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Victor Manuelle’s Hard-Hitting Salsa Takes an Intimate Turn at Billboard En Vivo Performance

It was supposed to be all about his new album — Que Suenen los Tambores, released April 21 — and all about his 24 (soon to be 25) No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart. But when tropical star Victor Manuelle took the stage for Billboard En Vivo April 22, the heat of the moment led him in many different directions. In the intimate setting of Houston’s House of Blues, surrounded by hardcore fans who stood outside in line for hours, Manuelle and his 14-piece band took a slight detour. Halfway through the set, they launched into a medley of hits by veteran crooner José José set to a salsa beat. The crowd responded not only by taking more videos and pictures, but also taking the dance floor, showing off salsa moves between the tables of HOB. It was one of those “only here” Billboard En Vivo moments that have marked the concert series since its debut earlier this month with shows by Prince Royce in New York and Chicago, and J Balvin in Los Angeles. The intimate setting of En Vivo, designed to bring no more than 200 fans closer to their stars, has allowed for rare, small performances and unique artist-fan interaction. “This is so different from Madison Square Garden!” marveled Manuelle. “Usually when I play there’s a huge barrier, there’s security, the lights don’t allow me to see. Here I see every one of you!” Manuelle not only saw. He played for well over an hour backed by his fierce salsa band — who could barely squeeze into the small stage — his set list including new single “Auga Bendita,”which ended the week at No. 2 on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart. The track blends traditional salsa with touches of Colombian valleanto, a departure for Manuelle. If the song rises to No. 1 next week as expected, it will tie Manuelle with Marc Anthony as the artist with most No. 1s on that chart — 25. Manuelle ended the set with a cover of the Celia Cruz hit “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” highlighted by his trademark “soneos” or improvisations, before launching into the hit “Que Suenen los Tambores” (Let The Drums Play), which last year spent eight weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Tropical Airplay chart. It didn’t end there, though. After walking offstage, Manuelle, dripping in sweat, decided he would give fans even more and walked out into the crowd, posing for pictures for nearly an hour. It was an emotional ending to an emotional night where Manuelle, aside from performing, also spoke about his life and career, including his love for all things José José and the fact that he sings karaoke at home for fun.  He also touched on his father’s fight with Alzheimer’s, a struggle Manuelle put into music in the song “Algo le pasa a mi héroe” (Something’s Wrong With My Hero), which is now being used for various campaigns to raise awareness about the disease. No wonder then that when asked who his favorite superhero was, Manuelle replied simply: “My father.”