Famed Cuban guitarist and composer, Los Zafiros band member, Buena Vista Social Club collaborator and Grammy winner Manuel Galbán died in a Havana hospital on Thursday, July 7, 2011 after suffering from cardiac arrest. Mr. Galbán was 80.
Mr. Galbán was born in the small village of Gibara, Cuba, on January 14, 1931. He began his professional musical career at the early age of 14 with the Orquesta Villa Blanca. In 1956 the young musician moved to Havana to play in the clubs and bars of the capital city.
On the recommendation of a fellow musician he joined the wildly popular group Los Zafiros in 1963. Earning his chops with the legendary Los Zafiros sound, a blend of Cuban, bolero, bossa, calypso and R & B, Mr. Galbán made a lasting impression on the group’s popularity with the development of his unique guitar style drawing on popular rock and roll and surf sounds.
Later, he would go on to join the Dirección Nacional de Música, Cuba’s national musical ensemble, and the Grupo Batey, where he would spend the next 23 years playing and touring with the group.
Mr. Galbán joined Vieja Trova Santiaguera in 1998 and appeared in the Wim Wenders film Buena Vista Social Club with Ry Cooder. This collaboration would result in recording sessions with Ibrahim Ferrer, Cachaito Lopez and Omara Portuondo. Those stunning collaborations led to his most famous collaboration with the 2001 recording Mambo Sinuendo with Ry Cooder and would result in Galbán’s 2004 Grammy win for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Neil Portnow, president and CEO of The Recording Academy, marked Mr. Galbán’s passing in a statement, “Music has lost a passionate and legendary artist with the passing of this Cuban guitarist, and his music will forever live on in the hearts of his family, his fans, and all that were moved by his talent.”