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Since I was 12 years old, Willie Colon‘s “Asalto Navideño” was the 1st album I played to celebrate the arrival of the Christmas season.
“Asalto Navideño”: My Favorite Christmas Classic
Since then, “Asalto Navideño” became my way of welcoming Christmas! But of the two Asalto Navideño albums that Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe recorded, my favorite is the second one.
“Asalto Navideño Vol. 2” (1972) captures Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe at their very best! It’s almost too bad it was a Christmas album because Willie’s band was at its peak, and so was Hector Lavoe.
Hector’s voice and whit were at their best expression in this recording. The recording shows the clarity of Lavoe’s voice, the witty “soneos“, the humor he can bring to any recording. You can feel how Hector Lavoe can sing Salsa almost effortlessly and do so better than just about anyone.
The album also showcased Puerto Rican cuatro guitar player extraordinaire Yomo Toro. Yomo’s ability to play the cuatro harmonically at lightning speed could win over the hearts of heavy metal rock fans. Yomo Toro can make a cuatro scream, but harmonically, not just loudly. Yomo had first integrated the cuatro to Salsa as no one had ever done in the original “Asalto Navideño” album (1971).
Since then, he stayed with Willie Colon’s band, and by the time they recorded “Asalto Navideño Vol. 2”, he had helped solidly the band with his cuarto in a way that it seems to fit in like a glove. There is no sense of him forcing the instrument into a musical genre it was never meant to be played in. Yomo’s cuatro seems to fit the Willie Colon’s band just as well as Milton Cardona’s congas or Willie’s trombone.
The song selection was also impeccable. As always, Hector and Willie wrote a few songs. The other songs were mostly originals with the addition of the classic “Arbolito”. The musical arrangements were masterful. Willie Colon figured a way to add samba in a Christmas album in its first song “Pescao”, and make it sound natural. Willie’s love for Brazilian rhythms always comes through in his recordings.
Here’s the whole album via YouTube:
Perhaps the biggest contrast between the original “Asalto Navideño” and “Vol. 2” is the recording’s sound quality. The difference in quality is huge. The band, on its own, sounds much better as well, considering it only was a difference of about a year.
Another thing that to this day distinguishes both Asalto Navideño recordings from the rest of Christmas recordings is the song lyrics. These albums do feel like Christmas recordings because the lyrics are made for Christmas. In the original, you have songs like “Aires de Navidad”, “Canto a Borinquen”, and “Potpurri Navideño”, which if they don’t make you get into the Christmas spirit, then you belong in Team Scrooge.
It also has “Esta Navidad” and the plena “Vive tu Vida Contento”, to round up the album. On the other hand, “Vol. 2” has “Cantemos”, “Pa’ Los Pueblos”, “Arbolito”, “Doña Santos” and “Recomendacion” which can get anyone in the sprit as well.
Both albums have a song that can be played year-round; the original has “La Murga”, and Vol. 2 has “La Banda”.
Willie Colon’s “Asalto Navideño” is my way to start Christmas
These Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe Christmas classics should be in your collection. Chances are that if you are a true Salsa fan, you have these. For me, they represent the start of the happiest time of the year.
People are happier, we spend more time with family, and seek those we have not seen in a while. Friends share food and drinks, and those are followed by memories and laughs. People are a bit more friendly; kids are a bit happier. And we bring out some good old classics that sound just a bit better than some of the stuff around today.
I’m glad Christmas is here!
Note: this blog was originally published on Dec 2, 2009.