Willie Colon

Willie Colon will perform Sunday at Hard Rock Live. (Willie Colon/Courtesy / November 21, 2012)

Willie Colon, the celebrated salsa musician and composer, will perform this Sunday at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood. We spoke with the 62-year-old, New York-based trombonist earlier this week about his long career in music and political activism. Following is an excerpt of our conversation.

Many of your songs have political undertones. When did you decide as an artist to play and create message music?

It was a slow, organic process. First, we played because it was a root-traditional thing to do. Then, as it became more popular, we had weekend and summer-jam sessions. It was mostly drums then, but it became so popular among all the new Latinos that I guess it became a nuisance to non-Latinos who would call the police because it was "disturbing the peace" and an "unlawful assembly." It had to be a little frightening to see all these brown people hanging around playing drums. So the music practically became a public disobedience. It became associated with the civil-rights struggle. As we watched Martin Luther King march in Selma on TV, we played our jams in support.

When you first walk onto the stage, and look at a sea of fans, what goes through your head?


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I hope my fly isn't open or something stupid like that. I like people to feel loose when I come up, but not too loose. That why I don't like coming on at 2 or 3 in the morning. By that time, people are just fried. That doesn't mean that they can't have a good time, but it's almost like lion-taming. You have to keep them in check or they can jump up on the stage and go nuts. If they've been drinking, they've lost their inhibitions. Believe me, I can handle it, and we can have a good time. But I'd rather have a fresh, warmed-up audience that can still understand the jokes, and I can talk to a little bit.

You have had much crossover success as a musician. And now, you have grandmothers sharing your music with their grandchildren.

It lets me know what I do is important. We live in a fast, cynical, horrible world. If I can make you groove just for a few minutes, it's a tremendous feat. There are many goals we try to achieve through art. It's the art of oral teaching to be able to participate in this ancient mode of education, the passing of tradition, culture and stories. It's harder yet to remain relevant in a world that is shrinking so fast that there is less and less room. I'm shocked when I see grandmas next to teenagers. It's mind-blowing.

Willie Colon

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25

Where: Hard Rock Live, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood.

Cost: $44-$79

Contact: 954-797-5531 or HardRockLiveHollywoodFL.com