The Time I Met Joe Arroyo

Joe Arroyo performing at Barranquilla's public library i i

Joe Arroyo performing at Barranquilla's public library Jasmine Garsd/Alt.Latino hide caption

itoggle caption Jasmine Garsd/Alt.Latino
Joe Arroyo performing at Barranquilla's public library

Joe Arroyo performing at Barranquilla's public library

Jasmine Garsd/Alt.Latino

English / Spanish

Colombian salsa legend Joe Arroyo passed away this morning. He was only 55 years old.

I met him on a recent trip to Colombia. We were at the very end of our trip, a stormy night in Barranquilla. He was going to give a surprise performance at the Barranquilla public library, for us and the crew of PBS's Music Voyager (with whom we were traveling).

I confess I was nervous, and that to ease my jitters I readily drank up some of the red wine that was being served in preparation for the event.

And the I met El Joe. Maybe it was the wine, but no — it was he who put me at ease. He was the sweetest, most down-to-earth guy. He seemed surprised that anyone would be nervous to meet him. A humble and friendly man, he and his band set up in the middle of the library. And as you can imagine, the library patrons were open-mouthed in amazement.

He performed his ode to the city he loved, "En Barranquilla Me Quedo," and it was effortless. He seemed to just be standing there, deep in thought, but this humongous, booming, passionate voice emanated from him nonetheless. The thing is, throughout this whole performance, Joe seemed to be watching us — the mom who had been helping her kid with his homework, the boy who had been studying for his exam, the old man who read his newspaper. That's what Joe was about, looking at Colombians, Latin Americans, and telling their stories.

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When he was done, he picked his stuff up, said thank you, and left. And that was that.

As I stood incredulously, rooted to the floor in the now Joe-less library, a producer approached me and asked, "Are you hungry?"

To which I responded, "I don't know, man. I just met Joe Arroyo."

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English / Spanish

Aquella Vez Que Conocí A Joe Arroyo

Hoy a la mañana falleció una leyenda de la salsa Colombiana: Joe Arroyo tenía tan solo 55 años.

Lo conocí en un viaje reciente a Colombia. Nuestra aventura llegaba a su fin, una noche tormentosa en Barranquilla. El iba a dar un concierto sorpresa en la biblioteca pública de la ciudad, para nosotros y el equipo del programa Music Voyager, con quienes viajábamos.

Confieso que estaba nerviosa, y que para tranquilizarme, tomé ansiosamente un poco del vino tinto que se estaba sirviendo en preparación para el evento.

Y entonces conocí a El Joe. Tal vez fue el vino, pero no- fue el quien me tranquilizó. Esa noche, no conocí a un ícono, sino que a un hombre dulce y tranquilo. Es mas, parecía sorprendido de que alguien pudiese ponerse nervioso de conocerlo. Un hombre modesto y sereno, Joe y su banda se organizaron en medio de la biblioteca. Como podrán imaginar, las personas que ya se encontraban ahí de casualidad, estudiando y leyendo, quedaron boquiabiertos, incrédulos.

Cantó su oda a la ciudad de su corazón, "En Barranquilla Me Quedo," y lo hizo sin esfuerzo. Parecía como si simplemente estuviera parado ahí, tranquilo y pensativo, pero sin embargo una inmensa y apasionada voz emanaba de su ser. Les cuento algo: durante todo ese pequeño recital, Joe parecía estar observándonos a nosotros- a la mamá que había estado ayudando a su hijo con sus tareas, al muchacho que había estado preparándose para su examen, al anciano que leía su diario. Y es que esa era la esencia de Joe Arroyo, observar a los colombianos, y a los latinoamericanos, y cantar sus historias.

Cuando terminó, recogió sus cosas, nos agradeció, y se fue. Y eso fue todo.

Y yo parada, congelada en mi lugar, en medio de la biblioteca pública de Barranquilla, en una noche de tormenta. Se me acercó un productor y me preguntó: "¿Tenés hambre?"

Y yo le contesté, "Acabo de conocer a Joe Arroyo."

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