Artist Profiles: Los Van Van

Los Van Van in 2014

Formed in 1969 by bassist and composer Juan Formell, Los Van Van is Cuba’s leading dance band. Unafraid to experiment, they have added trombones, synthesizers and drum machines to their rhythms and charanga based sound with use of rock chord progressions and bass lines, inventing what is now known throughout the world as the “songo” rhythm . Since its creation, Los Van Van’s goal has been to make people dance. Several generations have already danced to their beat, thanks to founder Juan Formell’s perspicacity and ability to draw inspiration from new colloquial developments, colorful characters, and current social events.

In Cuba, people want to dance,” said Juan Formell. “If they don’t dance, forget it, they’re not going to listen to you.” Back in 1967, Formell played in Elio Reve’s orquesta, a classic charanga band of flutes, violins, piano, string bass and percussion. Under Formell’s direction (and bass playing), Reve’s charanga was reborn as Changui ’68 — with electric guitar and bass augmenting the orchestra. The dainty sounds of the charanga yielded to a new era in Cuban music, and Juan Formell’s next move was to ride that wave with a new group, Van Van.

First, los Van Van played songo, a new fusion of Cuban and American music. Latern it was called timba, the sound of Havana in the 1990s.

Los Van Van has seen Cuba’s finest musicians rise through its ranks, including Cesar “Pupi” Pedroso, baritone Pedro Calvo, Mario “Mayito” Rivera, Pupy Pedroso, and José Luis “Changuito” Quintana.

In December of 2000, singer Pedro Calvo left the band to join the Afro Cuban All Stars. Pedro Calvo was the singer of some Los Van Van’s most popular songs such as Chirrín Chirrán, El negro está cocinando, La Habana no aguanta más, El buey cansao, and Sandunguera.

A movie about Los Van Van was made in 2001. The documentary, directed by Aaron Vega (Cuba) and Liliana Mazure (Argentina), describes the history of the band throughout the years.

Juan Formell died in 2014.


Los Van Van Vol I (1969)
Los Van Van Vol II (1974)
Los Van Van Vol III (1974)
Los Van Van Vol IV (1976)
Los Van Van Vol V (1976)
Los Van Van Vol VI (1980)
Báilalo ¡Eh! ¡Ah! (1982)
Qué Pista (1983)
Anda, Ven y Muévete (1984)
La Habana Sí (1985)
Eso Que Anda (1986)
La Titimania (1987)
Songo (1988)
El Negro No Tiene Na’ (1988)
Songo (Mango, 1989)
Rico Son (1989)
Aqui… El Que Baila Gana (1990)
Esto Está Bueno (1991)
De Cuba Los Van Van (1991)
Bailando Mojao – Dancing Wet (1993)
Azúcar (Xenophile Records, 1993)
25 Años… y seguimos ahí! Vol I (1994)
Lo Ultimo En Vivo (Qbadisc Records, 1994)
¡Ay Dios, Ampárame! (1996)
Live In America (1997)
Te Pone La Cabeza Mala (1997)
Llegó Van Van (1999)
En El Malecón De La Habana (2003)
Chapeando (Ahi Nama Music, 2005)
Sandunguera (Timba Records, 2005)
Aqui El que Baila Gana, El Concierto (2007)
Live From Camagüey (2009)
Arrasando (2009)
La Maquinaria (2011)
La fantasía (2014)
El Legado (2018)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and 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.


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