Richard Egües: Arguments about an Exceptional Flautist

Richard Egües
Richard Egües
(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha – Insider Music) The first argument supporting Richard Egües’s category as a paradigm of the interpretation of his instrument in Cuban popular music in the 20th century, with evident and fruitful connections to Latin jazz, lies in his peculiar conception of the flute in a “charanga” orchestra. It is known that he chose the flute in the 1940s, after trying other musical instruments.

He was born in Cruces, in central Cuba, on October 26, 1923, and grew up very close to effervescent musical centers such as Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara and Cienfuegos. He studied musical theory at an academy, and learned about the constant development of musical genres and species in the street. As he likes to say, the flute became the prima donna in “charanga” orchestras as he began to familiarize with that instrument. Although the flute was indispensable in early-20th-century “danzón” orchestras, it was not until the 1930s that it began to play a predominant role in “charanga” bands. At the time, two exceptional flutists were playing with renowned orchestras: Antonio Arcaño, escorted by Orestes and Israel López, led Maravillas del Siglo (later known as Arcaño y sus Maravillas), while Joseíto Valdés founded Orquesta Ideal. From then on, the flute went beyond its function of “reproducing” melodies to “recreate” them. Due to the popularity of such qualified and talented players, virtuosity became a part of the “charanga” character. That translated into a logical competition among flautists with “charanga” orchestras, which, by the way, were reborn, in frank competition with jazz bands and musical groups.

Richard Egües joined the Aragón Orchestra in 1954, when he replaced another great flutist, Rolando Lozano, from Cienfuegos, who was hired by Ninón Modéjar’s Orquesta América, which had signed a long-term contract to play in Mexico. Lozano had, in turn, replaced another talented flutist from Cienfuegos, Efraín Loyola, founder of the Aragón Orchestra.

The spiritual and creative communication between Richard Egües and Aragón’s director, Rafael Lay Apesteguía, bore fruit to create what has been called the “Eternal Charanga”. It was during the many years he performed with the Aragón Orchestra – he left the orchestra in 1984, two years after Lay’s death – that Richard Egües’s style fully matured. Short, solidly structured motives that play with the rhythmic sections of the orchestra, and an intelligent and sensitive articulation of notes, were the keys to the mystery of his magic flute.

A second argument about his greatness lies in his work as orchestrator. He arranged most of the music played by the Aragón Orchestra, giving the band a peculiar identifying sound, and managed to balance melody and a unique rhythm that contributed to promoting the voices of Olmos, Bacallao and Lay himself. It is a recurrent issue in workshops on Cuban popular music everywhere in the world to study the orchestrations – and flute executions – in the danzón “La Reina Isabel” and in “Sabrosona”, in addition to his best-known work, “El Bodeguero” (1956), as a sort of cannon of the “charanga” style.

When asked about the essence of his style of orchestration, Richard Egües says: “The first thing to take into account is the sense of band. A ‘charanga’ is not a sum of individualities, but a collective institution, to which everybody contributes. I always get my inspiration from the symphonic knowledge to arrange the violin section and try to get a clear rhythm that could be the foundation of the rest of the instruments and a lead for the dancer“. Last, but not least, and this is the third very convincing argument about Richard Egües’s great talent, he has made great contributions to Latin jazz. It is not only that the new generations of Cuban flautists, led by Orlando Valle (Maraca), and other international musicians (Dave Valentin and Jane Bunnett), acknowledge his talent, but the recording of memorable jams that have become paradigms in the history of the fusion between jazz and Cuban popular music. That category includes his participation in the record “Cachao y su ritmo caliente” in 1957 (Panart), his dialogue with Alfredo de la Fe’s violin and Félix Chapottin’s trumpet in a record by Fania Orchestra in Cuba during a 1978 visit of Típica 73, and his solo performance with Chucho Valdés and several Irakere musicians in the closing concert of the 1994 Afrocubanismo Festival, in the Canadian city of Banff. In fact, there could be many arguments to say that Richard Egües is indispensable in Cuban music. The wealth of his talent is endless.