In less than one week, the Latin music world has lost another of its most iconic artists. After the death of the Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, Salsa music mourns Jairo Varela, the prolific songwriter and founder of the legendary Colombian band Grupo Niche. The artist, who was 62, passed away in his home in Cali, Colombia.
Jairo Varela is easily one of the best songwriters Salsa music has ever produced. After founding Grupo Niche in 1978, this talented musician wrote some of the most memorable Salsa songs ever recorded including tracks such as "Buenaventura Y Caney," "Cali Pachanguero," "Una Aventura," and "Gotas De Lluvia," among many, many more.
Musically speaking, Jairo Varela and his Grupo Niche created a new school of Salsa whose sound was defined by its fast beats, solid percussion and vibrant brass sessions. Thanks to Jairo Varela, Colombian Salsa found its own place in a genre that was largely dominated by the music of bands from New York and Puerto Rico.
Jairo Varela, in fact, injected a sense of pride among Colombians about the music they were able to produce. I grew up in Colombia listening to the music of Grupo Niche and I was lucky enough to witness their transformation into one of the best bands in Salsa music. I still remember the words that proud caleños (the inhabitants from Cali) expressed after a face-off against El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico back in the early 1980s: "We went to see El Gran Combo and we ended up seeing Grupo Niche."
Besides putting Colombian music on the spotlight, Jairo Varela created a rich repertoire of Salsa dura and romantic tracks that touched every corner of the human condition. He wrote songs about love (e.g. "Nuestro Sueno," "Busca Por Dentro"), traditional culture (e.g. "Canoa Rancha," "Mi Mama Me Ha Dicho") and even social issues (e.g. "Ana Mile," "Etnia").
Above all, however, Jairo Varela exalted Afro-Colombian culture and his beloved Cali through songs such as "Del Puente Pa'lla," "Mi Valle Del Cauca" and "Cali Aji." His hit song "Cali Pachanguero" has been the city's unofficial anthem since 1984, when the song was released with Niche's breakthrough album No Hay Quinto Malo.
The Latin music world has lost one of its most creative minds. Jairo Varela who found most of his inspiration in Cali, a city called by its inhabitants La Sucursal del Cielo (The Branch of Heaven) has just moved to the headquarters. His music, however, will remain with us forever. R.I.P.
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