Say It Ain't So

Is Joe Arroyo losing it?

As entertainment, however, the disc is less captivating. For all the musical trailblazing here, Arroyo plays it safe with the vocals. The power of his delivery is what has won him title after title at Barranquilla's Carnival and the Cali Salsa Festivals, but his performance at Tamiami Park suggests why that power might be diminished in his latest recording. His head start as a child performer in Cartagena's nocturnal world seems to have caught up with him, and he looks a good decade or two older than his years, despite sporting a fabulous mohair tiger-print shirt. When he left the comfortable confines of the show opener, En Sol Mayor's “I'll Know How to Forget,” the celebrated veteran strained to deliver his anthem, “Rebellion.” Broken and off-key, his voice sounded as though this time his famed rebel might not have the strength to win the fight.

Mercifully security cut the show short, determined to clear the park promptly at the closing hour of 11:00 p.m. Arroyo did not give in easily. As he consulted with his musical director and bass player Oberth Lopez, he pounded the claves forcefully. “I was pretending I didn't hear [the police], so I could please the public with a couple more songs,” he explains in his Hialeah hotel two days later. He does not offer a word of explanation for his shaky chops, despite some tactful probing. Sore throat? He had been ill last year, forced to cancel the show, but felt fine this year, he reports. Stage fright? His live performances are always identical to his recording sessions, he insists. After the Independence Day show closed with a reprise of “Rebellion,” security rushed to whisk Arroyo back to his waiting limousine. The strongmen can protect him from his fans, perhaps, but can they protect his voice?

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