fans. “Comedia” was carried mostly by two songs; the iconic “El Cantante”, and the flavorful “Songoro Cosongo”.

“Comedia” was produced by Willie Colon, just as the previous two albums. It was Willie that orchestrated Hector’s comeback, as he knew Salsa needed Hector as much as Hector needed Salsa to get over the hump in his private life.

“El Cantante” carries “Comedia”

Willie knew he needed a strong hit to bring Hector back. Not any song; it had to be a special song that stirred emotions in Salsa fans.

Hector Lavoe in "Comedia" cover art.
“Comedia” was Hector Lavoe’s 3rd album as a soloist.

When Willie heard Ruben Blades’s “El Cantante”, he knew it was the song he was looking for Hector. Although Ruben had offered many of his songs to other Fania artists, he wanted “El Cantante” for himself.

But Willie was able to convince Ruben that this was THE song for Hector’s comeback. This is why the song became a super hit, and the cherished comeback of Hector Lavoe was realized, all at the same time.

“El Cantante” not only defined Hector’s comeback; not only became a huge hit; but it also defined the rest of Hector’s career. Hector was not only known as “El Cantante”, but later was also baptized as “el cantante de los cantantes” (the singer of the singers) by his colleagues.

There’s so much about this song, that I’m going to write a special blog just for it.

“Songoro Cosongo” Sustains “Comedia”

If “El Cantante” was the lead vocal of “Comedia”, “Songoro Cosongo” was the chorus. The song became a huge hit, mostly because it allowed Hector to highlight his unique singing style and “soneos”.

Who besides Hector Lavoe would come up with a “soneo” in “jeringosa”?

For those of you who don’t know what “jeringosa” is, it was a fad mostly among pre-teens and teens that took place sometime in the early to mid 70’s. It was simply about putting a “chi” in front of every syllable of every word spoken.

In Puerto Rico, teen girls were the ones that would use it the most, so that boys wouldn’t understand what they were saying. Although it’s no secret how it work (you would think everyone would therefore understand it), girls spoke it so fast that most boys couldn’t tell was the hell the girls were talking about.

This was just one example of Hector’s wit of the various great “soneos” he did in “Songoro Cosongo”. Because Hector was able to stretch his creative juices and showcase his great singing style in the song, it became a huge hit.

“Songoro Cosongo” also has quite a unique history of its own. It was the title of an Afro-Cuban themed poetry book written by Nicholas Guillen. Eliseo Grenet was inspired in it to write the song in that decade. But I’ll elaborate on this history on a separate blog, so that I don’t make this one too long.

“Comedia” Defied Music Industry Standards

In the 70’s, music hits were around 3 minutes, with long songs having a max of about 6 minutes. Willie Colon and Ruben Blades decided to defy that with the “Pedro Navaja”, the main hit of “Siembra” (1978).

"Comedia" CD backcover
“Comedia” had 3 songs over 7 minutes in duration, a rarity in the 1970’s for commercial music.

Ruben Blades has mentioned several times that Fania didn’t think “Pedro Navaja” would be a hit because the song was too long at over 7 minutes. “If these people would’ve been the editors of “El Quijote”, it would’ve come out a comic book” Ruben says half-jokingly about the issue in his album “Live”.

Since Willie Colon was also producing “Comedia” at the time, he decided to continue breaking the industry standard for song durations in this album.

“Comedia” had 3 songs over 7 minutes; “Songoro Cosongo” (7:46), “Bandolera” (9:32), and “El Cantante” (10:17).

As said, “El Cantante” and “Songoro Cosongo” were big hits, and “Bandolera” was a lesser hit. However, “Bandolera” caused a backlash by women groups in Puerto Rico due to the women abuse in the song “..pow, pow, pow, te voy a dar, te voy a dar una pela..” (…pow, pow, pow, I’m going to hit you, I’m going to give you a beating…).

Unfortunately, there were several songs like this back then. For example, Ismael Rivera released “Si Te Cojo” the year before “Comedia” with a very similar message. In the era of the #MeToo movement, these songs would never made it out of the studio with those lyrics. They never should’ve in the first place.

“Comedia” A Weak Album with 2 Super Hits = Successful Album

“Comedia” was overall a weak album. It had just 7 songs and of those 2 were great hits, 2 were somewhat hits (“Bandolera” and “La Verdad”), and a somewhat mediocre bolero in the title song “Comedia”.

But as I said, “El Cantante” and “Songoro Cosongo” made Hector Lavoe’s comeback a huge success.

More coming on these two songs.

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