b. 10 August 1932, Mexico City, Mexico, d. 27 November 1988, Puerto Rico. One of the most influential figures in the development of contemporary Latin-American music, trumpeter and singer Valentin’s achievements up until his premature death in 1988 were considerable. He recorded some 45 albums, created a rhythm - salsa picante - that became a permanent part of Latin music and, through his band the Valentinos, showcased many of Puerto Rico’s and Mexico’s top musicians. Armed with a penny whistle and folk song repertoire, he played around the street markets of Mexico City before joining an acoustic group called Los Indios. In 1951 Los Indios became El Mundo. It featured two trumpeters, Valentin and Eddie Souza, and a rhythm section playing traditional percussion. Realto, a local record company, kept an eye on the group, and three years later El Mundo recorded its first single, ‘Mario’. Four more hits followed. In 1957 the Valentinos - a 10-piece band that would later more than double in size - was born. The name meant two things: it was, of course, taken in the first instance from Valentin’s own name, but it was also incorporated into a heart-shaped band logo that referred to Valentin’s commitment to the roots of Latin music. At this time, Latin music was deeply influenced by north American styles. In 1960 Valentin’s love affair with a woman called Astrid inspired a set of love songs, with a salsa style that would form the basis of later, extended story-telling satires. While band leaders and composers developed new dances and styles, Valentin stuck with salsa and developed his own faster variation, which he named salsa picante. Later he would add new dance rhythms, and incorporate much of Mexico’s folk song into his approach, but salsa picante remained the foundation of his music.
Valentin’s Iyrics made as much impact as did his rhythms; his earthy vocals and love of street wisdom and gossip created memorable songs and defined a new style that looked not to north America, but back to central America. He surrounded himself with backing singers whose fruity tones conjured up the energy and gusto of a barber-shop close-harmony quintet. Much of this early output is still available on a series of albums titled Original Valentinos. By the late 70s Valentin was able to fill dancehalls anywhere in central America, and in 1978 he undertook a nine-month tour of the region with the Valentinos, which had now grown to a 23-piece orchestra: five horns, three guitars, bass, a battery of percussion and a chorus of back-up vocalists. It is this line-up that recorded the magnificent 1979 double album El Rey Del Salsa. Valentin’s output was prodigious and his lyrical themes many and varied. He sang about love-usually when it went wrong, related street gossip, current events and political issues. When the government decided to nationalize a huge amount of agricultural land in 1973, Valentin toured the country explaining the changes. During general elections, he supported the ruling socialist party. When things went sour, he would pick up people’s complaints and work them into songs. He created for himself a position that was unique: a man of the people, a folk musician who was also a confidant of the President. As such, he had a licence to sing about issues that most Mexicans would only dare whisper about. He made a thinly-veiled attack on government corruption in ‘Los Drogos’ on the 1983 Gracias La Vida for instance, and struck a similar anti-drug-smuggling note in 1987 with Uno Mundo. Valentin was not, however, immune from government sanctions. He was imprisoned three times, once in the 60s for recording an indecent lyric, once when a minor official took offence over a criticism he made of the Federal police, and once (strangely, given his lyric attacks on drugs and drug smuggling) on suspicion of conspiracy to transport heroin into the USA (he was eventually released without charge, and was almost certainly framed by members of the Federal drug squad). Valentin’s songs about women and love were on an epic scale. On the 1984 album Senors Senoritas, the 20-minute title track finds him taking on the role of an agony uncle to the constant stream of women who would write to him asking for advice about their marriages and relationships. On the title track to Bamba Salsa he attacks the common Mexican tradition of rich, older men taking on a younger mistress warning that such practices either ended up in divorce or a heart attack. For all the humour of his lyrics, he gave good advice, and his fans paid heed to it. Usually too busy recording and performing for his followers at home, or for expatriate Mexicans elsewhere in central America, in the mid-80s Valentin made some attempt to latch onto the growing USA market for Latin music. In 1983 he toured the USA and played a stunning New York concert. It was a route he pursued until he fell ill in 1987 and was forced to limit his activities. He died, from cirrhosis of the liver, on a tour of Puerto Rico in 1988.