Tag Archives: Cuba

Artist Profiles: X Alfonso

X Alfonso

X Alfonso is a renowned Cuban fusion and Afro Rock musicians. He was born on September 13, 1972 in Havana, Cuba.

As most of the young musicians from Cuba, he studied at the Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán, at the Escuela Nacional de Artes de Cuba. The famous school that earned its golden reputation as a result of the many generations of musicians who have studied here, where the creativity and the high technical level places these young men among the best musicians of the world.

Other than his excellent education, X Alfonso also comes from a world renowned musical family. His parents, Carlos and Ele, are the leaders of the band Sintesis, pioneers of progressive rock in Cuba and innovators in the fusion of Afro-Cuban rhythms and rock. Sintesis released essential albums such as Ancestros, Ancestros 2, and Orishas. The band created a characteristic genre and today, in full maturity preserves its legion of enthusiasts in Cuba and abroad. X Alfonso participated in Síntesis’ during the last few years, imprinting a characteristic of novelty on the arrangements and interpretations of the group and assimilating the musical influence from Síntesis.

Because of his musical creativity, X Alfonso accumulated a work that served as the base to his own project, which had the participation of important young Cuban musicians, like the pianist Roberto Carcasses and drummer and composer Descemer Bueno. They performed at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana, to an audience of more then 5000 people, in a memorable show that stimulated the pop environment of Cuban music.

With Mundo Real, his first solo album, completely composed and arranged by himself, X Alfonso demonstrates that it is possible to combine a pop project with all the modern influences. The mix of sonorities and timbres with suitable doses of jazz, hip-hop with the undeniable underlying Cuban rhythms. X Alfonso went from the rumba-guaguáncó, to the violins of the cha cha chá. Or the sweet closing of the song “Bailando en la distancia”, where he illustrates dreams of Cuban dances from the turn of the century finalized in a beautiful ballad.

I think that diverse styles and trends converge in me, although Cuban trends rule. It has to do with the environment in which I was brought up, listening to all sorts of music styles, from different authors, artists and countries, from African rhythms to alternative rock or instrumental music. That is why I don’t have a style or, if you wish, a favorite genre.”

My creations have pop, rock, Afro-Cuban music, folk, and reggae influences, and I don’t think the album X Moré is an exception. Even when it has been distinguished for a strong hip hop component, idea I don’t completely share, since, he who listens to the entire album will realize that from the fifth track on it ceases to be rap as such.”

X Alfonso has worked with jazz bands, founded rock band Havana, and has also wrrote music for Danza Abierta and Transit.


Mundo Real (2000)
X Moré (2001)
Civilización (2005)
Revoluxion (2007)
Reverse (2011)


Artist Profiles: Yosvany Terry

Yosvany Terry

Yosvany Terry was born in Cuba. He received his earliest musical training from his father, Eladio “Don Pancho” Terry, violinist and Cuba’s leading player of the chekeré. His father was also known as the founder and director of the Orquesta Maravillas de Florida, one of Cuba’s most important charanga bands. Mr. Terry went on to receive his classical music training and graduated from both the prestigious National School of Art (ENA) and Amadeo Roldan Conservatory.

While in Cuba, Yosvany was known for his musical innovation performing with Chucho Valdés, Silvio Rogriguez, Fito Paez, and Cubanismo!, as well as forming the influential group, Columna B. Their work represented the new voice of young Cuban jazz players. Columna B toured throughout the US and Europe, and in 1998 premiered their Inroads Commissioned-piece by Arts International (through the Ford Foundation) at Stanford Jazz Festival. Moving to New York in 1999, Yosvany was immediately recognized as a remarkable talent in the Jazz scene, playing with Roy Hargrove, Steve Coleman, Eddie Palmieri, Dave Douglas, Jeff Tain Watts, Horacio El Negro Hernandez, and bassist Avishai Cohen.

Always a student, Terry absorbed and incorporated American jazz traditions with his own Afro-Cuban roots to produce compositions and solo work that flow from the rhythmic and hard driving avant-garde to sweet sounding lyricism.


Artist Profiles: Yusa


Born in the Buena Vista district of today’s Playa and growing up in the modern Alamar housing community of east Havana, Yusa’s childhood was spent between music and the sea, cherished by her economist mother and her sailor father whose eyes always have, ‘the gaze of the sea in them.’

Yusa started with guitar, went on to Cuban tres guitar, piano and bass. She was influenced by Spanish and North American pop and jazz as by ‘nueva trova’ and son.

What inspired her debut album were the vital creative years spent jamming in the hallways and classrooms of the Amadeo Roldan Conservatory exchanging musical ideas with contemporaries such as Roberto Carcasses, who was the arranger of many of the songs on Yusa. Then there was Yusa’s time improvising female quintet Quasi-Jazz at El Zorro y el Cuervo’, the basement night club on Havana’s central La Rampa street which has been at the cutting edge of Cuban jazz since the early 20th century.

A key phenomenon of 1990s Cuba was the emergence of contemporary duos revitalizing in totally unexpected ways the older fashion of singing two part harmony with guitar. In the same way as Gema and Pavel had before them, Yusa and Domingo became a sensation in the small corner bars and neighborhood clubs where for centuries new Cuban musics have always been dreamed up.


Yusa (Tumi Music, 2002)
Breathe (Tumi Music, 2005)
Haiku (Tumi Music, 2008)


Artist Profiles: Vocal Sampling

Vocal Sampling in 2005

Vocal Sampling is a band where all the instruments are sung instead of played. In addition to the lead vocals and the background choruses, all the instruments of the Cuban orchestra are vocally reproduced: percussion, horns, keyboards, bass, and all the other instruments. There is no technical manipulation and no other instruments are used.

The group is comprised of six Cuban men, all accomplished instrumentalists and arrangers, who met at music school. What began as an amusing after-school game has become their full-time career.

For those new to Latin music, Vocal Sampling is a highly entertaining introduction to the rhythms and styles of Cuban music: guaracha, boleros, rumba, son and swinging salsa. For those familiar with this genre, the group always brings amazement and a smile of delight. Similar to the doo-wop groups of the United States, Vocal Sampling was formed after school and between classes, standing on the sweeping lawns of Havana’s National Superior Institute of Arts. Poney Gross, of Belgium’s Zig Zag World, met the group in Cuba while they were still students, and encouraged them to continue this approach. He arranged several European tours for them.

Very soon they began to be noticed by artists such as Bobby McFerrin, Peter Gabriel and David Byrne. Gabriel brought them to his Real World Studios in Bath, England, where they recorded two songs and Byrne included one of their earliest recordings on his Luaka Bop compilation, Diablo Al Infierno.

In 1992 the group met producer team Sammy Figueroa and Rachel Faro, who arranged for them to be signed to Paroli/BMG Music of Cologne, Germany. Faro Figueroa Productions produced the group’s first album, which attracted the attention of Sire Record’s president Seymour Stein, who immediately began steps to acquire the master. The first album, Una Forma Más, released in 1995 on Sire/Elektra Records and Warner worldwide, was a musical journey through Cuban musical culture, demonstrating several styles of classic Cuban music.

In 1995 the group made an historic tour of the United States where they were an instant success in San Francisco, New York and Puerto Rico, attracting the attention of luminaries such as Paul Simon and Carlos Santana. Since then, they have continued to tour throughout Europe and Latin America, invariably garnering multiple encores and rapturous receptions.

In the summer of 1996 they were invited to appear at the 30th Montreux Jazz Festival as the special guests of Quincy Jones for his 50th anniversary. In 1997, they were invited for a 3 weeks tour in Japan. Vocal Sampling released their second album, De Vacaciones (East West), produced by Rachel Faro and the band. De Vacaciones is almost totally comprised of original compositions and arrangements in a modern salsa style and is sure to be recognized as one of the most amazing a cappella achievements in many years.

In late 1997 the band, created by René Baños, Abel Sanabria and Reinaldo Sanler, included Jorge Núñez, Renato Mora and Oscar Porro. This artistic restructuring was executed in order to increase the musical quality of the band and to widen their potential, for example in the field of classical singing.

In 1999, the band went to Japan, Venezuela, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Isle of Reunion, Canada, Mexico and all over Europe. In October they made a special concert for the first “World Music Award” at the World Music Expo (Womex) in Berlin.

In February 2000 they recorded a new CD called “Cambio De Tiempo” and created a new show under the direction of Katina Genero (Italy). In August 2000, Vocal Sampling had a sold out performance at the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms late night concert. In December 2000, the band signed with Decca records for the international release of “Cambio de Tiempo” in 2001.


Una Forma Mas (1995)
De Vacaciones (1997)
Live in Berlin (1998)
Cambio de Tiempo (Decca, 2002)
Akapelleando (2008)


Artist Profiles: Vocal Baobab

Havana-based folklore group Vocal Baobab, taking their name from the Baobab, sacred tree of Africa, are known for their own highly individual take on Afro-Cuban chants and rumba.

Specializing in choral style arrangements, spiced up with the odd dash of more contemporary flavors such as reggae, their high energy performances are characterized by explosions of virtuoso dance, drumming and vocal improvisation.

Singing in Spanish and Yoruban, the seven performers of Vocal Baobab present a varied repertoire that connects their African roots with contemporary arrangements and rhythms, bringing out the afro in Afro-Cuban. Their work aims to preserve the spirit of the Yoruba and Afro-Cuban oral traditions.

With regular appearances at some of Havana’s most prestigious venues and at festivals all over the island, they were featured on Cuban television as one of the top folklore acts.

As well as attracting the commendation of esteemed authorities on Cuban culture throughout their career (Ros, Natalia Bolivar, Zenaida Armenteros, Corina Campos and Miguel Barnet) they have received accolades and played alongside luminaries in Cuban music such as Changuito, Compay Segundo and Mario Rivera (Mayito) of Los Van Van.


Artist Profiles: Vieja Trova Santiaguera

Vieja Trova Santiaguera

The original Vieja Trova Santiaguera quintet was the living embodiment of a musical tradition with roots in the nineteenth century. The five members of this group had been playing together as Vieja Trova Santiaguera only since 1994, but individually, they were an important part of the history of the bolero and son throughout the twenties, thirties, and forties.

Reinaldo Creagh, on lead vocals and claves, was a member of La Estudiantina Invasora, originally founded in 1927.

Pancho Cobas, guitar, vocals, and chorus, played virtually all his life and was a founding member of, among other groups, the Cuarteto Patria.

Aristóteles Limonta, the bassist, worked with La Orquesta de Chepín, with La Moderna Orchestra, with La Estudiantina Invasora, and the Cuarteto Patria, among others.

Amado Machado, vocals, maracas, and vocal improvisations, was also a member of both La Estudiantina Invasora and the Cuarteto Patria.

Reinaldo Hierrezuelo, tres, flute, vocals, and chorus, comes from a musical family, was one of the founders of the Cuarteto Patria, and played with Los Compadres – and virtually every other great musician in Cuba.

Vieja Trova Santiaguera was formed as a result of jam sessions at the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba, attended by an ever-changing and always exciting relay of musicians. They were first recorded as a group for a film documentary about Caribbean music, and shortly thereafter were invited to tour Spain, which resulted in this recording for Manuel Domínguez’s acclaimed Nubenegra label. All five had been retired from both regular musical performance and from their ‘day jobs’ (only Hierrezuelo was able to make a living playing music full time), and were living on their pensions. But the inspiration of playing together, of introducing whole new audiences to boleros, sones, guarachas, and cha cha chas as traditionally performed, undiluted by American influence, was enough to convince all five that retirement was boring. It’s clear that all of them were having the time of their lives, as one reporter wrote, “like five little boys with brand new shoes.”

While young musicians, both in Cuba and elsewhere, are again making music from the trova tradition a part of their repertoire, Pancho Cobas noted in an interview with El Diario in Spain that the “traditional trova is totally different from contemporary trova. To play traditional music, you have to be born to it, to have the right flavor; not everyone can play traditional music, because it’s not something that can be learned. There are young trovadores who have studied the music, but they haven’t reached into the essence of vieja trova. You have to be born, like the son montuno, in the country. The best musicians come, like the trova itself, from Santiago de Cuba.”

Even though the songs we sing were created fifty years ago,” said Hierrezuelo in an interview in Spain, “they are certainly not old songs; good music never gets old, it’s those who sing it who grow older.” They approached the rhythms of their native Cuba “simply, feeling it with our hearts,” and believed that traditional music is still alive and well in Cuba, despite having heard otherwise. They themselves rejected what Hierrezuelo referred to as “electronic abuse and the excessive innovations by young musicians.” Hierrezuelo was very clear on what makes great music. “Music is still the art of perfectly combining melody and rhythm. Being good or bad has nothing to do with the color of the crystal you’re using to look at it, but rather with the color of the crystal with which it is made.”

In an interview in Madrid’s El Pais, Hierrezuelo explained that the music selected for their recordings came very much from their roots. The songs are those all had performed at one time or another, and most of them knew many of the composers, such greats as Miguel Matamoros, Sindo Garay, Pepe Sánchez, among others. He responded to a question about the mixture of cultures and races in Cuba by saying, “Nature gave us the opportunity to be a hybrid which turned out to be better than the original. We are the product of both Africa and Spain, and Cuban music is born from this blend, and from the rhythms of both cultures. Nature made us your children (and I say this without vanity) made us prodigies; we’re delighted that we were good students and surpassed our teachers. The son is more than the essence of Cuban music, it is the music’s mother and father. The son was born in Santiago de Cuba’s rural surroundings, because it is a rural music, like montuno, which is from the mountains. The other genres arose from this, the bolero, the guaracha. To me the son is a wild, original musicthat’s why I love it so.”

Amado Machado, the oldest member of the group, died in October of 1998. He was the maracas player and the main singer of the group’s montunos.

The group retired in 2002, after an acclaimed tour of Spain. Its last concert took place in Madrid at La Riviera. Virgin Records Spain released a DVD in 2002 featuring music, discography, music videos and a documentary of the legendary band.


Vieja Trova Santiaguera (NubeNegra, 1994)
Gusto y Sabor (NubeNegra, 1995)
Hotel Asturias (NubeNegra, 1996)
La Manigua (Virgin, 1998)
Boleros de toda una vida (Warner Music Spain, 1999)
Domino (Virgin, 2000)
El Balcón del Adiós (Virgin, 2002)


Artist Profiles: Valle Son

Valle Son

Valle Son is a 7 piece group from the rural village of Viñales in the lush tobacco-growing highlands of Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province of Cuba, where most of them have been playing together for more than a decade.

In July 2000, Valle Son traveled to the Yukon (Canada) for a month-long tour. There they recorded their CD Son de Cuba at Old Crow Studio in Whitehorse, released on their imprint, Caribou Records- home to the Undertakin’ Daddies, Kim Barlow, and Anne Louise Genest.

Son de Cuba is rooted in the traditional son style, yet embodies a contemporary, hybrid sound. Driven by the clave rhythm, the music integrates elements of jazz and mambo to create a propulsive, vibrant groove.

Valle Son would have returned to Canada sooner, but a 2002 North American tour crumbled, with visa delays in the wake of 9/11.

In 2003, Valle Son returned to Canada for an extensive summer tour.


Artist Profiles: Tony Martínez

Tony Martínez

Tony Martínez is a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, composer and arranger with an intimate knowledge of even the most obscure Afro-Cuban rhythmic traditions.

The broad view of Martínez’ s musical vision and his uncanny ability to tap the perfect Cuban rhythmic spirit to complement his adventurous arrangements and soloing may be the result of his early exposure to his country’s folkloric traditions and the focus of his music education. Born and raised in the provincial Cuban city of Camagüey, far removed from the grandeur of Havana, Martínez began his formal study of classical music at the age of nine at a Camagüey conservatory, emphasizing saxophone, piano and voice.

Throughout his student years, the young musician participated in several local professional groups, specializing in traditional Cuban folk music. After receiving his music teacher’s diploma in 1987, he taught at the conservatory level and directed three ensembles that combined music and dance and concentrated on such time honored styles as rumba and son. Being thoroughly grounded in such elemental Cuban styles insured that when Martínez moved to Havana in 1990 to explore more contemporary styles, the soul of his ancestors’ music would remain central to his maturing personal style.

In Havana, he quickly made his presence felt, joining the progressive, jazz-influenced group Mezcla. His time in the Cuban capital was shortduring three tours with Mezcla to Europe for festival performances in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Holland, he became attracted to the continent’s cultural scene and recognized the presence of professional opportunities that would allow his artistic development to continue unrestricted.

Settling in Bern, Switzerland in 1993, Martínez quickly established himself as one of Europe’s most resourceful resident masters of Cuban music idioms, while his extraordinary talents as a saxophonist, flutist, keyboardist and band leader have attracted the attention of both jazz and Latin music lovers.


La Habana Vive (Blue Jackel, 1998)
Maferefun (Blue Jackel, 1999)


Artist Profiles: Ramon Valle

Ramón Valle

Ramón Valle (born 1964) was only seven years old when he began studying the piano at the Escuela Provincial de Arte in his home town of Holguin, Cuba. He graduated from Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Arte in 1984. His exceptional talent was discovered in 1985 when he performed in a double concert with fellow Cuban pianist, Emiliano Salvador, who died prematurely seven years later. As a solo artist and as leader of the jazz quartet Brujula, Valle appeared at numerous festivals (Mexico DF, Bogota, Havana Jazz Festival) and was soon an established name in the Cuban and Latin American jazz scene. In 1991 Silvio Rodriguez, founder of the Nueva Trova, asked him to join his band Di kara, which he stayed with until 1993.

The greatest talent among our young pianists.” Chucho Valdés, prominent musician and founder of Irakere, used these words to introduce Ramón Valle on his debut album Levitando (1993). On this first CD, Valle revealed himself as a pianist with a sound of his own. Although the influence of classical music and jazz, especially of the triumvirate Jarrett-Corea-Hancock can be heard, the remarkable thing about Valle’s music is his ability to weld these diverse influences to create a unique style that eludes traditional categories. Rather than being a pianist who plays Latin Jazz or Cuban Jazz, Valle is a Cuban jazz pianist. He produces pure, contemporary jazz. Although clearly present, his Cuban roots never form the basis of his pieces. In his own words, “I am a Cuban musician who falls within the category called ‘jazz’, but my music borders on many other musical forms. Sometimes I feel like a troubadour, because I tell stories, stories without words.”

When he first performed in Europe – invited by Barcelona’s Jamboree Jazz Club – critics were surprised by Valle’s virtuosity and technical perfection. After this European debut, Ramón Valle went on to great success at other European and Latin American venues. That same year saw the release of Piano Solo, his second CD. Comprised once again of his own compositions, it was characterized by great originality and powerful lyricism, but especially by Valle’s ability to evoke diverse atmospheres within a single composition. In 1998 Ramón Valle settled in Europe.

In 2002 Ramón Valle started to record for the German label ACT. That year saw the release of Danza Negra (ACT 9404-2) dedicated to the compositions of his famous fellow Cuban Ernesto Lecuona.

On his second CD with ACT, No Escape (2003), Ramón Valle not only made a name for himself as a composer of brilliantly unique music, but once again excelled as a Jazz musician beyond categorization. His own approach is, “not one hundred percent Cuban, but one hundred percent me, my trio.” As he himself likes to put it: “No Escape is the result of a conversation with my musicians. Music is talking, raising your voice, voicing your opinion. Every day when I sit down at the piano is another quest for new words, for my own voice.”


Danza Negra (ACT, 2001)
No Escape (ACT, 2004)
Piano Works IV: Memorias (ACT, 2005)
Fabulas (Budapest Music Center, 2008)
Playground (RVS, 2009)
Flashes from Holland (RVS, 2011)
Take Off (In + Out, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Son 14

Founded in 1978 by Tiburon (The Shark), one of Cuba’s leading soneros, Adalberto Alvarez and Lázaro Rosabal, Son 14 was one of the most important acts in Latin America for cultivating son. Son 14 means there are 14 in the band and this is a pun on the genre known as ‘son’. The band recorded over 12 albums and have toured France, Great Britain, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Monte Carlo and the USA. They headlined with Oscar_D’León, Grupo Niche, Fania All Stars and have reached number one in the charts in 11 Latin American countries (Colombia: 26 weeks at number 1). They have also won several music awards in their 21 years of existence.

Cubanía, Son 14’s second album for Tumi Music was a well timed album. When the appetite for Cuban music was just beginning, Cubanía delivered the perfect combination of uptempo big band son mixed with salsa elements, a strong horn section and some of Cuba’s best vocalists including Tiburon, whose distinctive hoarse voice, ingenious grace and clever improvisations all distil the true essence of son. Tiburon’s credentials can be obtained by the likes of Félix Valera Miranda who mentions Tiburon every time he talks about son and also Juan de Marcos as he is forever asking him to join his band!

La Máquina Musical, Son 14’s third album for Tumi was received to great acclaim during 1999 and the release was followed by a highly successful and well publicized British tour of 28 dates. Son 14 was a stunning big band with charisma and power.