How could I forget the first time I heard Lobo y Melón on the radio, back in the late 1960s in my hometown of Xalapa, Veracruz. They performed a Cuban song called “Amalia Batista.”
Here was a Mexican duo, singing a Cuban tune, but something was different: Lobo y Melon made it their own.
Luis Angel Silva was his real name, but we all knew him as Melón. I think he was the best Mexican "sonero" - a singer with the ability to improvise. And when he improvised, he made Cuban music accessible to a wide Mexican audience.
Another reason I liked Melón so much was his singular style: the way he danced and the way he played maracas. That was something I'd never seen before. I thought he was one cool cat!
Here’s Melón and his band on Mexican TV in the 1960s, performing Cuba’s anthem, “Guantanamera."
A few years ago I got a hold of the two albums he recorded with one of the superstars of New York's salsa scene, the great Johnny Pacheco.
And one of the tunes they recorded is my all-time favorite anthem written by Agustín Lara — "Veracruz". This is one exceptional version.
You see, Melón was part of a golden age of tropical music in Mexico in the 1950s and '60s, when Mexico was at the heart of it all. Melón was the sort of musical bridge between Mexico and Cuba. And his passing represents the end of an era.
He reminded us that Mexico is also part of the Caribbean and that we share a musical culture. This resonated strongly with me, because Veracruz was the port of entry for all the Cuban music I grew up listening to: Danzón, Bolero, Mambo, Cha-cha-chá and Son.
Over the years, I’ve heard people say that Mexico never had much of an Afro-Cuban music scene. But Melón's rich career is proof that Mexico not only had a popular tropical music scene, but was a launching pad for the careers of many important figures of Afro-Cuban music.
And Melón helped pave the way.