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Born in the Las Villas province of Cuba, Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros became a master of the island's distinctive, horn-led musical musical styles. As a horn-player, composer, and arranger, he contributed to the development of modern Afro-Latin popular music.

Armenteros is a virtuoso player of the trumpet and the flügelhorn. He is also the last surviving master of Cuban septeto music, which is performed by a small ensemble featuring a trumpet backed by stringed instruments and percussion. He has played in many Latin American musical genres, including Afro-Latin Jazz big bands, small-group Cuban Descargas (jam sessions), and Salsa Music. On the 1979 album Knockdown Calypsoes. Armenteros convincingly re-created the sound of the Calypso bands of Trinidad in the 1930s and 1940s. Armenteros's trumpet-playing is instantly recognizable. Rather than seeking harmonic complexity or intricate rapid-fire melodies, typical of jazz trumpet playing since the Bebop era he projects a ...

Article

Gordon Root

Ignacio Villa, known by his stage name, Bola de Nieve, was born and grew up in a poor neighborhood in Guanabacoa, Cuba. His parents introduced him to Afro-Cuban music when he was a child, and he was exposed to European classical music in his formal studies. His classical training began when he studied privately with Gerado Guanche. Later Villa enrolled in the Conservatorio de José Mateu, where he studied mandolin and flute as well as piano.

At home Villa absorbed many elements of traditional Afro-Cuban music through his contact with Rumba and other rhythms and dances. It has been suggested that his parents participated in African-based religions and that young Ignacio had been educated in the music and practices of Afro-Cuban religion as well.

As a boy Villa helped support his family by performing in house for neighborhood audiences His professional career began in the 1920s ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Alejandro García Caturla, along with Amadeo Roldán, was Cuba's leading musical exponent of Afrocubanismo, an artistic and literary movement that looked to Cuba's urban black culture, folklore, and music for new art and literary forms. Caturla employed the prevailing European compositional techniques, but sought innovative ways to incorporate Afro-Cuban rhythms and melodic fragments into his works. He also experimented with European instruments, on which he achieved folk timbres.

According to Cuban composer Argeliers León, Caturla “showed himself from his earliest years to be opposed to the virulent racism clearly reflected in the shining floors of the colonial mansions, which were always polished by black servants.” Caturla was born in Remedios, Cuba to a prominent family of Spanish descent but he felt most at home within Cuba s urban black culture He married a black woman and played in Afro Cuban folk bands an experience that led ...

Article

Rebecca M. Bodenheimer

was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso on 21 October 1925 in the working-class, racially diverse neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba. Her father, Simón Cruz, worked shoveling coal on the railroads, and her mother, Catalina Alfonso, was a homemaker. Cruz was the second of four surviving children, and she grew up among an extended family of aunts and cousins. She began singing at a very young age, entertaining family and friends, and was drawn to Afro-Cuban popular music when her maternal aunt brought her to watch and dance in comparsas neighborhood based groups that paraded and danced in Havana s annual Carnival competition accompanied by African derived percussion Cruz s father was opposed to her entering the entertainment field and encouraged Cruz to pursue teaching which he felt was a more respectable profession that did not carry the connotations of prostitution attached to female ...

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James Sellman

Born in Havana, Cuba, Paquito D'Rivera entered the Havana Conservatory in 1960, where he studied woodwinds. Two years later he began playing professionally. During his mandatory military service, D'Rivera played in an army band. He then joined the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna (OCMM) and in 1973 became a founding member—along with Chucho Valdés and Arturo Sandoval—of the Afro-Cuban jazz rock ensemble Irakere, Cuba's most popular Jazz group. In 1980 D'Rivera defected to the United States, settling in New York City, where he worked with Dizzy Gillespie and pianist McCoy Tyner and started his own band. In 1989 he joined Gillespie's last group, the United Nation Orchestra, made up in equal numbers of African American and Latin American jazz musicians, for a tour of Europe and the United States. D'Rivera led the ensemble after Gillespie's death in 1993.

D Rivera plays alto saxophone in a ...

Article

Robin Moore

known in later years as “the Voice of the Danzón,” was born on 4 December 1909 in Bolondrón, Matanzas Province, Cuba. He spent his early years on a sugar plantation known as the Central San Rafael de Jorrín. At age 4 his family moved to eastern Cuba, where his father, Eugenio Diez, found work as a cane cutter in the Central Manatí, and also worked for a time as a mechanic. Diez began singing informally at an early age, performing for school events or simply learning popular songs by the Trio Matamoros and others with his friends. His professional musical career began in 1930 when his family moved to Havana and he began singing in groups such as the Septeto Matancero (Matanzas Septet) led by Graciano Gómez, the Quinteto Selecto (Select Quintet) featuring Isaac Oviedo on tres the trio Los Tres Ases The Three Aces and the orchestras of ...

Article

Lissette Acosta Corniel

was born in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic. She played the bandola (a mandolin-like instrument) and migrated to Cuba, settling in Santiago de Cuba. Formerly a slave, Ginés is largely known as a free black woman who pioneered the Cuban popular music genre known as son, which she performed along with her sister Micaela Ginés and other musicians at gatherings and festivals. The two sisters parted when Micaela decided to move to La Habana (Havana), while Teodora remained in Santiago where the song “Son de la Má Teodora,” believed to have been composed by Teodora, became popular.

This colonial performer left no trace of her life in Santo Domingo or in Cuba other than her music The little that is known about Ginés has emerged through reconstruction by secondary sources that analyzes the lyrics and rhythm of the popular and only song linked to this freed black musician ...

Article

James Sellman

When pianist Rubén González recorded Introducing…Rubén González (1996), he was seventy-seven years old. It was his first album under his own leadership. He had last recorded in the mid-1940s, as part of the legendary Afro-Cuban tres player Arsenio Rodriguez's conjunto (a nine-to-eleven-member ensemble combining a rhythm section, stringed instruments, and two trumpets playing the melody line). In a career spanning more than half a century, González mastered many divergent styles of Cuban music, including danzón, Bolero, guaracha, Son, Mambo, and chachachá. He encapsulated much of Cuba's twentieth-century musical history. Although well known within Cuba, he was virtually unknown to the wider world.

González was born in Santo Clara, Cuba As a youth he studied at the Cienfuegos Conservatory where he devoted himself to learning and completed his studies by age fifteen He did not however continue formal studies that ...

Article

Robin Moore

was born in Santiago de Cuba on 9 October 1922. She is known to many as the “Queen of the Bolero.” Little is known about her parents. As a young girl, Guillot left Santiago and moved with her family to Havana. There, she studied classical voice at the Municipal Conservatory with the soprano Hortensia Coalla and the tenor Mariano Meléndez. Her first public performances as a young girl were as part of the duo Las Hermanas Guillot, consisting of Olga and her sister Ana Luisa, who performed tangos together on the Corte Suprema del Arte radio show in 1936 Her reputation spread a few years later after the bandleader and composer Facundo Rivero asked her to sing with his orchestra in Havana s Zombie Club Shortly thereafter she performed as a featured solo artist on the radio stations Mil Diez and RHC Cadena Azul by the early 1940s ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Ernesto Lecuona, who was born in Guanabacoa, Cuba, gained international recognition in the 1920s and is widely considered to be one of Cuba's greatest composers. Famed for such classical masterpieces as Malagueña and Andalucia Suite, he produced over 1,000 works, including 176 pieces for solo piano and thirty-seven orchestral scores. During the 1930s he founded the enormously popular rumba band Lecuona Cuban Boys, which helped to pave the way for Latin Jazz and Salsa. He also composed nearly a dozen Hollywood film scores, including the music for the 1947 film Carnival in Costa Rica.

Lecuona's compositions reflect three musical styles: pieces influenced by European classical styles, particularly the works of Spanish composers Isaac Albéniz and Enrique Granados; boleros and criollas inspired by Cuban folk sources; and works that delve into the rhythms and color of Afro-Cuban music. According to music critic Mark Holston ...

Article

Roanne Edwards

Tania J. León, who was born in Havana, Cuba, is an internationally acclaimed composer and conductor, and a leading exponent of contemporary classical music. Her musical style is versatile and innovative: she incorporates elements of Jazz and Gospel into her compositions, as well as the rhythms and color of Afro-Cuban music. She debuted as a conductor at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy in 1971—a time when there were few professional women conductors of classical music. Indeed, León's unrelenting determination has been central to her career success. “It is not common for a woman of my skin color to conduct serious music, so I have to know the score inside out, or work twice as hard as male conductors,” she told Ebony magazine in 1989. Since the 1980s she has served as a guest conductor-composer with orchestras in the United States and Europe. From 1993 ...

Article

Machito  

James Sellman

The son of a cigar manufacturer, Frank Raoul Grillo was the first son born to a family that had three daughters, hence his lifelong nickname, Machito—“little man.” Machito had his first musical experiences as a child, dancing and singing with workers at his father's company. After Machito grew up, he played bongos and tumbadora in various Cuban bands, including the Sexteto Nacional. In the autumn of 1937 he left Cuba for New York City, where he sang and played maracas with a number of Latin bands, including a stint as the lead singer in Xavier Cugat's orchestra. In 1940 Machito organized his big band, the Afro-Cubans, and the following year his brother-in-law Mario Bauzá joined the band as music director, a position he held for thirty-five years.

Machito credited Duke Ellington as his principal inspiration and recounted that in the beginning his band sounded like a combination ...

Article

Machito  

Barry Kernfeld

salsa and jazz bandleader, singer, and percussionist, was born Frank Raúl Grillo in Tampa, Florida, the son of Rogelio Grillo, formerly a cigar maker and then a grocery store owner, and Marta Amparo. In his oral history Machito claimed that 1908 was his year of birth, but in the same interview he claimed to be two years older than Mario Bauzá, which would make 1909 the correct date; 1912, given in some sources, seems less likely (though not impossible), since Machito was already an experienced professional musician in 1928. While he was still an infant, his family moved to Havana, Cuba, where his father ran two restaurants. He was nicknamed Macho because he was the first son after three daughters, one of whom, Graciela would figure prominently in his career Immersed in Afro Cuban music from childhood he began his career ...

Article

In 1912 Miguel Matamoros made his first public presentation at the Heredia Theater in Santiago de Cuba. A musician of natural talents, in 1925 he cofounded the Trío Matamoros along with Rafael Cueto, who was a backup singer and guitar player, and Siro Rodríguez who was also a ...

Article

Cristobal Diaz-Ayala

Pablo Milanés was born in Bayamo, a historically important town in the eastern part of Cuba, to a poor mulatto family. When he was only five years old his mother took him to amateur contests on radio programs, where he sang boleros (a Cuban genre of romantic ballads) and rancheras (a style of Mexican song). His family moved to Havana in 1949, where he began to play the guitar, taking lessons sporadically at the Havana Municipal Conservatory. Working in menial jobs and studying at night, he began playing in 1959 in the Del Rey Quartet, which specialized in American hymns of African American influence. He wrote his first songs in 1963. In 1964 he switched to the Los Bucaneros Quartet which had a broader repertoire He also sang as a soloist collaborating with composers of the feeling movement romantic ballads of the 1950s and 1960s or ...

Article

James Sellman

Beny Moré was one of Cuba's greatest singers and entertainers. Cuba's musical culture draws upon the dual legacy of Africa and Europe. Moré was not only a talented vocalist, he was a master of both the Afro-Cuban and the more European-derived musical traditions. He was a superb interpreter of a wide range of musical styles, including the Son, the Mambo, the Rumba, the Bolero, and the Spanish-derived rural music known as guajiro. Early in his career he sang both up-tempo songs and ballads, but by the 1950s he was concentrating primarily on ballads, especially boleros and slow-tempo son. In Salsa!, Hernando Calvo Ospina wrote that Moré was “the greatest Son musician of all time.” Music writer Spencer Harrington observed that in the three decades since his death, no Cuban singer has been able to replace him.

As a teenager, Bartolome Maximiliano Moré ...

Article

Fiona Mc Laughlin

is a popular and charismatic Senegalese singer, songwriter, and composer who, along with his band, the Super Étoile de Dakar, introduced the world to mbàllax, a style of dance music based on Wolof drum rhythms.

Born in Dakar in 1959 to Elimane N Dour and Ndèye Sokhna M Boup who comes from a family of griots or praise singers Youssou N Dour grew up in the modest Medina neighborhood of the city a community to which he remains deeply attached He began his musical career at an early age singing at local religious ceremonies but he eventually moved into the Dakar nightclub scene where he quickly became known for his mellifluous voice By the time he was fifteen he had left school and to the consternation of his father had started singing at the Miami nightclub in Dakar with the legendary Star Band with whom he recorded his ...

Article

Together with Arsenio Rodríguez and Miguel Matamoros, Ignacio Piñeiro is universally regarded as one of the most influential figures in the development of contemporary Cuban music, particularly of the Afro-Cuban genre Son.

See also Music, Afro-Cuban.

Article

Gabriela Pulido Llano

who helped establish the danzón as one of the favorite musical genres in Mexico City, was born in Guantánamo, Cuba, on 26 April 1899. Roberts grew up in the Los Hoyos neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba. His mother gave him the nickname of “Acerina,” an allusion to hematite, a black gemstone that Roberts wore on a ring, as described by the writer Gonzalo Martré (1997).

Acerina was enthusiastic about music as a child and played several percussion instruments as an amateur. His first contact with music was through his stepfather, Enrique Bueno, who had a Charanga band He performed in public for the first time at the age of 14 That year he went to Merida in the Mexican region of Yucatán with a band at first just carrying their instruments Later he moved to the city of Veracruz where he lived for ten years Both ...

Article

Rebecca M. Bodenheimer

was born on 24 September 1922 in Cayo Hueso, a primarily Afro-Cuban neighborhood in central Havana. She was exposed to Afro-Cuban folklore in her early life, watching her father participate in the coros de clave tradition of mobile choral and percussion groups that circulated on city streets during the Christmas holiday season. He sang with Los Roncos, a coro de clave group directed by Ignacio Piñeiro, who would later become the most significant innovator and composer of son, traditional Cuban dance music, and director of legendary son group Septeto Nacional.

Notwithstanding his own participation in Afro Cuban musical traditions Valdés s father discouraged her from following in his footsteps Nonetheless Valdés decided to pursue a musical career and won a radio competition at the age of 12 singing the Margarita Lecuona song Babalú which would later gain international recognition when Cuban American actor Desi Arnaz performed it on the ...