For many in the Latin music community, the 1983 release of Noche Caliente’s self-titled album introduced us all to the sensual style of “Salsa Romántica.” The new tropical style highlighted the talents of Frankie Ruiz, Eddie Santiago and later those of Luis Enrique, Lalo Rodriguez and Jerry Rivera. For many years, we continued to believe that what Louie Ramírez and Ray del la Paz produced for K-Tel Records, under the title of Noche Caliente, was the birth of this romantic style. It turns out that this concept of arranging romantic tunes as salsa tracks was started by a Cuban musician who arrived in 1966 to the city of New York at the age of 15.

In Journey Beneath My Skin, La Palabra, a child prodigy of music, is uprooted from his life in a sleepy seaside village in Cuba and brought to the United States amidst the chaos of the politically-charged late 60’s. While growing up in the racially-divided city of Detroit, he shares the stage with the Jackson Five and wins first place at the Detroit State Fair.

He attracts the attention of Stevie Wonder who brings him to Los Angeles. Taking Los Angeles by storm, La Palabra introduces a concept that transforms the tropical Latin music genre overnight. However, as some of his band members ride the wave of its success and go on to sign lucrative major record deals, La Palabra remains standing without so much as an offer and goes unrecognized for his contributions. Believing he is simply paying his dues, he performs six nights a week while his sons sleep in the back of his van and his bills go unpaid. Consequently, La Palabra finds himself entangled in a web of extremely challenging circumstances, ultimately landing him behind bars for three years.

Never giving in to despair, La Palabra makes a remarkable transformation while he’s inprison. Armed with the belief that in every adversity there’s a seed of equivalent benefit, he reads the few law books that were available to him, and learning to navigate the penal system, he challenges his attorney on “ineffective assistance of council” and wins back his freedom.

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