Tag Archives: Cuba

Artist Profiles: Paquito D’Rivera

Paquito D’Rivera

Born in the island of Cuba, Paquito D’Rivera began his career as a child prodigy, playing both the clarinet and the saxophone with the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra He eventually went on to premier several works by notable Cuban composers with the same Orchestra.

A restless musical genius, Mr. D’Rivera formed and performed with various musical ensembles as a teenager and became one of the founding members of the Orquesta Cubana de Musica Moderna, which he subsequently conducted for two years and was also founding member and co-director of the innovative musical group Irakere, whose explosive mixture of jazz, rock, classical music and traditional Cuban music had never been heard before. The group toured extensively throughout America and Europe, won several Grammy nominations and a Grammy.

In May of 2003, he received a Doctorate Honoris Causa in Music, from the Berklee School of Music, adding this to his many numerous awards including a Lifetime Achievement Award for his Contribution to Latin Music along with Dizzy Gillespie and Gato Barbieri.

In addition to his awards and recognitions, including six Grammys, Paquito made history for being the first artist to win Latin Grammies in both Classical and Latin Jazz categories, for Stravinsky’s Historia del Soldado and “Brazilian Dreams with New York Voices” in 2003, the other historic recipient is Wynton Marsalis.

In 1996, he received a Grammy for his highly acclaimed recording, Portraits of Cuba. In 2000 for his Tropicana Nights, along with a nomination in the classical category for his Music from Two Worlds, featuring compositions by Schubert, Brahms, Guastavino, Villa Lobos, and by Mr. D’Rivera himself.

In 2001 Grammy for his Quintet’s recording of Live at the Blue Note. He was also nominated in the Classical Crossover category for The Clarinetist, Vol. 1. In 2002, he won again as a guest artist on the recording of the Bebo Valdes Trio.

While Paquito’s discography includes over 30 solo albums in Jazz, Bebop and Latin music, his contributions to classical music are impressive. They include solo performances with the National Symphony Orchestra, and with Brooklyn Philharmonic, the London Royal Symphony, and the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra. He has also performed with the Bronx Arts Ensemble, the St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, the Costa Rican National Symphony, and the Sim?n Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, among others.

Paquito also keeps busy by frequently touring around the world with his ensembles: the Chamber Jazz Ensemble, the Paquito D’Rivera Big Band and the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet, and in the 2005 with the guitar duo of Sergio and Odair Assad, in “Dances from the New World”.

In his quest to bring the Latin repertoire into the forefront of the classical arena, Paquito has successfully created, championed and promoted all types of classical compositions!, including three chamber pieces composed by Paquito, recorded by Yo-Yo Ma and Paquito, live at Zankell Hall, Carnegie Hall, September, 2003.

In addition to his extraordinary performing career as an instrumentalist, Paquito has rapidly gained a reputation as an accomplished composer. His works often reveals his versatility and widespread influences, which range from Afro-Cuban to the dance hall, to influences encountered in his many travels, and back to his classical origins.

In 2002, The National Symphony Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic commissioned Paquito, to write a concerto “Gran Danzon” (The Bel Air Concerto) for the acclaimed flutist Marina Piccinini under the baton of Maestro Leonard Slatkin at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

A gifted author, Mr. D’Rivera’s book, My Sax Life was published in Spain by the prestigious literary house, Seix Barral and contains a prologue by Guillermo Cabrera Infante. It’s been translated into English, published by Northwestern University Press. You can also listen to it in Mr. D’Rivera’s own voice by Recorded Books in Spanish available in the Internet and in libraries alike. His novel Oh, La Habana is published in Spain by MTeditores, Barcelona.


Artist Profiles: Orquesta Aragón

Orquesta Aragón

The Orquesta Aragón is truly one of the most historic names in Cuban music. Founded in 1939, Aragón has been performing throughout the world with their irresistible form of Cuban roots music.

One of the pioneer charanga style bands, a type of ensemble that uses violins and flutes over a swinging rhythm section, Orquesta Aragón is responsible for many classics of the Cuban repertoire.

Orquesta Aragon’s extraordinary adventure started on September 30, 1939, when acoustic bass player Orestes Aragón Cantero brought his small charanga to Cienfuegos, the third largest town on the island, for their debut.

The band featured violins, piano, flute, percussion and a singer. Charangas were specialized in the danzón, a style that was then about fifty years old with its vocal variant, the danzonete, it was quite the rage at the time.

The group, which called itself Rítmica del 39, then Rítmica Aragón before settling on its final name of Orquesta Aragón at the end of 1940, also played waltzes and fashionable Spanish tunes.

The band was just one of a number that played at dances and parties, but its founder’s personality was to make all the difference. He held advanced social ideas (he was active in the popular socialist party, with communist allegiances), so he declared war on stardom.

Performance fees were to be shared out evenly between all the musicians. It was out of the question that the lion’s share would go to the director, or a star singer. “I want to found a musical family”, he said. “I’m not looking for virtuoso players but musicians with human qualities.”

Aragón was to conduct the band that bore his name for nine years, until a serious lung infection forced him into early retirement in 1948. Aragón appointed violinist Rafael Lay, who was only 20 years old but had already played for seven of them in the band, to take up the baton.

On Lay’s instigation, Orquesta Aragon gave its first concerts in Havana, which to provincial musicians had always been held up as an impenetrable fortress. In 1953, when the vogue for cha cha cha swept out the mambo, the Aragón seized its chance. It clinched a recording contract with American label RCA Victor, that was very active in Cuba, and in no time had a string of successes.

In 1954, flutist Richard Egües brought his stunning virtuosity and unequaled sense of improvisation to the band. Orquesta Aragón meant cha cha cha, and the world over people danced to the rhythm of the band from Cienfuegos.

In that ten-year period, the Aragón sang “I’m going to the moon for my honeymoon”, and treated Cuba to its first demonstration (home-made) of stereophonic reproduction.

Audiences were invited to tune into their radios and televisions simultaneously, and heard the sound of Egües’ flute or Lay’s violin pass from one speaker to the other. There was a succession of trips: Panama, Venezuela, United States, right up to 1959 and the triumph of the Revolution.

Embedded with its founder’s left-wing ideals, the band placed itself at the service of the new regime. All of Cuba’s musicians became State employees and were awarded the same salary, which boiled down to extending to the whole of the profession the co-operative principle instituted in the past by Orestes Aragón.

Since then, the Aragón served the people, to get them to dance but also instruct them, introduce them to their musical heritage. The band traveled the length and breadth of the country, which had just tasted agrarian reform and one of the largest ever literacy campaigns ever undertaken, to play in sugar cane production complexes, villages, factories, schools and hospitals.

The revolution knew how it could turn music to its advantage to spread its message. It was fast to form the habit of sending musicians abroad to act as ambassadors for Cuba’s culture and new values.

In 1965, the grand Cuban Music Hall tour brought the Aragón to France for the first time, where the musicians were mobbed throughout their three-week residence at Paris’ Olympia Theater.

In November 1971, the Aragón discovered Africa, long after Africa had discovered the Aragón. The countries of Black Africa had lived through the end of colonialism and access to independence to the accompaniment of the cha cha cha.

The Cuban models had far-reaching influence on modern African forms, starting with the Congolese rumba. To Africans ears, the Aragón was “the” standard by which Cuban music was judged and almost everywhere it went, the band was given a welcome befitting a head of state.

Africa in return left its mark on the group’s music, with musical pieces such as Muanga, by Franklin Boukaka from the Congo, and later the Bembeya Jazz National.

In the 1980s the Aragón went through a difficult period. Rafael Lay was killed in a car crash in 1982, Richard Egües left the band in 1984, and the musicians who had been there from the very beginning (timbalero Orestes Varona) or played during its golden age, followed each other into retirement.

Today’s Aragón consists of a mixture of old and new members, including the children and nephews of the original legends. Rafael Lay Jr, the son of original front man Rafael Lay Sr, now leads the group. While they maintain the classic sound of the past, they also incorporate the new flavors in Cuban music.

Orquesta Aragón’s hits include such classics as Sabrosona, Cachita, Bodeguero, Nosotros, Esperanza, Pare Cochero.

Partial Discography

That Cuban Cha-Cha-Cha (RCA International 2446, 1990)

Exitos De La Orquesta Aragon (Orfeon 10838, 1992)

Sabrosona (Orfeon 11383, 1995)

La Insuperable (Iris 618, 1996)

La Original Orquesta Aragón (International Music 1920, 1996)

Gold (Habacan 2461, 1996)

Cuba: Sus Mejores Interpretes Celia Cruz/Orquesta Arag?n (Orfeon 13005, 1997)

Cha Cha Charanga! (Tumi, 1997/Candela 4284725, 1997)

Cuba Es Una Maravilla (Musica Del Sol 7019, 1997)

Quien Sabe, Sabe (Lusafrica 262612, 1998 /USA: Candela 4285549, 1998)

Latin Roots Aragón/Jose Fajardo (Sony Discos Inc. 82891, 1999)

Años De Oro (DC Productions 9212, 1999)

Legends Of The Century: Cha Cha Cha (P.O.W. Records 83149, 1999)

Los Inéditos “En Vivo” (DC Productions 9201, 1999)

La Insuperable (1999)

Chaonda (1999)

Orquesta Aragón (International Music 82006, 1999)

Los Reyes Del Cha: 1939-1999 (60 Aniversario) (International Music 7054, 1999)

Cuban Originals (BMG U.S. Latin 69938, 1999)

Ritmo Cha-Onda (Fania B200 2000)

Los Aragones En La Onda Del La Alegria ( Fania B250 2000)

Por Siempre Aragón (2000)

100% Cuban, Sonora Matancera/Orquesta (Lideres Entertainment Group 950 047, 2000)

Siempre Charanga (Bongo Records 22001, 2001)

Vol. 4 (International Music 5003, 2001)

La charanga eterna (Lusafrica 362112, 1999)

Cha Cha Charanga (2001)

La Original Orquesta Aragón De Cuba (Orfeon 13844, 2001)

La Nueva Orquesta Aragon (Ultra Music Ltd. 1101, 2001)

La Aragón, Comin’ At U! (Universal Music Latino 160 506, 2001)

En Route (World Village 468006, 2001)

La Cubanisima Orquesta Aragon (2002)

Richard Egues Grandes Hits Con La Aragón (2002)

Bongo y Charanga (Sono Logic 1008, 2002)

Por Siempre Aragón (Egrem, 2002)

The Lusafrica Years (Lusafrica, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Orquesta America

Orquesta América
For over 50 years, Orquesta América have been one of Cuba’s most recognized and prized bands. Their road to fame and popularity began in March 1942 when Enrique Jorrín, America’s founder and director made a change to a danzon number and incorporated the rhythms of the cha cha cha. This arrangement proved so popular that Jorrín decided to create entire songs with the new cha cha cha genre.

Along with Aragón, Conjunto Chapottin and Benny Moré’s Banda Gigante, Orquesta A merica were the main musical exponents in Cuba during the 50’s golden era of music. As the years went by modern orchestras became increasingly more and more popular and the love for traditional music faded but by the mid 90’s European audiences became increasingly aware of the beauty that lay in the traditional music of Cuba.

It was at this point that Mo Fini, Tumi Music’s founder decided to bring the legendary Orquesta America back to prominence and recorded the seminal 4CD box set entitled Orquesta America with Cuban All Stars – Las leyendas de la Música Cubana. The success of Las Leyendas de la Musica Cubana made Orquesta America, once again, one of the most sought-after live bands on the Cuban music circuit. Today they play in Havana’s most prestigious venues.


* Las Leyendas de la Música Cubana (Tumi Music TMGBOX1)

* Cha cha cha (Tumi Music TMGCD3)

* Bolero (Tumi Music TMGCD4)

* Danzón (Tumi Music TMGCD5)

* Guaracha (Tumi Music TMGCD6)

* Desde la Habana te Traigo (Tumi Music TUMI074)


Artist Profiles: Omara Portuondo

Omara Portuondo


Omara Portuondo is one of Cuba’s greatest vocalists and has been very popular from the day she started singing professionally in the late forties. From 1950 through the late 1960s, she was Cuba’s top performer of songs in the filin style (the word is taken from the English word feeling, and describes music inspired by the performances of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme, and Glenn Miller, among others). At the height of her popularity, Portuondo sang with a number of different groups, always with great success.

Omara Portuondo Pelaez was born in Cayo Hueso (Havana) in 1930. Omara’s mother came from a rich Spanish family and was expected to marry into another society family. Instead she ran off with the man she loved, a tall, handsome baseball player from the Cuban national team. Moreover he was black and in those days mixed race marriages were still frowned upon in Cuba. “My mother always hid the fact that she had married a black man. If they bumped into each other in the street they had to ignore each other. But at home they recreated what society denied them – a haven of peace and harmony. They loved each other very much,” Omara recalls.

They had three daughters and as in any Cuban household there was music. There wasn’t a gramophone – they didn’t have the money. Even as a small child, Omara showed a natural aptitude for singing, picking up both melody and harmony lines from listening to her parents singing together. Her father was a good aficionado singer. He had gone to school with the songwriter Eliseo Grenet, and they remained friends, so that music was a constant in Omara’s childhood home. Omara remembers her parent’s favorite music, which included songs by Ernesto Grenet and Sindo Garay’s “La Bayamesa”. They were her first informal singing lessons and the songs remain in her repertoire to this day.

During her schooldays, she sang in choirs and studied music. When her older sister Aidee became a dancer at the famous cabaret Tropicana, Omara soon followed her – by accident. One day in 1945, the ballet troupe found itself short when a dancer dropped out two days before an important premiere. Omara had watched her sister rehearse so often that she knew all the steps and was asked to stand in. “It was a very chic cabaret but I said it was out of the question,” Omara recalls. “I was very shy and I was ashamed to show my legs.” Her mother told her that she couldn’t let them down and thus began a career as a dancer, forming a famous partnership with the dancer Rolando Espinosa. Today she still performs at the Tropicana as one of its star singers.


Omara Portuondo


On weekends Omara and Aidee would sing American jazz standards with a bunch of friends which included César Portillo de la Luz, José Antonio Méndez and the blind pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. They became known as Loquibambla Swing and the style they played – a Cubanized version of the bossa nova with American jazz influences – became known as “feeling” or “filin” as it was often written in Spanish. On their radio debut Omara was announced as “Miss Omara Brown, the fiancé of filin.” The Anglicized name was soon forgotten, but she is still known by many Cubans as “la novia del filin”.

Omara, her sister Aidee, and Elena Burke (who got Omara her first real gig) decided to form a quartet with three female and one male voices, but after meeting with Aida Diestro, they approached Moraima Secada, and formed the Cuarteto d’Aida, with Diestro directing and playing piano, and four female voices harmonizing. “We toured America and Aida’s vocal arrangements were very innovative. We were acclaimed everywhere and when Nat King Cole played the Tropicana we sang on stage with him,” Omara remembers. The group was an immediate success.

Her debut solo album, Magia Negra, appeared in 1959. It was an adventurous project straddling Cuban music and American jazz, and included versions of ‘That Old Black Magic’ and Duke Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. Yet she remained with the group and two years later was with Las D’Aida singing in a Miami hotel when the Cuban missile crisis caused the rupture in relations with America and began Cuba’s long period of isolation. Omara immediately returned home while her sister Aidee stayed in the United States of America. She continued with a revamped Las D’Aida until 1967 when she left to pursue her solo career. “So many singers had gone into exile that there was a gap to be filled,” she says.

Representing Cuba at the Sopot Festival in Poland – a communist version of the Eurovision Song Contest – she sang ‘Como un Milagro.’ It was written by Juanito Márquez, with whom she also made the album Esta es Omara Portuondo. Eventually Márquez also went into exile in Miami and a quarter of a century later was the man Gloria Estefan turned to when she needed some traditional Cuban-style arrangements for her 1993 Spanish-language album ‘Mi Tierra.’

The early years after the revolution were difficult ones in Cuba’s history, cut-off from the west as Castro pursued his socialist vision. In 1967 Omara remembers almost the entire Cuban people being conscripted in an attempt to break the sugar cane harvest record. “People from the cities were sent to cut cane in the fields and as artists we were sent into the fields to sing and entertain them while they worked,” she recalls.

The late 1960s saw the end of popularity for the filin style of singing, and the beginning of what is known as nueva trova. The 1970s found Omara singing with the top charanga ensemble Orquesta Aragon and she traveled widely, often to other Communist countries, although she also sang in France and Japan. One of her best albums from that era was the one she recorded with Adalberto Alvarez in 1984.

Omara returned to the international spotlight when producer Manuel Domínguez, the owner of Spain’s Nubenegra label, flew Omara to Spain to record a new album, Palabras, in 1995. The album’s artistic producers were Cuban nueva trova duo Gema y Pavel, who had settled in Madrid. On Palabras, Omara was backed by Cuban and Spanish musicians. She gave her unique vocal styling to songs coming from several different eras, the vieja trova of the ‘1920’s and ‘1930’s, the dance music of the ‘1940’s, filin from the ‘1950’s and ‘1960’s, and finally nueva trova from the ‘1960’s and ‘1970’s. She even recorded an old favorite, a Spanish song she had heard in a movie when she was a young girl.

Her 1998 album, Desafios, also on the Nubenegra label, was a collaboration with Chucho Valdés, Cuba’s best pianist.


Omara Portuondo and Chucho Valdés


American musician Ry Cooder had first come across Omara when he was in Cuba in 1995 recording with The Chieftains. The following year, when Cooder returned to Havana with World Circuit’s Nick Gold for the Buena Vista sessions, Omara was by coincidence in the Egrem studios at the same time. Cooder immediately invited her to sing the bolero ‘Veinte Años’ with Compay Segundo, and it became one of the highlights of the album.

Omara went on to become part of the legendary Buena Vista performances in Amsterdam and at New York’s Carnegie Hall, and appeared on the follow-up album, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer. Her own Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo, was the third release in the series.



Flor de Amor, released in 2004, is a collection of musical love letters and was recorded in Havana’s legendary EGREM studios with a stellar cast of Cuban and Brazilian musicians as well as producers Nick Gold and Jerry Boys, renowned Cuban arranger Demetrio Muniz (Ibrahim Ferrer), and the Brazilian producer Ale Siqueira. The record’s varied set culminates in the tender Portuguese ballad “Casa Calor,” specially written for her by the Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown.

Guitarists featured on the album include Papi Oviedo on tres (traditional Cuban guitar), Manuel Galban on rhythm, Brazil’s Swami Jr. on seven-string, and Irakere’s Carlos Emilio and Jorge Chicoy on acoustic and electric. Portuondo’s rhythm section features Cachaito Lopez on bass, Roberto Fonseca on piano, and the Cuban maestros Miguel “Anga” Diaz and Ramses Gonzales on congas and drums.


Portuondo won a Billboard Latin Music Award in 2005. In 2008 she won the “Prémio Música Brasileira” Brazilian Music Award for her duets album with Maria Bethania, Maria Bethania & Omara Portuondo.

In November of 2009 Omara Portuondo won the the Best Contemporary Tropical Album or “Mejor Álbum Tropical Contemporáneo” at the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards for Gracias (World Village, released December 9, 2008). Gracias was also awarded the Cubadisco 2009 Grand Prix in May of that year. Gracias was produced by Alê Siqueira, with musical direction from Swami Jr., and it features such guest artists as Jorge Drexler, Richard Bona, Cachaíto López, Chico Buarque and Chucho Valdés.

In 2010 Omara participated in the Spanish-language version of Disney’s animated film, ‘The Princess and the frog’ (Tiana y el sapo). Omara play’s Mama Odie, a good blind witch who lives in the Louisiana swamps. Omara performs the song ‘Dig a Little Deeper’ together with singer Chila Lynn, who gives her voice to Tiana.


Omara Portuondo


Today Omara lives in a high-rise apartment just off the Malecón in Havana with magnificent views over the sea. She remains a flamboyant fixture on the music scene, singing regularly at the Tropicana, the Delirio Habanen and the Cafe Cantante – one of the world’s great divas who is only now emerging from Cuba’s long isolation to achieve the international acclaim she so richly deserves.


* Magia Negra (Velvet, 1959. Reissued by Kubaney 190 and Kristal 1124)
* Seis Voces y un Sentimiento (Egrem 3123, 1960)
* Omara Portuondo (Areito 3358, 1967)
* Esta es Omara Portuondo (Areito 1071)
* ¡Omara! (Areito 1071)
* ¡Omara Portuondo… con Adalberto y su Son! (Areito 1071, 1987)
* Palabras (Intuition/Nubenegra 1011, 1995)
* Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997)
* Desafios, with Chucho Valdés (Intuition/Nubenegra 1025, 1998)
* Oro Musical (Max Music, 1999)
* Buena Vista Social Club Presents Omara Portuondo (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2000)
* Dos Gardenias (Tumi Records, 2001)
* Pensamiento (Bis Music, 2001)
* 18 Joyas Ineditas (Egrem, 2002)
* La Coleccion Cubana (Nascente, 2003)
* Flor de Amor (World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2004)
* Sentimiento (La Escondida, 2005)
* Omara Portuondo & Martin Rojas (2005)
* Lagrimas Negras Canciones y Boleros (Yemaya, 2005)
* http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000BM7UVO?ie=UTF8&tag=musidelmund-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B000BM7UVO | The Essential Omara Portuondo (Manteca, 2006)
* Quiereme Mucho (2006)
* Together, with Celina Gonzalez (2006)
* Duetos (Malanga Films, 2007)
* Singles (Malanga Films, 2007)
* Omara Portuondo E Maria Bethania (Biscoito Fino, 2008)
* Gracias (World Village, 2008)
Omara & Chucho (Random Music, 2011)
Magia Negra: The Beginning (World Village, 2014)


* Buena Vista Social Club (Lions Gate, 1999)
* Omara Portuondo: Live in Montreal (L’Equipe Spectra, 2007)
* Maria Bethania & Omara Portuondo Ao Vivo (Biscoito Fino, 2008)


Omara Portuondo: La novia del Feeling. Editorial Letras Cubanas (1995), ISBN-10: 9586700305; ISBN-13: 978-9586700306


Artist Profiles: Mezcla


Mezcla has been an integral part of the Cuban music scene for the past decades. They perform frequently at Havana’s premier jazz club La Zorra y el Cuervo and the Havana Jazz Festival (Jazz Plaza). The ensemble has constantly reinvented itself, highlighting its members’ musical strengths and interests. A multigenerational ensemble, Mezcla brings together several veteran masters with some the best of young jazz players on the scene today, united in their desire to play great music, mindful of their roots, ever looking forward and always joyful. They have a number of recordings under their belt including Akimba! (Khaeon, 2003) and I’ll See You in Cuba (Zoho, 2010).

Born in Oakland, California, Pablo “Mezcla” Menéndez is the son of blues and jazz singer Barbara Dane. Living in Cuba since 1966, he has been involved in many Cuban music projects over the past decades: the Nueva Trova movement (GES with Silvio Rodríguez and Pablo Milanés), the jazz world (Sonido Contemporáneo at the old Club Rio with Gonzalo Rubalcaba and others), Afro-rock and progressive rock group Síntesis (with Carlos and Ele Alfonso) and more.

On the basis of this rich experience, Pablo founded Mezcla in 1985 and has led Mezcla to the present day on countless gigs in Cuba, many international tours to Europe, Latin America and the United States, and on several critically acclaimed recordings.

Pablo has also released a solo project on Zoho Music titled Havana Blues Mambo and has led a United States-based Cuban All Star ensemble for performances at venues such as Regatta Bar in Boston and Yoshi’s in Oakland, California.


* Somos Hijos De La Mezcla (EGREM, 1988)
* Fronteras de Sueño (Intuition Records, 1990)
* Cantos, with Lázaro Ros (Intuition Records, 1992)
* ¡Rocason! (1997)
* Las Puertas Estan Abiertas (1999)
* Akimba (Khaeon)
* Havana Blues Mambo (Zoho, 2005)
* I’ll See You in Cuba (Zoho, 2010)
* Pure Mezcla (2015)

Web site http://www.cubamezcla.org


Artist Profiles: Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is a distinguished Cuban rumba group. It was created in 1952 under the name of Guaguancó Matancero. Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is one of the essential Cuban bands dedicated to preserving Cuban folkloric traditions.

Some of its albums include El guaguancó de Matanzas (1988), Los Muñequitos de Matanzas (1990), Rumba caliente (1992), Óyelos de nuevo (1993), Real Rumba (1994), Vacunao (1995), Po Iban Eshu (1996), and Live in New York (1998), among others.

La rumba soy yo won the Latin Grammy Award in 2001, and Tambor de Fuego won the Cubadisco Award in 2007.


El guaguancó de Matanzas (1988)
Rumba Abierta (WS Latino 1958), reissued in 1999
Cantar Maravilloso – Rumba Original (Globestyle 1990)
Rumba Caliente 88/77 (Qbadisc Records, 1992)
Guaguancó — Vol. 2 (Antilla, reissued 1993)
Real Rumba (1994)
Congo Yambumba (Qbadisc Records, 1994)
Oyelos De Nuevo (Qbadisc Records, 1994)
Vacunao (Qbadisc Records, 1995)
Po Iban Eshu (1996)
Ito Iban Echu: Yoruba Sacred Music of Cuba (Qbadisc Records, 1996)
Live In New York (Qbadisc Records, 1998)
La rumba soy yo (2001)
Rumba De Corazón (Bis Music, 2002)
Rumberos de Corazón- 50 Aniversario (Bis Music, 2003)
Tambor De Fuego (Bis Music, 2007)
De Palo Pa’ Rumba (Bis Music, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Leyanis Lopez

Leyanis López

Leyanis López Luque was born in Guantanamo on the 8th of October 1971. She started out at the age of seven as a member of the Guantanamo province Fabio Rosell del Rio Primary School choir, directed by art instructor Miguel Angel Duran. Her natural gift for singing soon singled her out and she became a solo singer for different musical groups within the Pioneers organization. During all this period, she performed in various cultural events.

From 1980 onwards, she constantly participated in the Jose Marti tribute youth festivals, Pioneers Trova festivals and summer festivals organized nationally, allowing her to perfect her artistic qualities. In 1984, she was a cultural representative at the forum of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), a non-governmental organization, held in Havana.

In 1985, accompanied by the excellent Ismaelillo group, she won first prize in the Summer Festival, with the support from her teacher Maria Balan and lessons from Angel Savin, an arts instructor.

In 1986, she took her first trip abroad, representing Cuba at the International Festival of Amateur Artists organized in Hungary in July, then touring the German Federal Republic and Czechoslovakia.

In 1988, she was ranked in the highest category of amateur artists. Her career as a professional singer began in 1989 when she performed at different guitar trio festivals, at the Boleros de Oro Festival and the Rafael Inciarte Brioso Festival of Popular Music. She gave concerts as a singer with orchestras or trios in theaters, community arts centers and open-air events in parks, going on tours throughout the country and appearing on the radio and television in Guantanamo and other provinces. She also recorded at the EGREM studios in Santiago de Cuba for the CMQ International channel and Japanese television.

In 1994, she was ranked in the higher category of professional singers. She then studied singing at the Guantanamo Further Training Centre for Professional Artists. In 1995, she was awarded her singing-category intermediate-level diploma with distinction.

She recorded her first CD in 1998 for the French label Lusafrica. Her repertoire, which includes different types of popular music, romantic ballads, bolero, cancion, waltz, guajira and Cuban son, allows the listener to appreciate the effect of more complex music on popular music since the beginning of the century in Eastern Cuba, as well as the influence of 1950s music. It also adopts a present-day innovations in terms of harmonies and tones.


* Como la Mariposa (Lusafrica, 1999)
* Mi corazón y yo (Lusafrica, 2002)
* Corazón Presumido (Lusafrica, 2005)


The First Day of Spring in Krakow

Arturo Sandoval in Krakow 2017 – Photo by Paulina Tendera

The Krakow appearance of the Arturo Sandoval Sextet at Centrum Kijów kicked off spring, which, thanks to Letni Festiwal Jazzowy Piwnicy pod Baranami (http://www.cracjazz.com/pl/) [Cellar under the Rams Summer Jazz Festival], arrived unusually early this year. Cuban and afro rhythms warmed us and infected us with dance fever throughout the two-hour performance.

Arturo Sandoval had such a great time onstage with music and rhythm that it would have been a shame for us to enjoy ourselves any less.

The performance also featured several jazz ballads, performed solo by Sandoval, on the piano; reminiscences of Dizzy Gillespie, a great friend and mentor of Sandoval’s who died in 1993.; a short but comical and substantial lecture, “What is bebop?”; and Sandoval’s excellent sense of humor. Thus no element of jazz was lacking.

Arturo Sandoval Sextet in Krakow 2017 – Photo by Paulina Tendera

Sandoval also returned to his classic repertoire, from which he had departed on Eternamente Manzanero, his latest album, recorded with Jorge Calandrelli, which was dominated by romantic ballads and even pop sounds.

Anyone wishing to be reminded of the mood of the Krakow concert would be well advised to dig To a Finland Station (1982) out of his or her vinyl collection.

In Krakow starring:

John Belzaguy – bass
Tiki Pasillas – percussion
Dave Siegel – keyboard
Johny Friday – drums
Kemuel Roig – piano


A Remarkable New Voice from Cuba

Daymé Arocena – Cubafonía (Brownswood Recordings, 2017)

If you haven’t heard yet about Daymé Arocena, her new album Cubafonía is a great opportunity to listen to one of the best voices that has come out of Cuban in recent years.

Winner of the significant Marti y el Arte award in 2007, Daymé Arocena demonstrates her formidable talent by crossing musical boundaries with her voice. She shows her mastery at Cuban traditional genres like mambo and changüí, Afro-Cuban chants, and ballads, as well as the more modern timba. However, her repertoire is more extensive as she explores American soul and jazz effortlessly.

Cubafonía is Daymé’s second album and very different from her debut album. While her debut Havana Cultura Sessions focused on electronic dance music culture, Cubafonía features an irresistible acoustic rhythm section and more conventional instrumentation.




Most of the songs are in Spanish, although Daymé also sings a couple of songs in English and has a trilingual song titled “Valentine” where she inserts some English and French.


In recent months, Cuban musicians have released a series of dazzling piano-based albums. Cubafonía focuses on vocal talent and Daymé Arocena is one of the best and equally spectacular.

Buy Cubafonía in the Americas

Buy Cubafonía in Europe


Artist Profiles: Jesús Aguaje Ramos

Jesús ‘Aguaje’ Ramos

Jesús ‘Aguaje’ Ramos was born in 1951 in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, where he began his musical studies in the National School of Arts. He started playing the trombone in local groups until 1979 when he moved to Havana and began playing with the great female quartet Los D’Aida. That same year he took part in the Estrellas de Areito recordings.

Aguaje has played on the World Circuit Records recordings of the Buena Vista Social Club and Afro-Cuban All Stars, and the solo albums of Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez and Omara Portuondo. He was Ruben Gonzalez’s musical director and toured extensively since 1997 with the various Buena Vista Social Club projects.


Los Heroes, with Estrellas de Areito (1979)
Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997)
Buena Vista Social Club At Carnegie Hall (World Circuit, 2008)
Lost and Found, with Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 2015)