Marvin Santiago

Marvin Santiago (December 26, 1947 - October 6, 2004) was a Puerto Rican salsa singer who became famous all across Latin America during the 1970s. He was also a part-time comedian on Puerto Rican television. His brother, Billiván Santiago, had some success in Puerto Rico as a plena singer. Santiago was born in San Juan. After residing in various neighborhoods in the city he moved to the Nemesio Canales public housing project in his youth; he was eventually nicknamed "El Grifo de Canales" ("The kinky-haired, fair-skinned-one of Nemesio Canales") by close friends and fans. Santiago was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age. He was groomed as a bolero singer (a genre he didn't feel comfortable with) and was a struggling salsa singer (at one time he sang with Rafael Cortijo) until 1971, when he joined Bobby Valentin, another type 1 diabetic, as a duo. Their first LP, "Rompecabezas", ("Puzzle") sold well, and their second LP, "Soy Boricua" ("I'm a Boricua") is considered by many to be a salsa classic and an informal patriotic anthem for Puerto Ricans. That album's title song and the Tite Curet Alonso-written "Pirata de la Mar" ("Pirate of the Seas"), both sung by Santiago, became major international hits. The duo continued making hits during the decade of the 1970s, and they were invited to form part of the Fania All Stars, an exclusive salsa conglomerate of Fania Records musicians that showcased other performers such as Celia Cruz, Rubén Blades, Pellin Rodriguez, Roberto Roena, Andy Montanez and many others. Santiago separated and went solo apart from Valentin in 1977. In the same year he done some small work for another exclusive salsa conglomerate that was exclusive to Puerto Ricans only called the Puerto Rico All Stars (PRAS). PRAS was a rival to the Fania All Stars. The groups members changed consistently but Santiago had provided background vocals for the original established 1977 PRAS. Later in this year Santiago had a very successful pairing with producer and pianist Jorge Millet. In his solo records he improvised "soneos" (rhyming verses common to salsa) with a strong sense of alliteration, consonance and rhythm that was described once by Ruben Blades this way: "(Rhythm-wise) Marvin is capable of fitting a Mack truck into a parking space where a Volkswagen Beetle won't fit." He also used strong Puerto Rican figures of speech and slang that eventually granted him the moniker of "El Sonero del Pueblo" (The People's Sonero). He attained a major Puerto Rican hit with Cortijo's song "Fuego a la jicotea" ("(Light a) Fire to the Tortoise ( The Tortoise o Jicotea (Trachemys Stejnegeri Stejnegeri) is the unique species of native turtle that lives in pools, lagoons, dams, rivers and brooks of Puerto Rico (also he is present in Cuba). On natural history and customs of this species it is known very little.), a thinly-veiled ode to marijuana. Other hits were: "Al Son de la Lata (baila el chorizo)" -another Cortijo song-, "El Mangoneo", "La Picúa" and "Vasos de Colores". At the height of his popularity, however, Santiago was arrested and imprisoned for cocaine possession. This was his second conviction, and the amount confiscated implied that he intended to distribute the drug. He served five out of nine years of a prison sentence. He became a born-again Christian in prison, and recorded an album, "Desde Adentro", behind bars. A minor hit spawned from the album was "Auditorio Azul" ("Blue Auditorium", based on the fact that Puerto Rico prison uniforms are usually blue in color). Blades visited him in prison, something for which Santiago would be eternally grateful to him. After his drug conviction, Santiago's fame waned. By the time he finished his prison sentence, Jorge Millet, the musical architect of Santiago's sound, had died from a heart attack. Due to his spiritual reawakening, Santiago cleaned up the subject matter of his lyrics considerably, something that his hardcore fans did not approve of. Other notable facts that further pushed his fame's decline included the surge of merengue groups such as the Puerto Rico-based Conjunto Quisqueya and Freddie Kenton orchestras, as well as new local talent such as Eddie Santiago and Gilberto Santa Rosa, who popularized so-called "romantic salsa", which eventually displaced more urban-based subject matter in salsa songs. Santiago, however, kept a busy schedule through the 1980s, making several Latin American and inter-Puerto Rico tours and appearing on Puerto Rican television shows several times, often as a comedian in Luisito Vigoreaux's television programs. Poor vocal coaching eventually affected Santiago's vocal cords, turning it raspier with time. Santiago's health began to decline during the 1990s, but he still went on with his music, releasing "Donde lo Dejamos" ("Where we Left It") in 1992 alongside Valentin. Later on, a "greatest hits" album of his solo songs was released. Santiago, who adopted Marvin Hagler's "Marvelous" nickname (both because of their common first name and the fact that, at one time, his head was shaved bald like Hagler's), had begun conversations to join a Fania All Stars comeback as a tribute to Celia Cruz by the summer of 2004, but then, he became severely ill. [edit] Death Already having lost a leg (and later the other) to diabetes through amputation, Santiago lost vision from one eye and suffered severe kidney, heart and liver damage on the weeks prior to his death. At about noon (AST) on October 6, 2004, he died at a Bayamón hospital. Read more on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.