- Christina Jaspars
- Christina Jaspars
About Manuel 'Guajiro' Mirabal
Born on May 5, 1933, and christened Luis Manuel Mirabal Vazquez, he is known professionally as "Guajiro"—a playful term best translated as “country bumpkin” or “rustic.” “It was Tito Gómez who gave it to me,” Mirabal explains. “When I was playing in the Riverside Orchestra in 1960, he said, ‘Are you from around here, in Havana?’ I said, ‘No, from a village in the province of Havana.’ ‘Ah, so you’re a guajiro!’ And ever since then I’ve been Guajiro.”
His father was director of the local municipal band in Melena del Sur, a small town outside of the capital, so young Luis Manuel was immersed in music from an early age, learning at his father's knee and listening to his sister studying singing and piano. He satisfied his curiosity by trying out a few instruments in the band, including the clarinet and saxophone, before settling on the trumpet at age eleven. The trumpet is an instrument that carries a great deal of prestige in Cuban music, and Mirabal would develop a style of playing that is distinctly Cuban. To his father’s delight he took to it prodigiously quickly, turning professional a mere seven years later with the Conjunto Universal, a traditional Cuban band that played in small venues around the city.
By 1953, Mirabal was honing his talents with the jazz band Swing Casino, one of the many North American style bands that flourished on the island when it was still a playground for rich Americans, followed by the Orquesta Casino Parisien in the Hotel Nacional. Restless and seeking a change, he founded the Conjunto Rumbavana in 1956, an outfit playing Cuban son, guaracha, and mambo at casinos, nightclubs, and carnivals all over Cuba, and ultimately beyond. Success came quickly; with the star vocalists Lino Borges and Raúl Planas, Rumbavana was a major band and it catapulted several of its number into stardom.
Mirabal left just before the group embarked on a second international tour to take up his first residency with the Riverside Orchestra at the renowned Tropicana Club in 1960. In 1967, Mirabal began another long-term musical association, as a founding member of the groundbreaking Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna, and remained with that group for 23 years. Led by the saxophonist Armando Romeu, Música Moderna was the launching pad for several major Cuban jazz figures, including percussionist Guillermo Barreto, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, horn player Paquito D’Rivera, trombonist Juan-Pablo Torres, and the pianists Gonzalo Rubalcalba and Chucho Valdés. The group experimented successfully with musical forms that embraced both classical and traditional ideals, and featured heavily in Cuban cinema soundtracks from the late 1960s to the mid '70s, during which time Mirabal also toured independently with Oscar de Leon and José Feliciano.
In 1973, under the leadership of Demetrio Muñiz, Mirabal returned to what would become his home-away-from-home, the Tropicana. For the next 30 years, with good friend Luis Alemañy at his side, he would remain part of the Tropicana orchestra, until his busy international touring schedule would force him to retire his position in 2003.
With a handpicked cast of more than 30 of Cuba’s greatest musicians, the historic Estrellas De Areito descarga sessions from 1979 featured Mirabal; these recordings soon achieved legendary status among musicians and connoisseurs alike, and would be released internationally by World Circuit in 1998. Widely regarded as a “musician’s musician,” Mirabal’s place in the annals of Cuban music is now very much assured.
Less well known perhaps is the fact that Mirabal is a senior member of both the National Revolutionary Militia’s ceremonial band and the General Staff band of the Cuban army. He has played in the welcome ceremonies for numerous heads of state, gracing the tarmac of Havana’s airport with ear-splitting fanfares. He is also an active teacher, often giving his expertise for free to deserving students. “It’s a job that I do with no interest in the money, but with the interest of helping them study.”
Among his students were Yaure Muñiz, who appears on Mirabal’s solo album, and Miguel De La Hoz, who appears on the latest release by Mirabal’s fellow Buena Vista colleague, Omara Portuondo. These pursuits, together with his considerable dedication to his art, have resulted worldwide recognition for his contribution to Cuban music, including an award from the UNEAC (Union of Writers & Artists in Cuba). Recently he performed in Washington, DC, for the Diplomatic Mission of the United Nations.
Mirabal is a man of few words when it comes to music, preferring to let his trumpet speak for itself. He has an unshakable belief in the relevance and vitality of Cuba’s rich musical heritage, and while he finds the Buena Vista’s resurgence gratifying, he does not appear particularly surprised or fazed by the band’s astronomic success. “Music for me has always been Cuban music, not the music of today, but the old styles, and I’ve always dedicated myself to that, playing what I have to play. I love Cuban music and it feels really good making it these days with the Buena Vista. I do what I can, and each member does what he can.” He takes nothing for granted, and fully appreciates how lucky they have been. “It’s great. We’ve been playing together for years, and this Buena Vista project has brought us—Omara, Cachaíto, Ibrahim, and myself—some great moments of truth. Our relationship is very, very good.”
The debut solo album from Mirabal is a tribute to one of the great figures in Cuban music, Arsenio Rodríguez, featuring many of Guajiro’s colleagues from the various Buena Vista projects. All of the tracks—driving, trumpet led conjunto songs from the 1940s and '50s—were written by, or are associated with, Rodríguez. Mirabal has always felt very much at home with his music. “When Arsenio was famous I was still living in my village in Melena; we never got to play together, nothing like that, although he was a great inspiration,” he laments.
January 4, 2005
Trumpeter Mirabal assembles other Buena Vista vets for a live-in-the-studio tribute to legendary Cuban singer-bandleader Arsenio Rodriquez. London's Daily Telegraph calls it a "beautifully crafted tribute ... in which Mirabal's magnificently rhapsodic soloing is just one of many notable elements."