The Afro-Cuban All Stars were brought together by musical director Juan de Marcos González (leader of the son group Sierra Maestra and mastermind behind the Buena Vista Social Club), as a multi-generational big band to explore a broader scope than the Buena Vista projects, ambitiously paying tribute to the diversity of Cuban music, marrying the past with the present. It is a band for dancing – combining a variety of contrasting styles including classic son montuno, contemporary timba, swinging big band guajira, Afro-Cuban jazz, danzón, the pure tribal rhythms of abakua, bolero and more.
The original list of lead vocalists that have performed with the group is a virtual “who’s who” of the greatest Cuban sonerosthe octogenarian Pío Leyva (Estrellas de Areito) and the septuagenarians Raúl Planas (Rumbavana, Celia Cruz), and Manuel “Puntillita” Licea (Sonora Matancera) were joined by rising stars from a younger generation, Antonio “Maceo” Rodríguez (Sierra Maestra), Félix Valoy (Alberto Alvarez), and Teresita García Caturla (Las D’Aida).
To back these individual talents through a diverse selection of songs González brought together a very special group of musicians. On piano is one of the founding fathers of modern Cuban music, the legendary Rubén González (Arsenio Rodríguez, Enrique Jorrín, Estrellas de Areito). On acoustic bass is Cuba’s finest, Orlando “Cachaíto” López, who learned his trade as part of the extraordinary bass playing López dynasty which includes his father Orestes López and uncle Israel “Cachao” López.
The six piece horn section (three trumpets, two trombones, sax, flute) is made up from the best players of Havana’s celebrated Tropicana Orchestra. Soloists include the great Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal on trumpet (Orchestra Riverside, Estrellas de Areito) and Afrokan (Irakere) on trombone.
In a country renowned for its percussionists, the All Stars’ six-piece section is matchless and includes the young phenomenon Julienne Oviedo on timbales, and the great Miguel “Angá”on congas.
In December of 2000, Pedro Calvo, the lead singer of Cuba’s top dance band, Los Van Van, was recruited as a vocalist for the Afro-Cuban All Stars. The line-up in 2001 also included Caridad Hierrezuelo.