We live in a changing world, one in which words matter, one that pushes for inclusivity and respect for all. Artists like Lizzo and Beyonce have changed lyrics in their songs because they offended modern sensibilities, so it should surprise no one if some of the words in our beloved Salsa songs might need revisiting.
A while back, there was a Facebook discussion about Willie Colon’s song “El Gran Varón” in which some Salseros wondered why, at this time and age, we keep on dancing to a song that compares a trans woman to a twisted tree. The chorus of the song goes:
No se puede corregir a la naturaleza. Palo que nace dobla’o, jamás su tronco endereza.
You can’t correct nature. A tree that’s born twisted never straightens out its trunk.
But if one believes that gender is fluid and that the behaviors that society has imposed on males and females are not the only way of existing, one must then ask: Why would nature need correction?
That’s what Dionicio tackles with his version of “El Gran Varón.” As part of the LGBTQ community and perhaps the only openly gay Salsa singer, Dionicio released this week an EP with six songs, including a Salsa version and a Salsa/Urban version of the Willie Colon hit. The Salsa/Urban version, which was uploaded to YouTube in December of 2020, features rapper Cris Wezton.
The changed language in the chorus is most significant. It goes:
Así es la naturaleza. Lo que parece azul puede resultar violeta. No se equivoca. No se corrige. Y se respeta. Palo que nace doblado, lo endereza.
This is nature. What seems blue can end up being violet. It’s not wrong. It’s not reversible. And should be respected. A tree born twisted is straightened.
I do like the more inclusive chorus. Having said that, it should be acknowledged that the original song, written by Panamanian composer Omar Alfanno in 1986, discussed AIDS, the loss of life that it brought about, and the sadness, the pain, and the rupture that families suffered due to close mindedness or plain out homophobia. With language that was acceptable at the time, the song wanted to make the listener consider whether an obstinate religious or personal standing was worth abandoning a loved one in need.
But we have further evolved in the course of 30 plus years, and now we are even more watchful of the words we put out there and how they make others feel. For that reason, I think that Dionicio’s version deserves a listen and a place in our playlists. What do you think?