La Excelencia was founded by Julian Silva and Jose Vazquez-Cofresi who in 2005 formed the orchestra in New York City. The orchestra was created with the intention to bring a new outlook to salsa music by being hip, young, writing about social issues, and breaking the mold yet not losing the true roots of salsa.
The hard life of the barrio is reflected in La Excelencia’s music through their hardcore salsa sounds known as “salsa dura”. The music of La Excelencia has been referred to as fresh, original, danceable, contagious, and bringing social awareness to all.
In 2006 La Excelencia released their primary project ‘Salsa Con Conciencia’ to critical acclaim.
The album ¿Donde Están? (En Grande Music) by Jose Lugo & Guasábara Combo is the winner of the Best Tropical Latin Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards.
The other finalists were:
Conexión – Fonseca (Sony Music Entertainment US Latin)
La Fantasia Homenaje A Juan Formell – Formell Y Los Van Van (EGREM)
35 Aniversario – Grupo Niche (Niche Business Enterprises)
La Sonora Santanera En Su 60 Aniversario – La Sonora Santanera (Sony Music Entertainment México)
Born in January 28, 1974, in Las Tunas, eastern province of Cuba, daughter of a singer father and a stylist mother, Haila Maria Mompie Gonzalez felt passionate about music since her early years and although she started dancing first, she always felt a deep passion for singing.
After many years studying dancing, as legend says, in 1991, a young dancer raised her voice with an amazing tuning and a very special melody in such a way that Yaquelin Castellanos, famous Cuban singer, was astonished and proposed that this girl, named Haila, be part of her group. In this way, Haila a singer of Tradition Septet, cultivating Cuban traditional music.
A year later, she debuted as solo artist at ”Las Avenidas” Cabaret and later on, she became a member of Habana Son, a group directed by saxophonist ”El Chino Lam”. Also that year, she was requested to participate at the ”Guajira Habanera” show, touring Mexico for the first time.
On September 1994, she joined the renowned band Bamboleo. There, she rose to the top thanks to her excellent vocal qualities and high improvisation level, becoming one of the greatest soneras of her generation.
As vocalist of Bamboleo she recorded two CDs, Te Gusto O Te Caigo Bien and Yo No Me Parezco a Nadie, performed internationally and achieving great popularity in Cuba.
After that experience, she decided in 1998 to join the project of musician and composer Leonel Limonta, known as Azucar Negra. With this successful group, Haila topped the Cuban radio charts. The song “Andar Andando,”from the album Andar Andando, became an hymn not only for dance lovers but also for many others.
On 2001, after returning from a tour around Europe, Haila decided to start a new stage of her artistic career, as a solo artist. She recorded a solo album conducted and musically produced by the famous Cuban musician Issac Delgado.
Haila appeared as a singer on various albums by outstanding Cuban musicians and in the famous record La Rumba Soy Yo, winner of Latin Grammy Awards in 2001, she demonstrated her huge versatility.
2002 was a great year for Haila. Besides touring the United States with Issac Delgado and his orchestra, she was selected as guest figure of Tropicana Cabaret. She also toured various European countries as part of ‘Festival Son Cuba and as member of Cuban Grammys Project together with Eliades Ochoa, Juan Formell, Vocal Sampling, Chucho Valdes, Los Papines and Ernan Lopez-Nussa.
Copa Room Cabaret witnessed in April 25, 2003 at Riviera Hotel various remarkable events in Haila’s artistic life. That night, the ”Diva del Son” featured her orchestra with high-quality musicians in a concert attended by special guests from Culture Ministry, Artex, Musicalia, Bis Music, E-Commerce Agency, journalists, T.V and radio directors, critics and the general public.
In this concert, full of surprises, Haila unveiled her contract as exclusive artist with the Musicalia booking agency, her Haila Live CD on Bis Music, with a concert she made the previous year at National Theater of Cuba, having the notable appearance of Chucho Valdes, Issac Delgado, Mayito Rivera, David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera. The CD was under the musical production and direction of Juan Manuel Ceruto.
In June of the same year, Haila made an important tour around European countries and in July and August, she performed along with David Calzado y su Charanga Habanera in various Japanese cities.
La Diva del Son, as she is well-known in Cuba, gave priority to the national and international promotion of her new recording in 2005. Haila joined Charanga Habanera at some live performances.
Haila was also part of the Cuba le Canta a Serrat CD, recorded in Havana at the Abdala, Ojala, PM Record and Frank Fernandez studios to honor the peerless Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat. This set, previously conceived for 12 tracks ended up a double album.
Haila’s Diferente CD, under the production of the notable David Calzado showed a new stage in Haila’s professional career, popular not only among young fans, but also with people of all ages.
Haila Maria Mompie is considered one of the great Cuban contemporary soneras.
Edited from an original article by Marianela Dufflar.
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.
I’ve long contended that Latin music (something of a loaded term) was the first world music (ditto) to catch on in a big way. Even if many a mainstream fan’s interest began and ended with Latin big bands, Desi Arnaz, “Tequila,” Santana or the Buena Vista Social Club, there’s no denying Latin music’s permeation into our collective listening consciousness. Me, I love both the purist and fusionist sides of the story. The Buena Vista Social Club was, after all, originally intended to be a collaboration between Cuban and West African musicians. It didn’t work out that way, but the path had already been cleared by that point and many have since trod it.
Thankfully, one recently planned Cuban/non-Cuban musical project that did come to fruition has a very fine CD as the result. Havana Night Sessions at Abdala Studios (Universal Music Romania, 2016) by a collective called The Gypsy Cuban Project sounds very much like what you’d expect from a band with that name: a passionate, freewheeling, seamless melding of Roma and Cuban music.
Romanian musician, activist and parliamentarian Damian Draghici brought 15 players and singers from Europe to Cuba. What they found there was a shared desire to record songs that bridged the two cultures and musicians with the chops to make it happen. The arrangements on the disc reflect the more Cuban angle, but Gypsy elements emerge in the atypical, serpentine way that distinctly Romany-toned strings, brass and accordion tartly take the lead during many of the breaks and solo passages as well as the subtle (but no less heartfelt) shifts in mood when the vocals trade off from one side to the other.
Bolero meets sevdah on the slower tunes and both are stronger for it, while the dance floor tracks are a transatlantic party of the first order. There’s not one bum tune in the bunch, but I particularly like the way the voice of Omara Portuondo is shadowed by what sounds like a pan flute on “Serenata En Batanga” and the slow-burn version of “Chan Chan” that wraps things up.
I was hoping my copy of the CD would be loaded with credits and liner notes. Because it was an advance version, however, no such info was to be found therein. Oh, the tribulations of a music journalist. So when you have the good sense to buy this crackling good disc, you’ll likely get more of the story in addition to the marvelous music.
Madrid-born contemporary flamenco singer Diego El Cigala goes for more of an in-house approach, combining the emotive reach of his grandly grainy vocals with golden era salsa on Indestructible (Sony Music Latin, 2016). Cigala has stepped out of his flamenco roots to cross paths with Cuban and Argentinian music in the past, so he knows how to adapt his vocal nuances.
His focus on this disc is the classic salsa sound brought to the world by the Fania label in the ‘70s, and the fact that Cigala recorded it with salsa master musicians in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Colombia and Spain attests to just how worldly the reach of salsa was and is. The title track is the classic composed by conguero Ray Barretto and burns with all the trademarks of the genre: blazing horns, swirling piano, supernaturally tight percussion, snug bass and a lungful of vocal power. Cigala hits the heights on that one and every other, most of which are chestnuts from Fania that incorporate the salsa subtleties of the places they were recorded.
The smatter of originals like the Bebo Valdés tribute “Fiesta Para Bebo” are no less mighty. And when things slow down a little, as on “Conversación en Tiempo de Bolero,” Cigala wields his voice like the well-honed instrument it is, matching the interplay of Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s piano and a very sharp rhythm section. Rubalcaba is also present on the concluding Beny Moré composition “Como Fue,” a vocal and piano duet that rounds out one grand and glorious album. Salsa fans; don’t miss this one.
Madrid-based band Canteca de Macao was founded in 2003 and has caused a stir in international music circles in recent years with its wild blend of flamenco, Gypsy rumba, rock, reggae, ska, salsa and jazz. One of Spain’s most popular live acts, the group makes each performance into an exciting and joyful party. Canteca de Macao’s concerts include music, dance and sometimes jugglers.
Canteca de Macao was started around 2003 when several musicians from Spain, Venezuela and Chile got together to perform at Madrid’s popular flea market, El Rastro. The nine-piece band recorded a self-produced first album titled Cachai, which sold 4,000 exclusively at concerts. To promote the album, Canteca de Macao toured throughout Spain and the rest of Europe.
The band’s line-up in 2009 included Ana Saboya “Anita Kuruba”, Álvaro Melgar (‘Azelga’), Isidoro Lora-Tamayo (‘Chiki’), Danilo Montoya, Guillermo Martínez Yusta, Juan Tomás Martínez París (‘Juancho’), Pablo Carretero, Javier Rodríguez de Zuloaga (‘Zulo’) and Rodrigo ‘El Niño’ Díaz.
In 2013, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, Canteca de Macao released a music video each month featuring its greatest hit s and new songs. A tour followed.
The band released a CD + DVD titled Una Década that features its greatest hits accompanied by some of the leading mestizo and flamenco crossver acts in Spain: Chico Ocaña, Amparo Sánchez, El Canijo de Jerez, Alamedadosoulna, Juan Manuel Montilla (Langi), and Dremen.
In 2015, Canteca de Maca released “Lugares Comunes.” The band featured new songs composed by Chiki and Anita. The lineup in 2016 features Ana Saboya, “Anita”; Isidoro Lora-Tamayo, “Chiki“; Javier Rodríguez de Zuloaga “Zulo“; Rodrigo Ulises Díaz, “El Niño“; Carlos Leal Valladares; bassist Yago Salorio; and keyboardist Rubén García Motos.
Arsenio Rodriguez was a revolutionary figure in Cuban music during the 1940s. He was a bandleader, tresero (tres player) and percussionist, who developed the classic Cuban dance band. An expert in Congolese rhythms, he pushed African influences to the fore, refashioning the traditional septeto by adding the conga drum and two extra trumpets to give it much more power and scope, setting his syncopated tres style against the percussion.
Arsenio was born August 30, 1911 in Guira de Maricujes, in the Province of Matanzas. A tragic accident -he was kicked by a horse- as a young boy left him blind. He became known as “El Ciego Maravilloso,” the Blind Marvel.
His father gave Arsenio a small guitar when he was a young child. At the age of 15 years, Arsenio met Victor Feliciano, a carpenter who manufactured musical instruments. Victor taught him how to play guitar, maracas and bongos.
In the early 1930s Arsenio started his first group, Sexteto Boston, in the Hornos district. In 1937 Arsenio left the band to join Septeto Bellamar, which was led by Jose Interian, a trumpet player. This was an important step in Arsenio’s career. Several of his songs were recorded. Miguelito Valdes sang “Bruca Manigua” and “Funfuñando” with Orquesta Casino de Playa. Arsenio formed his own band in 1939. It was an innovative line-up, featuring tumbadora (conga), a piano, and trumpets. This format was named conjunto (ensemble).
During the 1940s some of Arsenio’s most famous compositions were recorded, including “A Belen le Toca Ahora,” “La Yuca de Catalina,” “Juventud Amaliana,” and La vida es un Sueño, his best-known bolero. His innovative use of the piano began with a young Ruben Gonzalez, who played on Rodriguez’s first recording in 1943, and developed over the years with Lili Martinez.
In 1948 Arsenio moved to New York. Most of his All Star band went to play with trumpetist Felix Chappotin. That group became the now legendary Conjunto Chappotin.
The period in the United States, the 1950s and 1960s, found Arsenio struggling to find radio hits. He experimented with jazz and had some success in New York.
Sadly, he died a poor man in Los Angeles in 1971, just when Cuban-inspired salsa was starting to become popular in New York and other cities.
Alfredo De La Fe is a Cuban-born and New York-based violinist who lived in Colombia for more than 16 years, responsible for transforming the violin into an important sound within salsa and Latin music.
The first solo violinist to perform with a Salsa orchestra, De La Fe has toured the world more than thirty times, appearing in concert and participating in more than one hundred albums by such top-ranked Latin artists as Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Jose Alberto “El Canario”, Cheo Feliciano, The Fania All Stars and Santana.
His second solo album, Alfredo, released in 1979, received a Grammy nomination as “Best Latin album”.
A child prodigy, Alfredo’s father who was a singer (a tenor of opera) in Havana, Cuba and sang on Cuban radio with Bienvenido Leon and Celia Cruz in the 1940s recognized his son’s skills and encouraged his musical talent. De La Fe began studying violin at the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory in Havana in 1962. Two years later, he received a scholarship to attend the Warsaw Conservatory in Poland.
In 1965, he performed compositions by Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in Carnegie Hall. A scholarship to Juilliard Arts enabled him to further his studies. De La Fe launched his professional career, at the age of twelve, when he switched from classical music to Salsa and accepted an invitation to join charanga legend Jose Fajardo’s Orchestra.
In 1972, he joined Eddie Palmieri’s Orchestra. He remained with the group for a very short period, moving temporarily to San Francisco where he joined Santana. Returning to New York, De La Fe joined Tipica ’73 in 1977. Two years later, he released his debut solo album, Alfredo.
In 1980, De La Fe signed with Sars All Stars, and produced thirty two albums for the Latin record label. His second solo album, Charanga ’80, was released the same year.
In 1981, De La Fe became musical director of Tito Puente’s Latin Percussion Jazz Ensemble. The following year, he resumed his solo career, signing with Taboga, for whom he recorded the album Triunfo.
Relocating to Colombia in 1983, De La Fe signed with Philips and released three albums – Made in Colombia, Dancing in the Tropics and Alfredo De La Fe Vallenato – by the end of the 1980s.
In 1989, De La Fe switched to the Fuentes label. Although he joined the Fania All Stars in 1995, De La Fe continued to pursue a solo career. He signed with Sony Music in 1997. Two years later, he toured with his own band, appearing at festivals in Denmark, Holland, France, Turkey and Belgium, and reunited with Eddie Palmieri’s Orchestra for a European tour.
In 2002, after spending several years in Europe, Alfredo moved back to New York and toured the United States with his New York-based band.
* Para Africa con amor (Sacodis Records, 1978)
* Alfredo (1979)
* Charanga (Sacodis Records, 1980)
* Triunfo (Toboga Records, 1982)
* Made in Colombia (Phillips Records 1984)
* Alfredo De La Fé Vallenato (Phillips Records, 1985)
* Dancing in the Tropics (Phillips Records, 1988)
* Salsa (Fuentes Records, 1990)
* Los Violines de Alfredo De La Fé (Fuentes Records, 1990)
* Salsa y Charanga (Fuentes, 1993)
* The Violins of Alfredo De La Fé – Sentir de Cuba (Fuentes, 1992)
* Con Toda la Salsa (Fuentes, 1993)
* Bailando en el Trópico
* Salsa Passion
* La Salsa de los Dioses (Fuentes, 1995)
* De La Fé y aché (Sony Music, 1997)
* Latitudes (Ryko Latino, 2000)
* La Llave de Oro, with Fruko (2006)
There are timbaleros (timbales players) in Latin music and then there are timbaleros. Nicky Marrero is the master at his work! Nicky Marrero has performed on hundreds of recordings, especially for Fania Records in New York City. Nicky Marrero is “El Monstruo del Timbal”, the Monster of the Timbales.
Nicky, has the ability of getting many tones out his drumheads, playing with preciseness and action. Nicky Marrero is always exciting on stage and bringing light to the show. You know that when he plays, it is Nicky Marrero up there on stage soloing, A-1 plus, like a Monster Timbalero should.
With years of playing, practice and patience with the drums, whether it is timbales or congas, Nicky Marrero brings a solo swing to the orchestra, to compliment the musicians and the coro (chorus) in the orchestra. This is what Nicky Marrero does on stage if you observe him.
Nicky is always getting better, as he ages, like a fine wine!
Nicky has performed with all the legends; too many to name, also a member of the legendary Fania All Stars and is a very humble musician.
Let’s hear what Nicky has to say about himself, and his love for the timbales, and what he has to say to the new young and upcoming timbaleros!
Nicky where were you born, your birth name and where were you raised?
I was born in St. Francis Hospital in the Bronx on June 17th 1950 and raised in the Bronx. My Name is Nicholas Marrero Jr.
Was your family musical in any way?
My uncle Chuito Velez played guitar, piano and the accordion. He had his own Orchestra and would sometimes join the family on weekend parties. Like in most Puerto Rican families there was always something to celebrate or just get together to dance and party. My Brother Luis Sánchez played guitar and bass for many years with my uncle as well as with Belisario López y su charanga, the Plata Sextet, and Orlando Marin and his Orchestra.
When was the first time you heard a cowbell and when was the first time you listened to a mambo-ish or salsa type music or Latin music?
Quiet simply, at home! Plus, by parental composition, Puerto Ricans love their Spanish radio stations to keep up the latest cleaning products, soap operas, what movies are showing, what theaters are having live vaudeville acts, then If there is time left in the day—–The News!! There was Spanish music in all of them, from different Latin countries. Diversity!
What was the first band you were a member of professionally?
Orchestra Caribe, meaning I got paid. The going rate at that time for a 14 year old, was 10 to fifteen dollars, if the promoter didn’t high settled it out of town. And there were 12 of us plus the band boy, who just wanted to be part of the group, the guys just looked the other way, except maybe sometimes?
Who are past or present your favorite timbal players, conga players and bongo players?
Me, Me, and Me! Seriously, on timbales, Orestes Vilató and Orlando Marin. On conga, Orlando Vega and Johnny Rodriguez. On bongo, Johnny Rodriguez, Bobby Allende, and Orlando Vega.
Nicky, what was you favorite band to play with, or you can mention a few?
Eddie Palmieri, Machito, Tito Puente, Fajardo, Tipica 73, Dizzie Gillespie, Jorge Dalto, but then I was part of at least forty other bands, and for different extended times. There’s not enough paper to explain it all but in a book.
Who would be your all-time favorite Latin orchestra leader?
What is some advice that you would tell young timbaleros or percussionist who study the art of drumming?
To listen to the past records, and learn about each orchestra and its members and their backgrounds and where they came from and to follow their carriers. Learn to listen, and listen to learn!!! Practice the art of imitation to the exact with discipline. Learn that you are your greatest competition!! Broaden the many options of how to practice, they become limitless, as are your abilities.
The Big 3, Machito, Tito Puente Sr. and Tito Rodriguez Sr., what is your opinion of them?
They were my heroes, and still are. I wouldn’t know whether to dance or play! There were many excellent dancers in my family, and I picked up on it very quickly, and became a very good dancer myself. It sometimes boggles me how some percussion players play and don’t know how to dance—really! That’s like a dentist pulling out teeth without first taking x-rays! Huh!
What is your all time favorite record or records?
Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Machito, Cal Tjader, Cortijo y su Combo, the charangas of Aragon, Fajardo, Arcano, Estrellas Cubanas, La Sensacion,Johnny Pacheco, Ray Barreto, Charlie Palmieri, extra, many more. Conjuntos—Arsenio, Chapottin, Modelo, Roberto Fas, Rumbavana, Kuvavana, Estrellas de Chocolate, etc.
What is one or two of the favorite recording you performed on?
Well, Nicky do you remember when you went to get your cha cha bell repaired by craftsman Pete Lugo. Let me ask why did you insist in getting that particular bell fixed and not just buy another new bell?
This bell was made with a special gage of a certain type of metal, and it had to be treated just the right way or it would ruin the bell forever. The sound of the bell became part of who I am, the study I put into investigating and analyzing their sounds and the types of material they are made of.
So tell us about your great current projects that you’re on.
Well, what are the future plans for Nicky Marrero musically and otherwise?
I am working on to fulfil my dream of starting my own project (orchestra) and record.
Have you seen the music scene changing somewhat and what do you think of that?
To bring it back to the dancers, with quality entertainment. We need more clubs of quality!!
Who are or were your favorite musicians to play with. Give us some names?
Nelson Gonzalez, Jimmy Bosch, Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Rodriguez, Willie Rodriguez and many more.
Now you tell us something Nicky
We need more in depth professional interviews such as yours. Also more radio stations with quality Latin cultural music past and present, with knowledgeable radio personalities!!
I would like to thank Nicky Marrero for his precious time, when I approached Nicky to this interview he was flying out to Lima, Peru with the Eddie Palmieri Orchestra! Thanks Nicky! El Monstruo del Timbal!