May 25, 2011
The internationally famous Cuban sonero and composer Miguelito Valdés (1919-1978) was an acclaimed interpreter of Afro-Cuban songs, which both celebrated the heritage of Cuban blacks and highlighted their suffering. He acquired the nickname "Mr Babalú" because he recorded and performed the song so often. From the age of 10 he grew-up in Havana’s Cayo Hueso district listening to Santería (Afro-Cuban cult music) and classical music. He befriended Arsenio Rodríguez, Chano Pozo and Félix Chappottín. He started boxing in 1926 for the Cuban YMCA and became Cuba’s amateur welterweight champion in 1929 and sang songs during radio interviews. He switched to music full-time as a singer with Sexteto Habanero Juvenil. After two years guitar and singing tuition from singer, guitarist and composer María Teresa Vera (1895-1965), he joined her group Sexteto Occidente in 1929 as a chorus singer. He relocated to Panama in 1933 and became a major star there as the vocalist with Lucho Azcarraga orchestra.
Shortly after returning to Cuba in September 1936, alto saxist and leader Manolo Castro recruited him to his high society band Los Hermanos Castro (founded in 1930; dissolved in 1960). Valdés’ innovative improvisational rendition of Afro-Cuban numbers caused a sensation. Finding the regime in Castro’s band too stingy and inflexible, he and six other members departed in 1937 to found a corporation that organised an 11-piece band including pianist, arranger and composer Anselmo Sacasas (1912-1998). The band acquired the name Orquesta Casino de la Playa when Valdés negotiated a five-year contract with the Summer Casino in Marianao Beach, then a daily slot on the CMQ radio station that launched them in Cuba and led to tours of Latin America. Casino de la Playa signed with RCA Victor in 1937 and made about 200 78s for the label, a number of which are collected on the Tumbao CDs Memories Of Cuba 1937-44 ‘91 (including Valdés’ original 1939 big hit recording of "Babalú" by Margarita Lecuona), Adios Africa 1937-40 ‘94 and Fufuñando 1937-1940 ‘95.
Valdés (as well as Sacasas) decided to leave Casino de la Playa and relocate to New York City. Accounts differ about his departure from Cuba. Shortly before leaving Cuba, Valdés provided lead vocals to a series of sides made in 1940 by Orquesta Havana-Riverside (a rival of Casino de la Playa founded in 1938). In addition, he recorded with Sexteto Nacional (personally reconvening the disbanded members) and the group of pianist / composer Enrique Bryon.
Valdés and Sacasas left Cuba in April 1940 and arrived in NYC on 16 May. Sacasas organised his own orchestra, which debuted at Chicago’s Colony Club in September 1940 including 17-year-old Tito Puente. Meanwhile, Xavier Cugat quickly sought-out Valdés and signed him to a five-year contract. He made his RCA Victor debut with Cugat in May 1940. Cugat recordings featuring Valdés are collected on Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra 1940-42 ‘91 (including his second recording of "Babalú" for Columbia in 1941) and Rumba Rumbero ‘92 on Tumbao. During his stint with Cugat, he sang at NYC’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel and other prestigious venues and performed in the 1942 Hollywood movie You Were Never Lovelier, starring Fred Astaire and Rita Heyworth.
Hot selling Cugat recordings enabled his photo to appear on the front cover of Billboard in April 1942, giving him national exposure. In 1942 Cugat released Valdés from his contract after the singer refused to work without a pay rise. He began a solo career as top-billing act at NYC’s La Conga club and later preformed at all the City’s prominent supper clubs. He recorded two albums on Decca with Machito and his Afro-Cubans in 1942 in 48 hours to beat a national musicians strike; tracks are collected on Cuban Rhythms (Tumbao, 1992). He relocated to Mexico City in 1942 where he appeared in 12 movies, giving him even greater exposure. He returned to the USA in September 1944 to reside in Los Angeles. Popular ’40s recordings with La Sonora Matancera and Noro Morales are collected on Señor Babalú on Tropical. He made a further six sides in the mid-’40s with the Machito band on Verne which are compiled on Guampampiro (Tumbao, 1997). He appeared in the movies Panamericana ‘45 and with Machito band in Night In The Tropics c ‘46 starring Betty Reilly.
He debuted with his own big band in 1948, and did a number of US tours and prestigious residencies with them. In 1949 Valdés and his orchestra made 22 classic recordings during five sessions for Gabriel Oller’s SMC label including pianists René Hernández, Eddie Cano and Al Escobar, and percussionist Ray "Little Ray" Romero (1923-2006). This material is compiled on Mambo Dance Session (Caribe, 1994) and an overlapping 13 tracks are collected on Algo Nuevo (Tumbao, 2000). Mr. Babalú (Tumbao, 1993) compiles eight sides made with his own orchestra in 1949 and eight with the Noro Morales orchestra from 1951, including a version of "Babalú" with each band. He also recorded for Monogram (1950), Tico (1953) and as a soloist with the orchestra of pianist / composer René Touzet (1916-2003). He disbanded in 1954 when financial circumstances prevented him from sustaining a full sized band, but he retained Puerto Rican pianist Luisito Benjamín as an accompanist for tours. Faced with the mid-’50s emergence of rock ‘n’ roll and new Latin stars, Valdés went into retirement in L.A.
Musical director Mario Bauzá invited him to return to NYC to reunite with the Machito orchestra on the 1963 LP Reunion on Tico, which he regarded as one of his best recordings. This re-established his career, leading to his own TV show (1966-76) and recording dates, including Mejico Yo Te Canto / I Sing Of Mexico (Tico, 1964), Canciones Mi Mama No Me Enseño / Spanish Songs Mama Never Taught Me ‘64 and Mas Canciones Mi Mama No Me Enseño / More Spanish Songs Mama Never Taught Me ‘65, both on Tico with Tito Puente, Machito, Graciela and Joe Cuba; Chico O’Farrill’s Married Well (Verve, 1967), providing lead vocals to "Manteca"; Inolvidables (Verve, 1967) arranged and conducted by O’Farrill; Miguelito Canta A Panama (Mericana, 1977) made in Panama; and Mister Babalú en Perú on IEMPSA (issued on LAD ‘80). He had a mild heart attack in Mexico in March 1978 and collapsed and died on stage during a performance at the Hotel Tequendama, Bogotá, Colombia, in November 1978. – John Child
Miguelito Valdés Discography
May 24, 2011
“Escaping New York’s Concrete Jungle with tunes from Spanish Harlem and Puerto Rico…”
DJ Dave is back with a gem-like playlist of tasty Fania tracks which make for the perfect summer soundtrack. Incuded are luminaries like Justo Betancourt, Santos Colón, Pete “El Conde” Rodriguez, Bobby Valentin, Jimmy Sabater, Charlie Palmieri and many others. Download the complete set, pop them into your iPod and you are set to float down the street on a wave of saborrrrr.
- DJ Anthony Mancini | Click for DJ Dave’s Playlist
DJ Dave Contact Info
May 14, 2011
The remarkable smoky voice of Venezuelan-born sonero, composer and percussionist Tabaco (Carlos Quintana, 1943-1995) has been compared to Ismael Rivera. He joined Sexteto Juventud in 1963 following a recommendation from conguero Elio Pacheco to the leader and bassist Olinto Medina. (Pacheco was a founder member of Dimensión Latina and subsequently leader of La Magnifica and La Mafia Latina.) Tabaco initially played bongo with the group, then conga and later timbales. He went on to become their principal composer and lead vocalist recording in the region of 13 albums with the group between 1967 and 1973. At the suggestion of his friend, flautist, composer and arranger Naty (José Natividad Martínez), Tabaco formed his own sextet in 1975, debuting on the LAD label with El Sabor de Tabaco. Tabaco y su Sexteto made a further three albums in 1975 and 1976, including Mi Pueblo, Mi Burrito, Nostalgia (LAD, 1975) featuring the big hit "Mi Burrito", a quirky cumbia.
In 1978 Naty assisted Tabaco enlarge his sextet to a brass-led band called Los Metales, giving it more power and swing. Tabaco y sus Metales’s eponymous album debut on TH (Top Hits) featured Naty on flute and included his trademark hit "Una Sola Bandera". The follow-up Ni Poco Ni Demasiado (TH, 1979) contained a masterly interpretation of Markolino Dimond’s "Maraquero". Tabaco y sus Metales’s next release Advertencia (TH, 1980) was recorded in Puerto Rico with notable local session musicians and musical direction and arrangements by Ray Santos. The standout track was "Agua De Mayo". Tabaco y sus Metales’ 1981 production for TH, known as No Se Va A Poder, featured arrangements by Jorge Millet (1939-1981), his compostion "Si La Envidia Fuera Tiña" and the Tabaco-penned tribute "A Millet" to mark the passing of the distingished Puerto Rican pianist, arranger, composer, producer and musical director on July 1st 1981. 1982’s Tabaco y sus Metales on TH compiled eight tracks from Los Metales previous four albums.
Tabaco dropped "Metales" to became Tabaco y su Orquesta for Cosa Linda (TH, 1983) and Homenaje a los Bravos! (TH, 1983), but resumed the title "Tabaco y sus Metales" for his 1984 TH finale El Timbalero produced, directed and arranged by Andy Duran. A live version of "Baranda" (from Homenaje a los Bravos!) was included in the double album Nicaragua ‘84 / Festival de Musica Popular Latinoamericana y del Caribe recorded in Managua in August 1984. His last offering, Tabaco y su Grupo Futuro, released on Velvet in 1988 featured the arranger Felix Suarez "Shakaito". Tabaco started recording an album with Naty in tribute to Ismael Rivera, but was unable to complete the project because he was hospitalized suffering from cancer. He died suddenly on May 30th, 1995. – John Child
May 6, 2011
Oomph! What a pristine and heavily swinging vibes-based based salsa, mambo and jazzy boogaloo project. This one brings to mind the best of the Joe Cuba / Jimmy Sabater / Cheo Feliciano collaborations of the ’60s and ’70s. A modern take on the classic sounds of the golden age of Latin dance music. Vocalistas con estilo George Luis Balmaseda, Johnny Crespo and Victor Muñiz are backed by some heavy hitters like bassist Rene Camacho (who has worked with Jack Costanzo, Bobby Matos, Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars, Susie Hansen…) pianist Joe Rotundi (Bongo Logic, Caravana Cubana, Pete Escovedo) and percussionist Angelo Rodriguez (Chino Espinoza) and others. This is the kind of project we wait for here at elWatusi. Take a listen to the groove on Por Falta De Compresion …the essence of sabor. On Chata Kun Kun Victor Muñiz gives props to dozens of iconic influences. After hearing Chapter 1 we predict that future bands will be giving their props to Lucky 7 Mambo.
So, don’t just sit there… download this gem right now! Very Highly Recommended. – elW
George Luis Balmaseda, vocals, coro
Johnny Crespo, vocals, coro
Victor Muñiz, vocals
Rene Camacho, bass, coro
Freddie Crespo, coro
Joe Rotundi, piano
Craig Fundiga, vibraphone
Joseph De Leon Jr., congas, bongo, coro
Angelo Rodriguez, timbales, maracas, güiro, cowbell, congas
Kevin Ricard, bongo
James Savaleta, coro
Christopher Holder, keyboards
Tito Carrion, bongo
Inspired by the multi-ethnic music-fusion of 1950s and 60s’ Spanish Harlem, Dimelo! Records brings to the west coast the high energy sounds of the classic mambo. “Lucky 7 Mambo” features the haunting harmonies of the vibraphone, an unlikely instrument now as much as it was in the 50s and 60s.
“Lucky 7 Mambo” is inspired by old-school greats like Jimmy Sabater, Cheo Feliciano, and Joe Cuba. This uniquely American-made style draws the best of the Cuban son, African-American jazz and Puerto Rican soul. It incorporates both English and Spanish lyrics flowing in and out of the same tune and offers up not just a swingin’ dance beat, but a thoughtful account of love lost, Latin pride, and clever double-entendres.
“Lucky 7 Mambo band members, united by their love of mambo, bring to the stage the flavor of the past with the intensity of the present.”
Puerto Rican-born Mon Rivera (1925-1978) was a pioneer of the trombone frontline in Latin music, some say he was the pioneer, whereas others maintain that Eddie Palmieri and Barry Rogers were the originators. But perhaps it’s their record producer at the time, Al Santiago (founder of Alegre Records), who deserves the credit. Whoever it was, the all-trombone sound influenced bandleaders like Willie Colón and others, and has been described as the symbol of urban salsa. Mon was known as "El Rey del Trabalengua" (The Tongue Twister King) because "his improvised quips would delight fans with his clear enunciation of rhymes and alliterations conjured up at bullet speed and perfectly weaved in the timing and circumstances of the music" (quote from Aurora Flores, 1978). Rivera was always closely associated with the plena and bomba forms of his island of birth. His father, Ramón Rivera Alers, wrote popular plenas. Mon began his professional career at the age of 16 and joined the band of William Manzano. He was also a professional baseball player and played with Los Indios in Mayagüez between 1943 and 1945.
In the early ’50s, Rivera relocated to the USA with the band of Héctor Pellot, which was later led by Moncho Leña. 1950s recordings with Leña were collected on A Night At The Palladium With Moncho Leña, Dance and Mas Exitos Inolvidables Vol. 3 (‘55-6 recordings) on Ansonia Records. He also made the LP Dolores (Magda, 1963) with the orchestra of Joe Cotto; the hit title track, a pachanga twist penned by Rivera, became a classic. After Leña disbanded, Mon debuted with his famous trombone frontline in 1963 on the Alegre label with Que Gente Averigua (reissued as Mon y sus Trombones on Vaya in 1976). Mon wrote all the songs and arrangements. No musicians were credited on the original sleeve, however Al disclosed in 1991 that the personnel featured Charlie Palmieri, piano on eight tracks; Eddie Palmieri, piano on two tracks, including the tasty instrumental "Lluvia Con Nieve"; Barry Rogers, Mark Weinstein and Manolin Pazo, trombones; and Kako on timbales. Mon followed-up with a trio of seminal mid-’60s albums on Ansonia Records: Karakatis-Ki (Rivera had a big hit with the self-penned the title track, a plena dengue), Mon Rivera y su Orquesta Vol. 2 "Kijis Konar" and Mon Rivera y su Orquesta Vol. 3.
Rivera’s 1975 collaboration with Willie Colón, There Goes The Neighborhood / Se Chavó El Vecindario (Vaya), helped connect him with the younger Latino audience. He arranged the hit track, the plena "Ya Llegó". An impressive line-up was congregated for the session, including Lewis Kahn and Jose Rodrigues, trombones; Papo Lucca, piano; Kako, timbales and conga; Rubén Blades and Héctor Lavoe, chorus. "Mon was not immortal and fell victim to the vices of life. But in his realization, he struggled and became free of the ‘monkey’ that sucked at his lifeline," wrote Aurora Flores, in that typically oblique manner found in accounts on Latin artists. He died, in his Manhattan residence on Sunday, March 12th, 1978, from a heart attack. The posthumously released Forever (Vaya), was produced by Johnny Pacheco. In addition to singing lead vocals and composing one track, Mon shared arranging chores with Colón and Ernie Agosto. – John Child
Mon Rivera Discography
May 2, 2011
Benny Moré and Generoso Jiménez
An outstanding singer, bandleader, composer, and arranger, the inimitable Benny Moré (1919-1963), nicknamed "El Barbaro del Ritmo" (The Barbarian of Rhythm), is still idolized and the subject of tributes half a century after his death. Author Miguel Barnet compared his voice to "a bamboo in the wind". He worked with various groups and trios before making a second attempt to strike it lucky in Havana in 1940. (His first effort to make it in the Cuban capital in 1936 was aborted after six months.) There he entered singing competitions (winning one), sang in a duo, joined Lázaro Cordero’s Sexteto Fígaro (with whom he made his radio debut), then Septeto Cauto (debuting with them on Radio Mil Diez in June 1944). He became first voice with Miguel Matamoros’ (1894-1971) eight-piece conjunto (formed in 1942) and journeyed with them to Mexico in June 1945. The collection Conjunto Matamoros with Benny Moré (Tumbao, 1992) includes eight tracks he recorded with them in Mexico in 1945.
Matamoros returned to Cuba in September 1945, but Benny remained and after some initial difficulties he sang and recorded with bands of Arturo Núñez (with whom had first big hit "Mucho Corazón"), Mariano Mercerón (1915?-1975), composer Rafael de Paz (with whom he recorded the great Afro-Cuban song "Yiri Yiri Bon" still associated with him) and Chucho Rodríguez. His stature in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America peaked when he teamed-up with the orchestra of Pérez Prado in 1948, who was just beginning his rise to popularity with his variant of the mambo, for various Mexican tours, a notable appearance at Panama carnival and numerous recordings: "El Barbaro Del Ritmo" Mambos by Benny Moré (Tumbao, 1991) collects sides he recorded with Prado in 1948-50 on RCA Victor. He also appeared in some Mexican movies.
After Benny returned to Cuba in 1951, where he was still largely unknown, he linked-up again with the Mercerón band for the daily radio show De Fiesta Con Bacardí on Cadena Oriental (based in Santiago de Cuba). It became a great success and consolidated his national fame. This was followed with more radio work with the Bebo Valdés band on Cadena Azul in Havana in 1952. He also performed with Ernesto Duarte’s band, but split due to musical and personal disagreements. His cousin, famed trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros, assisted him recruit musicians for his own 21-piece Banda Gigante with a classic big band jazz line-up but with a traditional Cuban rhythm section at its heart, adding fire and soul. Besides Chocolate, personnel included the revered pianist, arranger and composer Peruchín (1913-1977), venerated trombonist and arranger Generoso "El Tojo" Jiménez (1917-2007), timbalero Rolando La Serie (1923-1998) and trumpeter Alejandro "El Negro" Vivar (1923-1979). He debuted with Banda Gigante on August 3rd 1953 and went on to have a phenomenal influence throughout Latin America, Latin Caribbean and North American Latino enclaves. Salsa singer-songwriter Rubén Blades, who was born and raised in Panama, said in 1986: "Benny Moré for many reasons was a god-like man…this black man had a band of black guys who played as good as any white band anybody had ever seen in the movies, you know, the big bands from the North. We had never seen so many guys from Latin America playing with that authority. And Benny himself had a fantastic voice."
Benny and Banda Gigante recorded and gigged prolifically, toured internationally and made TV and radio appearances. Benny Moré En Vivo (Discmedi, 1994) collects live ’50s and ’60s radio recordings broadcast on Cuba’s Radio Progreso and CMQ. The 4-CD box set Benny Moré y su Banda Gigante: Grabaciones Completas 1953-1960 (Tumbao, 2003) is a comprehensive anthology of Benny’s Banda Gigante recordings for RCA Victor. He remained in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Notorious for his heavy drinking, he died from cirrhosis of the liver at age 44. A tradition of tributes exists, for example, Tito Puente’s three volumes of Homenaje A Benny (Tico, 1978, 1979 and 1985), three volumes of Charanga De La 4’s Recuerda a Benny Moré (SAR, 1981-3), the hit trilogy on Oscar D’León’s Autentico (TH-Rodven, 1991) and To "El Barabaro Del Ritmo" Live Vol. 1 (Regu Records, 2003) by the Tropicana All Stars. – John Child
Benny Moré Discography