- Eniac Martinez
- Eniac Martinez
- Eniac Martinez
About Afro-Cuban All Stars
Rubén González (1919–2003)
Rubén González could have been a classical pianist, or he could have been a doctor. Instead he became one of the legendary figures of Cuban music, whose piano sound has created trends and established styles for more than half a century.
Born in Santa Clara, Cuba, in 1919, Rubén graduated from the Cienfuego Conservatoire in 1934. He then went to medical school, thinking he would be a doctor by day and a musician by night. Yet the rhythms of Cuba and son in particular were in his blood. By 1941, he had abandoned his medical studies and moved to Havana to make a full-time career as a musician.
Within a year, he had joined the conjunto of the great Arsenio Rodríguez and also played with Mongo Santamaría in the Orquesta de Los Hermanos. “In the 1940s, there was a real musical life in Cuba," he recalled. "There was very little money in it, but everyone played because they really wanted to." When the Buena Vista record was released, he was the only survivor of a trio of pianists from the period, with Luis "Lilí" Martinez and Peruchín, who helped shape the future sound of Cuban music, developing the mambo and embracing modern jazz harmonies. “Everything you hear now in Cuban music comes from that brilliant period,” he said.
At the same time, Rubén also developed his own very distinctive style: “Arsenio said to me don’t worry about what anyone else is doing. Just play your own thing and don’t imitate anyone so when people hear your music they say that’s Rubén.”
After traveling in Panama and Argentina, where he played with tango musicians, Rubén returned to Havana and played with cabaret bands at clubs like the Tropicana, and by the early 1960s, he had teamed up with Enrique Jorrín, the creator of the cha-cha-cha. He stayed with Jorrín for 25 years, and when the band leader died in the mid 1980s, Rubén briefly took over. He did not enjoy the extra responsibility and retired soon afterwards until tempted back into the limelight with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Ry Cooder.
“I didn’t have a piano at home anymore, so when I saw the one at Egrem studio, I went straight for it, and it seemed they noticed what I did,” he said. So much so that at the age of 77, Rubén was asked to record his long overdue first solo album, 43 years after he first entered a recording studio with Arsenio Rodríguez. “The greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life,” is Ry Cooder’s succinct opinion.
Eliades Ochoa (b. Santiago 1946)
From a musical family, Eliades began singing and playing the guitar at the age of six. He is known affectionately as “guajiro” because he is every inch a countryman and wears an ever-present cowboy hat to prove it. By his young teens, he was playing the bars and brothels of Santiago. He had his own radio show at the age of 17 and by the 1970s was a regular attraction at the Casa de la Trova, the town’s most celebrated music club.
In 1978, he took over the band Cuarteto Patria, a Santiago institution since 1940, expanding their repertoire and touring the band widely outside Cuba. Known as one of the finest guitarists of his generation, his instrument is a self-made hybrid between a guitar and the tres which has nine strings. Eliades doubles the third (D) and fourth (G) strings, with the additional strings pitched an octave higher.
Ibrahim Ferrer (1927–2005)
Born at a social club dance, Ibrahim never looked back from that musical introduction to the world. He began singing professionally in 1941 with local Santiago groups, working wherever he could to make a living by day and singing by night. By the 1950s, he was established as the singer with Pacho Alonso’s group, and he was able to concentrate on his music full-time. He began guesting with Orquesta de Chapin and Benny Moré, two of the legendary names of Cuban music. Alonso’s band finally moved to Havana in 1959, and Ibrahim stayed with the group for over 20 years. By the 1970s, the group became known as Los Bocucos and pioneered the pilon rhythm, popular at the time and reputedly based on the sound of pounding the coffee beans.
At the centerpiece of the living room in Ibrahim's Old Havana apartment was an alter to Saint Lazarus or Babalu-aye, one of the African / Catholic saints of Cuba’s dominant Santería religion. A devout man, his shrine was decorated with candles, fairy lights, and fresh flowers every day. When a country-style sonero of the old school was required for the Buena Vista sessions, Ibrahím was literally plucked off the streets of Havana where he was taking his daily walk.
Manuel "Guajiro" Mirabal (b. Melena del Sur, 1933)
A trumpet player who learned at his father’s knee, Mirabal began playing professionally in 1951. He joined the jazz band Swing Casino in 1953 before forming the Conjunto Rumbavana three years later. In 1960, he joined the Orquesta Riverside, whose singer Tito Gómez gave him his nickname "Guajiro" Mirabal. There followed spells with Orquesta del Cabaret Tropicana, directed by Armando Ramer, the Orquesta Casino Parisien in Havana’s Hotel Nacional under Leonardo Timor and then the Orquesta del ICRT, the official orchestra of Cuban state radio and television. He has also toured with Oscar de León and José Feliciano.
Omara Portuondo (b. Havana 1930)
The only woman on these recordings, Omara is known as one of the glories of Cuban music and perhaps the best bolero singer on the island. She started singing with the Cuarto de Orlando de la Rosa and then joined the all-women band Anacaona. In 1952 she joined the Aida Diestro Quartet, with whom she stayed for 15 years. During that time she developed her solo career and now directs her own orchestra. She has toured the world extensively and has also worked with Nat King Cole.
Orlando "Cachaíto" Lopez (1933–2009)
The López family is virtually synonymous with bass playing in Cuba. Cachaíto’s father and uncle, Orestes and Israel, were both fine players, having learned the instrument from their father Pedro. In the 1930s, the López boys rewrote the book of bass playing. While Orestes and Israel helped create the mambo rhythm, Israel, also known as “Cachao,” played a key role in the development of the descarga style. Cachaíto as a young boy flirted with the violin but inevitably the lure of the bass was too strong.
His earliest love was danzón, and by the age of 12 he had already played with Orquesta Riverside, a hugely popular dance band of the time. He was then asked by his uncle to stand in with Arcana y sus Maravillas, a band that had been around since the 1930s, and the teenage boy so impressed that he was asked to stay.
A musician of astonishing versatility, in the 1960s Cachaíto started playing classical music with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional and would play Beethoven in a concert hall in the early part of the evening and then move on to play electric bass in a club into the small hours. Yet his preferred instrument was the acoustic bass, and he also has a deep love of jazz, influenced by Charlie Mingus. He played with Irakere in the 1960s, helping to shape modern Latin jazz and he continued to play Cuban rhythms, classical, and jazz with equal enthusiasm.
Barbarito Torres (b. Matanzas 1956)
Barbarito is perhaps Cuba’s finest player of the laúd (laudista), a small, 12-string, lute-like instrument. He began playing professionally at 14 with a variety of bands, including in Campo Alegre alongside the great Celina González. In fact, Barbarito has played with most of the greats of Cuban music, from the composer and guitarist Leo Brouwer to the pianist Papo Lucca, as well as with the Venezuelan salsa singer Oscar d’León. Barbarito is also a music teacher .
Manuel "Punitillita" Licea (1927–2000)
"Punitillita" began singing at the age of seven and joined the Orchestra Liceo in 1941. He went on to achieve huge popularity in he 1950s as lead singer with some of Havana’s greatest bands including Adolfo Guzman, Roberto Faz, and Cascarito. He also sang with the legendary Sonora Matancera, with whom Celia Cruz once sang and which has been in existence for more than 70 years. Punitillita recorded the hit “The Rooster, the Hen, and the Horse” with the group. His polished vocal style at different times tackled the whole gamut of Cuban rhythms but he specialized in the son and bolero.
Raúl Planas (b. Camajuani 1933)
Raúl is one of the great soneros of the 1950s and another who sang with the legendary Sonora Matancera.
Félix Valoy (b. Holguín 1944)
One of the great soneros who has sung with Chapotin, Adalbarto Alvarez and Orquesta Revé, led by the veteran timbales player Elio Revé.
Richard Egües (1916–2006)
Richard was the flute player with the legendary Orchestra Aragon, one of the most influential groups in Cuban musical history. The group’s flute and strings first influenced the New York mambo sound, and then in the 1950s Aragon went on to become the seminal charanga band.
Joséantonio "Maceo" Rodríguez (b. Holguín 1953)
One of the most distinctive soneros of the younger generation, "Maceo" has shared lead vocals with Sierra Maestra since 1980 and can be heard on their 1994 World Circuit album Dundunbunza!
Pío Leyva (1917–2006)
Pío Leyva composed some of Cuba’s best known standards and is one of the island’s personalities, known everywhere as "El Montunero de Cuba." He won a bongo contest at the age of six and made his singing debut in 1932. With his deep, country voice he has recorded over 25 albums since he signed his first contract with RCA Victor in 1950 and is known as one of the great improvisers. Pío sang with the bands of the great Benny Moré, Bebo Valdez, and Noro Morales and for a time was a member of Compay Segundo y Sus Muchachos.
Julienne Oviedo Sánchez (b. Havana 1982)
A phenomenal young timbalero, drummer, and bongo player who has been touring since he was eight, Julienne’s performing career began at three as the drummer in a band of famous artists’ grandchildren. He has already toured Japan, Europe, and Latin America and has played with several of Cuba’s most celebrated new style big bands, including NG La Banda, Los Van Van, and Adalbero Alvarez.
November 1, 1999
Bandleader Juan de Marcos González balances traditional and modern Cuban sounds in the sophomore disc from this multi-generational ensemble, including guest pianist Rubén González and vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer. The Independent (UK) calls it "hard to resist ... Distinto, Diferente will soon have you dancing around the room."