Born November 1, 1955 in Cartagena, Colombia, Joe Arroyo, also known as “El Joe”, was one of the greatest, most legendary, salsa singers and performers in his country. He was very proud of his African heritage and it showed through his music. It was also very apparent in his storytelling, as one of his most famous songs, La Rebelión, touched on the slave revolt being brought upon by the need to protect Black women.
The song, sung completely in Spanish, was released in 1986. Translated in English, Arroyo begins the song by saying, “I want to tell you, my brother, a little piece of Black history.”
He then goes on to tell a story about an enslaved African couple captured by the Spaniards and arriving in Cartagena in the 1600s. He discusses the mistreatment the Africans received at the hands of the Spaniards and then one day, the Spaniard raised his hand to strike the Black woman and that is when the man had completely had enough –– No le pegue a la negra! –– Translated: Don’t hit the black woman.
The entirety of the song centers around the husband taking revenge against the owners for the mistreatment of his wife, a warning against those who dare harm his, or any, African woman.
In 2011, at the age of 55 years old, Arroyo died in Barranquilla, Colombia of multi-organ failure. In his hometown of Cartagena, you can still find a mural of Joe Arroyo with the famous No le pegue a la negra quote as a reminder of his love of Blackness and everything he stood for.
If you’d like to listen to La Rebelión, check it out below.