(Prensa Latina – Cumbancha – Musicalísima) – “I was born in Santiago de Cuba (1927). I liked the tango very much. I was a kid when Alberto Gómez came once to Havana. He performed on a radio program
and sang ‘En un beso la vida’ I remember that. I like to sing the tango because I watched a lot of films by Libertad Lamarque, Jorge Negrete, they were very popular in Santiago. When I started as a professional it was the “son.” I have always sung the “son”, because I was born in a ball, in the first place, and later there were balls in my house. My grandfather was the president of two
societies in Santiago, one was called Club Aponte, where I was almost born, and the other one was El Cocuyé, which still exists. I was raised in music.
We played the rumba at the corner of my street when I was a child, which is why I was devoted to the “son”. I used to sing tangos and boleros, but when I started, when I performed with three or four groups, I sang the “son”. The first (group) was Los Jóvenes del Son. A cousin of mine told me: I am going to make you a musician. He signed a contract to play on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1941. We earned 1.50 (pesos) and got drunk, because we believed we had won the world.
In late 1952, I began performing with Pacho Alonso. With Chepín in 1956 I recorded ‘El platanal de
Bartolo’, which sort of made me famous. Always singing dance music, they never let me sing boleros. I loved to sing boleros. In 1957 I came to Havana and in 1958 I worked with Benny Moré at the Ali Bar. I began working with them through an agreement, because there was not much work and I had a family. Chepín was the orchestra that worked most, he needed me and I was transferred.
When I came to Havana I lived in dire straits until I began working with Benny. When the Revolution triumphed in 1959, Pacho regrouped his orchestra again and I began singing with him until late 1967. I did the falsetto. I did the first or the second voice or the falsetto. Carlos Kerol did most second voices with Pacho, and I sang a lot with him, we were a duet. Pacho’s was the first group with
which I traveled abroad, in 1962. We participated in the L’Humanité Festival, in Paris; afterwards we went to Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Then Pacho left the group, we were so heartbroken. I stayed with Los Bocucos as the main vocalist, but they never let me sing boleros. I recorded only one bolero with them, and we had so many records. They did not give me credit either, but my numbers were hits. I got tired and retired in 1991.
In 1993, I was at home shining a pair of white shoes and Juan de Marcos came by with Roberto Correa, who had been my director. They asked me if I wanted to make a recording and I told them that I was tired. And he tells me, ‘Don’t do that to me. I came here looking for you because you are the only person that can get me out of trouble. His project consisted of a recording with several singers. He
had already recorded with Pío Leyva, Puntillita, Tito Gómez, Planas and he needed another one, and he was told, ‘Get Ibrahim, he used to sing with Los Bocucos’. We went straight to the studio and there I found Rubén González, Eliades Ochoa, and Compay Segundo, who I met for the first time, because
although we both were from Santiago, I did not know him.
Puntillita was there. He began humming a song entitled ‘Candela’, composed by Faustino Oramas, and I began singing and playing. Ry Cooder and Nick Gold were in the cabin. I had neither met them or knew who they were. Ry Cooder clicked; it seems the cabin was open. He listened to me and liked what he heard. He called me and told me that if I wanted to record that song, and I said yes. I had gone there with Juan de Marcos to record a song entitled ‘María Caracoles’ with Afrocuba. Well, I said yes to Ry Cooder and I recorded the song. From then on I was enthusiastic.
Rubén, who was very restless at the piano, began playing and I did the same. I get emotional when I saw the piano. I sang Dos Gardenias para ti… and go on. I began singing ‘Dos gardenias’ (by Isolina Carrillo) and Ry Cooder recorded it. It was that way that I joined, without being in the project, because I was not part of the Buenavista (Social Club) project. I recorded four songs. Afterwards,
came the tours, the Grammy. I did not know what the Grammy was, and I was told it is an award. I liked it a lot. I am still here, singing, and I will continue to sing as long as I have strength.”
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.