Yomo Toro, a cultural icon for 50 years, was one of Latin music’s most beloved musicians. Victor Guillermo Toro was born on July 26, 1933 in the Guarnica province of Puerto Rico in Ensenada, where a statue of him now stands in the town square.
He began learning cuatro with his father and during his teens performed with many popular and folkloric groups. He moved to New York in 1956, and throughout the ’60s played with such groups as Ramito and Los Panchos.
From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s he hosted a TV show on Channel 41. In 1970, he joined Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe in recording the classic Asalto Navideño, a groundbreaking album that combined New York salsa with traditional Puerto Rican Christmas music and became one of the best-selling salsa albums of all time.
He was a member of the famed Fania All-Stars, which included such artists as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentin, Roberto Roena, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, Cheo Feliciano, and Ismael Miranda, and toured with the band throughout the world.
He appeared on more than 150 albums, including over 20 solo albums for Fania, Island, Rounder and Green Linnet Records. He has recorded with such stars as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, David Byrne, and Marc Anthony, made several cross-cultural albums, and worked on the soundtracks of Woody Allen’s Bananas and Crossover Dreams.
In his last years he performed with Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends Band and appeared in the off-Broadway show Sofrito! In addition to performing, he was an accomplished songwriter, particularly of romantic ballads.
In 2012, several press releases came out in June, confirming that Yomo Toro was severely ill, suffering from kidney failure due to many years of high blood pressure.
Yomo Toro died on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm after more than a month in a New York hospital due to kidney failure.
Born in Santurce (Puerto Rico), Tito Rodríguez moved to New York City as a teenager in the 1930s. After various jobs singing with a number of top groups he formed the Tito Rodriguez Orchestra, the most danceable Latin band in the dance-fever era. It was built around the voice of its leader, a versatile performer of every style of Latin music.
For several years, Rodríguez’s dance band starred at the legendary Palladium club and he had successful international career as a chart-topping singer of romantic songs.
In 1973, suffering from cancer at the age of fifty, he was rushed to the hospital after leaving the stage from a headline appearance at Madison Square Garden and died days later. Although he passed away, his legacy continues to burn bright through his recorded music as showcased on this new release.
In 2009, Fania released a double CD compilation, selected by the well-known New York discographer Harry Sepúlveda. Tito Rodríguez: The Man and His Music includes tracks that were digitally remastered from the original master tapes.
Puerto Rican ensemble Plena Libre performs a unique mix of Afro-Puerto Rican plena, salsa, bomba, jazz and other Afro-Caribbean genres.
“Más Libre,”(Freer) was released in October 2000 on RykoLatino. Their eighth recording and third for RykoLatino, came a year after their critically acclaimed “Juntos y Revueltos”. Más Libre drew from an even wider sonic vocabulary – jazz, reggae, salsa, samba, songo, bomba, merengue, and cumbia.
Since their inception in 1994, Plena Libre, led by bassist, arranger, composer and producer Gary Núñez, has become a strong force on the musical scene of Puerto Rico.
Plena Libre was born out of plena jam sessions in which Gary Núñez participated. In those sessions Gary began to focus on this rhythm that had been brushed aside by the more popular salsa and merengue. He also decided to break this genre out of its folkloric mold. Since then, Plena Libre band has been expanding the borders of plena music.
“When I was 20 years old,” remembers Gary, “I met Noel Hernandez, who is now my compadre. He opened my eyes to my Puerto Rican heritage, got me into studying my history and my musical roots. I realized then that, as much as Puerto Rican musicians were known worldwide in many fields of music, the music that was truly traditional to Puerto Rico was hardly known. I wanted to change that, to devote myself to the music that is based on our African heritage, the plena and the bomba. Up to then they were relegated to holiday get-togethers and in danger of disappearing entirely. That’s how Plena Libre, or ‘free plena’ was born.”
Plena Libre has performed hundreds of shows in Puerto Rico, and has toured in the U.S., receiving extraordinary reviews for their performances and for their recordings that have generated over 15 hit songs and sold over 150,000 copies in Puerto Rico alone.
Plena Libre became the first group to hit the charts with a plena tune in almost 15 years with “El Party” from their first recording “Juntos y Revueltos” (1994) that was re-released by RykoLatino (RLCD 1005) for the international market .
In May of 1999 Plena Libre became the first plena group to perform at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum with their unique presentation “Puerto Rico Sabe a Plena”. A crowd of over 5,000 and the critics applauded Plena Libre’s performance that was later broadcast on commercial TV.
Their list of accomplishments includes an award by the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico’s Legislature (1999), “Fundación Rafael Cepeda” (1997), and an award given by Loiza, the town known as the birth place of the bomba y plena, (1995).
Widely acknowledged among the greatest congueros of his generation, Giovanni Hidalgo was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1963, first taking up the drums five years later
The son of the noted percussionist Jose “Manengue” Hidalgo, he was educated in Latin rhythms from childhood onward, and as a teen regularly walked to local gigs with his congas strapped to his back. He soon caught the attention of the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, touring in his United Nations All-Star Orchestra for four years.
Hidalgo also became a noted session player, recording with Freddie Hubbard, Paul Simon and Mickey Hart’s Planet Drum project. In 1992, he recorded his debut solo LP, Villa Hidalgo; Worldwide followed a year later.
1997’s Hands of Rhythm collaboration with pianist Michel Camilo, earned Hidalgo a Grammy nomination in the Best Latin Jazz Album category.
His Greatest Hits collection followed the next year.
Berklee College of Music presented an honorary doctor of music degree to Giovanni Hidalgo in 2010. Hidalgo taught in Berklee’s percussion department from 1992-1996.
Cultura Profética is a Puerto Rican reggae band that was formed in 1996. Cultura Profética creates a fusion of smooth sounds rooted in reggae with touches of salsa, bomba, ska, jazz, funk, hip hop and additional Afro-Caribbean rhythms.
The band has toured across the island and in venues of Central and North America, and was the only Spanish-speaking band invited to perform at the prestigious Bob Marley Festival in California in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
Cultura Profética worked with Errol Brown, Bob Marley’s legendary producer. The band’s lyrical content emphasizes socio-political and environmental concerns, thus making them a treat to both the ears and the mind.
This album celebrates the legacy of Puerto Rican artist Sylvia Rexach, one of the essential composers of boleros from Puerto Rico. Boleros are the romantic ballads that started in Cuba and spread to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, from Latin America to Spain.
Boleros are popular with various generations of Spanish-speakers and come in many forms. You’ve probably heard modernized versions performed by well-known world music acts from the Spanish-speaking world. Miramar’s aim is to bring back the old-style boleros from Puerto Rico. These songs were very popular at the time, so you could say that it’s pop music from another era.
The name of this new bolero project, Miramar, has a romantic connection to the sea. In most of Latin America and Spain, you’ll find numerous locations called Miramar: “a romantic snapshot of a place both close and far away from home.”
The band is led by members of salsa band Bio Ritmo, Puerto Rican vocalist Reinaldo Alvarez and Chilean-American keyboardist Marlysse Simmons-Argandoña along with vocalist Laura Ann Singh. “When I first heard duo music, specifically Duo Irizarry de Córdova” says Rei, “to me it was a new expression of pain and longing. It was a concrete manifestation of everything that I love about romantic music.”
Rei loved the way the male and female voices interacted in the classic bolero duos and found Laura Ann Singh, who became the ideal singing partner. “We have to breathe together and feel the songs together, emotionally and rhythmically.” Says Laura Ann, “and because we have this natural chemistry in our voices and trust each other as musicians, I think we got to skip some of the mundane aspects of learning music and go right to the subtle and the abstract.”
Dedication to Sylvia Rexach is a journey through the world of the classic Puerto Rican romantic ballads.
Miramar will be on tour next month:
June 22nd – Minneapolis, MN – Cedar Cultural Center
June 23rd – Cedar Rapids, IA – Legion Arts
June 24th & 25th – Chicago, IL – Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Court
June 26th – Cleveland, OH – Cleveland Museum of Art
June 26th – Pittsburgh, PA
July 6th – Washington, DC – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center
July 24th – New York, NY – Lincoln Center Outdoors
Puerto Rican salsa singer and composer Ismael Quintana passed away on April 16, 2016 in Colorado. Ismael Quintana was the lead singer of Eddie Palmieri’s famed band called conjunto “La Perfecta.”
Quintana was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His family moved to The Bronx borough of New York City when he was only two weeks old. In New York he went to school and while he was still in high school he formed a band with his neighborhood friends.
In 1961, pianist and composer Eddie Palmieri invited Quintana to join “La Perfecta” as lead singer. During the 1960s, Quintana co-wrote some of Palmieri’s major hit songs.
In 1971, Quintana left Palmieri’s band and started a solo career. Between 1974 and 1983, he recorded five albums as a solo artist and a hit song titled “Mi Debilidad” (My Weakness). His solo albums include “Punto y Aparte” (1971); “Dos Imágenes” (1972); “Ismael Quintana” (1974); “Lo Que Estoy Viviendo” (1976); and “Amor, Vida y Sentimiento” (1977).
In addition to “Mi Debilidad”, some of quintana’s most popular songs include “Adoración”, “Muñeca”, “Maestro de rumbero”, and “Puerto Rico.”
Throughout the past decades, Quintana performed and recorded with salsa super band Fania All Stars.
Quintana partially retired from the music world because of health reasons.
Los Pleneros de la 21 are masters of the African-derived bomba and plena drumming styles of Puerto Rico. Led by drummer and composer Juan José Gutierrez-Rodriguez, this twelve-piece New York-based ensemble that also includes keyboards, bass, and string instruments, is one of the outstanding proponents of traditional Afro-Puerto Rican music.
There are at times special musicians with the utmost talent and creativity. Angel “Cachete” Maldonado is this type of musician. We will refer to him as “Cachete” during this interview. Cachete has played the rhythms of Puerto Rico, which are bomba and plena, with his folkloric groups; but he also preserves the Afro-Cuban guaguanco (rumba) style, with Cachete’s style and flavor.
Cachete had, and still has, an outstanding Latin orchestra by the name of Batacumbele that performs on a regular basis on the island of Puerto Rico. Let’s see what Cachete has to say about his life in this interview.
Cachete, tell me a little bit about your childhood background. Where in Puerto Rico were you born?
I was raised in the Barrio Obrero, the nest of a lot of musical groups, as well as sportsmen, playwrights. A nest of all the big ones, like (composer) Tite Curet Alonso, adopted son of the Barrio Obrero, The Rodriguez, Tito Rodriguez (Latin orchestra leader), Arturo A Shimburg, Rubén Gómez, to mention a few.
Were any of your parents or family members musicians?
My father was a bassist and guitarist. My sister was a singer and my aunt Ana Maria Cruz was a singer, of the famous Fiestas de Cruz, very well known on the island.
What is the first group or band that you were in and what was the instrument that you played?
The first professional group was with Johnny El Bravo López and Danny González. I would play bongo and cowbell with Johnny and timbas with Danny González. Prior to that I would perform with other groups, although they were not known and I used to sing at 13 and 14 years of age.
What bands have you performed with during your musical career?
Larry Harlow, La Conspiracion, Luis “Perico” Ortiz, Eddie & Charlie Palmieri, Leandro “Gato” Barberi, Machito, Tito Puente, Típica 73, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barretto, Jaguares, Ricky Martin, Lucecita Benitez, Celia Cruz, etc., etc.
What gave you the idea to form the band Batacumbele?
It was my first trip to Cuba. It was born out of a development concern for rhythmic music. There already existed rhythmically an example, Los Van Van with Changuito, creator of the songo rhythm that revolutionized the musical wave in Cuba. The Ritmo Oriental de Cuba, Irakere and other groups who spearheaded the new wave of music. A new form of playing the drums of the Ritmo Oriental and the tumbaos (beats) of Nino Valdes with four tumbadoras (conga drums) and Batun Bata, etc.
I have a love myself as a conga drummer for Afro drums of Rumba music. What inspired you to love and play that type of music?
Even when I was really young, studying drums, my love for the rumba and its drums (congas) was born. I remember that my father would take me to a rehearsal of Rafael Torres Silva. That was my first contact with the percussion of conguero Celso Clemente. He was the first person I saw play the timbas.
Later, Papo Román, the second conguero that I saw in the group. Then I began to listen to Mongo Santamaria; Carlos Patato Valdez; Francisco Aguabella; Julio Collazo, my first teacher of bata drums; Tommy Lopez; Mr. Ray Barretto; Ray Romero; Francisco Aristides Soto, better known as Tata Guines; Yeyito Iglesias; Guillermo Barretto; Tito Puente; Willie Bobo; and Jose Mangual.
Cachete, what’s the latest with Batacumbele these days?
With Batacumbele, now I am working with a group of young talents in union with Luis Marin, the musical director, and Pablito Rosario one of the original members. Noel Rosado, Tono Vazquez, Angie Machado, we have continued with the hard work of continuing with the group.
Due to my condition, I had to readjust my involvement with Batacumbele, but I keep working with the group Batacumbele Sangre Nueva (New Blood) and Los Majaderos de Cachete Maldonado, a group of rumba, bomba, and plena.
What are the future plans for you as a drummer, bandleader an artist?
Right now we are currently in the process of finding a location to give workshops and classes of Afro-Antillean dances, bomba, plena, rumba and other rhythms of the Caribbean, where all local and international people can enjoy the work in a patio.
I await to serve the public in general this year, 2016.
I would like to thank Cachete Maldonado for his great time and effort to make this interview possible.
At times, when I’m writing, I’m aware of conditions suffered by artists or craftsmen that due to age, and the fact that we are all human beings, have maladies that are not discussed on our Facebook page(s) Timbales Congas Bongo Bata & Bells, nor in our interviews for personal reasons. At given times, there are impolite or abrupt remarks made by readers that are unaware of the condition of the artists and craftsmen because they do not know them personally; those are overlooked at this time.
I would like to give a “great thank” you to Pablito Rosario for making this interview possible. Thank you Pablito!
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