An elWatusi.com exclusive, reported by Andy Harlow
It began with the much anticipated Friday night (July 31) concert by Orquesta Aragon, in the heart of Little Havana, at The Miami Dade County Auditorium, and ended Sunday afternoon (August 2) with the second annual Reunion De Los Charangueros at La Carreta Restaurant in Hialeah.
As Cuba’s most famous and most popular Charanga orchestra, Aragon has been touring world-wide the last fifty years as musical ambassadors of their island home. Over the years, they’ve performed dozens of times in the USA, but never before in Miami. Here in Miami, where emotions run very high, Aragon has always been considered to be politically incorrect by the powers that be. Radio wise, their music has been on the no-play list for years (with the exception of WDNA and a few other stations). Yet, they have always been held in the highest esteem by the young and old, musicians and music lovers y el pueblo en general aqui en Miami.
Over the past few months, Miami has hosted live performances by Los Van Van, The Afro-Cuban All-Stars, Charanga Habanera, Elio Reve y Su Charangon and Pupy Pedroso. The Van Van concert got some local media coverage and a few protesters showed up, but nothing like the old days.
I, personally, have waited a long time to see Aragon perform. The one and only time I did see them, was in the summer of 1962; it was Mambo Night at the Raleigh Hotel, in South Fallsburg, N .Y. The Aragon I saw then featured Richard Egües on flute and Rafael Lay on Violin, and to this day remains as one of my fondest musical memories, equal to those of seeing, live, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, The Rolling Stones at MSG, and being at Woodstock.
This current version of Orquesta Aragon is a combination of some old and newer band members. I was especially impressed by their tight vocals and the five violins that were completely “ in-tune” both harmonically and rhythmically. The flutist, sorry but I didn’t get his name, is a monster. The nearly sold out concert hall was filled mostly with middle aged Cubans. (You could count the gringos in attendance on one hand.) It was an evening of continuous Cuban nostalgia. Politics were left at home.
Front man, Rafael Lay Jr. worked the crowd perfectly. Not much blah-blah. He thanked the audience for their applause and said how happy they were to be performing in Miami for the first time. To his left was Ernesto Bacallao Jr., another second generation Aragonian. They opened the show with “Suavecito” and it was non-stop Aragon oldies from then on; “Sabrosona,” “Los Tamalitos De Olga,” “Manuela No Me Pelea,” “Cachita,” “Suavecito” and “La Reina Isabel” followed.
Rafael Lay Jr., Aragon's musical director
From the very first number, the audience was up on their feet, dancing in the aisles. There was no attempt by concert security to control the non-stop dancing or the use of video and digital cameras. (YouTube and Facebook videos are already on-line). The concert sound mix was perfect. You could hear every guiro scratch and violin pluck, as well as all of the other instruments and voices.
After a brief intermission, Rafael Lay introduced Rene Lorente, their former flautist, who now resides in Miami. He sat in for “El Jardinero Del Amor” and returned a little later on for “Pare Cochero.” Prior to that, violinist Marcelino Gonzalez, ( one of five violinists) received a standing ovation for his extended solo on “Tres Lindas Cubanas.”
They closed the show with a medley of “Nosotros” and El Bodeguero” and for a encore did a burning version of El Paso De Encarnacion.” Unfortunately, I was not able to get the names of all the band members, but I salute all of them.
The 2010 version of Orquesta Aragon definitely keeps the tradition alive.
My Charanga weekend ended with the second annual Reunion De Los Charangueros
, The reunion was originally put together by Flautist Mike Garcia
and singers Gene Hernandez
and Felo Barrio
, all ex-Nuyorquino Charangueros, who now reside in South Florida. The first reunion was held about a year ago and about eighty people attended; mostly charanga musicans, their families and friends.
Ivan and Eddie Zervigon, Andy Harlow and friends
Thanks to the YouTube videos of last year’s reunion, and word of mouth, this year’s event drew a capacity crowd of over two hundred and fifty people from all over the U.S.A. and Puerto Rico. As the word “reunion” implies, there were lots of hugs and handshakes and greetings as old friends reunited. The cameras were constantly flashing, as group after group gathered and posed. After a short welcoming speech and a video presentation of some classic charanga clips that included videos from last, year dinner was served. (There was also an open bar all afternoon which further added to the festive spirit)
The music began with the debut of Gene Hernandez’s new band “Salsa Clasica,” It’s a conjunto styled band with trumpets and tres. They did a swinging set that included Gene’s new single “El Cubanazo” and a nice arrangement of his composition “Isla Del Encanto.” Eddie Zervigon sat in on flute and Charlie Santiago was there in timbales and Felo Barrio jumped in to do coro. The dance floor was packed from the very first note.
Vocal luminaries: Gene Hernandez and Felo Barrio
The Charangueros took to the stage next …all of them en mass! There were so many great musicians present, some of whom I knew and others I didn’t know….so forgive me, fellow charangueros, If I fail to mention y’all by name! The personnel varied from song to song. We jammed on such charanga classics as “Bilongo”, “Los Tamalitos De Olga”, “Tres Lindas Cubanas”, “Pare Cochero” and “Kikiriki”.
Eddie Zervigon and Eddie Aguirre
Highlights of the jams included some great violin solos by both Federico Britos and Gerardo Agillon, Vocals by Felo Barrio and Pepe Mora and the flute work of Mike Garcia, Eddie Aguirre and Hector Nieves. There were so many great percussionists on stage and back stage, you needed a scorecard. The final jam tune, Kikiriki” ended with about eight timbaleros going at it, soloing one after another.
Hopefully, someone will post some video of the reunion. I managed to take a few photos of both Aragon and the reunion which are attached.
This past weekend proved that Charanga is still alive in Miami. It may require some life support, but it’s still alive!!
(Andy hosts Fusion Latina on www.wdna.org every Monday & Tuesday night from 8-11PM EST)
Check out Andy’s elWatusi.com Charanga Time Playlist