Roberto Roena’s ability to rise to the top was reaffirmed in 1978, with the release of “El Progreso.” Between the band’s founding in 1970 and 1977, the Apollo Sound was home to soneros such as Piro Mantilla, Tito Cruz, Sammy González, and Papo Sánchez. On the 10th anniversary of the band’s creation –and at the apex of its popularity– singer Papo Sánchez, trombonist Julio Merced, and saxophonist Miguel Rodríguez, among others, left Apollo to start the band Salsa Fever.

In those days, rivalry between orchestras –which had been going on since the time of Tito Rodríguez and Tito Puente at the Palladium– was often channeled into the bands’ records with songs displaying the kind of one-upsmanship that distinguishes a sector of rap and reggae today. Roena, who recruited Tito Cruz back to the band for the album Apollo Sound 9, substituted Papo Sánchez with Carlos Santos. This veteran sonero had a sweet, melodious, rhythmic voice that stood out among the Kako Orchestra and other groups. “Lo Que Dios Me Dio,” by Chiquitín García, was one of the band’s responses to the departure of its band members, as were “Contigo No Quiero Na” and “Guaguancó Del Adiós” by Tite Curet Alonso. The two latter numbers spoke to the coup d’etat or rebellion the Apollo Sound was experiencing. In the montuno number “Lo Que Dios Me Dio,” Tito Cruz cries – Y no me importa que tú me pongas paredes, si esas las derrumbo yo – and – Pero Dios mío dame paciencia para seguir luchando contra la maldad.

However, Roberto Roena’s talent, originality, vision, and business sense were enough to recover the band’s authority in popularity and sales, thanks to the group’s extraordinary international cover of the famous salsa number “El Progreso” by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos. The band also recorded a bolero version of the duo’s ballad “Necesito llamar su atención.” With his discourse on environmental protection, Carlos Santos rose to the top of the charts, and the Apollo Sound –thanks to the strings arrangement provided by the Orquesta Sinfónica” on “El Progreso”– stepped to the forefront once again. Unlike the Apollo Sound’s subsequent efforts, such as Que Suerte He Tenido De Nacer, the album “El Progreso” would finish out the most productive and creative stage of Roberto Roena’s career, which declined dramatically in the 1980s due to the artist’s personal problems; additionally, Jerry Masucci, then-president of Fania Records, simply didn’t know how to adjust the label’s productions to the demands of a market gravitating toward ballads and pop music. Previously, Roena relied on Patato and the Rumberos for the batá tambores on the irresistible and commercial number “Regaño Al Corazón”: si tú me lo das/por qué me lo quitas. And contributing his stylings on the piano was his friend and compatriot, Papo Lucca. Nearly three decades later, “El Progreso” is still a must-have, due to the song Roena dedicated to his mentor Rafael Cortijo –“Viva Cortijo,” which was written by Bobby Capó, and combines the rhythms of the guaguancó, bomba, and plena– and other hits such as El Negro Nembón, Ingratitudes, El Bombón De Elena, Máquino Landera, and many others. Another unique aspect of “El Progreso” is the influence of the socio-urban salsa that reached its height in 1978 with the release of Willie Colón and Rubén Blades’ classic album Siembra. In this sense, Tite Curet Alonso’s “Lamento De Concepción” places the Apollo Sound on another level, with lyrics about the poverty of laborers in great urban centers in songs such as Pablo Pueblo, Julián Del Valle, Juan Albañil, Adán García, and other characters from the salsa narrative.

Credits Mario Alvarez – Trumpet Fernando Marcano – Trumpet Ramón Morales – Trumpet Luty Maldonado – Trombone Coco Andújar – Tenor Saxophone and Flute Lenny Prieto – Piano Efraín Hernández – Bass Cuqui Santos – Timbales Papo Pepín – Congas Roberto Roena – Bongos Vocals – Tito Cruz and Carlos Santos Chorus – Tito Allen, Rafú Warner, Mario Alvarez Cora, and Darío Morales Special Guests – Papo Lucca and Patato Valdés Strings on “El Progreso” and “Necesito Llamar Su Atención”: Jaime Medina Carlos Acevedo Francisco Mould José Contrazalo Juan Rodríguez Carlos Rodríguez Carlos Rosario Fermín Segarra Ito Serrano Ramoncito Engineer: Steve Bravil Original Cover Design: Ron Levine Produced by Roberto Roena Recorded at Ochoa Recording Studio in Puerto Rico

Written by Jaime Torres-Torres