Tag Archives: Cuba

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.


Artist Profiles: Sindo Garay

Sindo Garay

Sindo Garay was born April 12 of 1867 in Santiago of Cuba. He was the main figure in traditional Cuban trova. Garay was an extraordinary artist because he did not study music, but he managed to compose pieces of unquestionable formal perfection, and contributed new sounds to the trova style of his time.

Self taught, Garay learned how to read and write by copying posters from commercial establishments. He composed his first song at 10 years of age. It served as a connection to patriotic the Cubans in the last war against Spanish colonialism (1895-1898). He traveled to several nations in the Caribbean and South America. He also spent three months in Paris, in 1928, performing Cuban songs.

After the triumph of the popular revolution in his country (1959), he received numerous tributes. Sindo Garay passed away in Havana the 17 of July of 1968, and by personal request he was buried in Bayamo, a city towards which Sindo Garay always showed a special affection. Some of his most famous compositions are La tarde, Perla marina, Rendido, Retorna, Labios de grana, Clave a Maceo, El huracan y la palma, Tardes grises and Mujer bayamesa.


Artist Profiles: Septeto Santiaguero

Septeto Santiaguero

Septeto Santiaguero was founded in 1995, by members of Melodías de Ayer, a group formed in the early 1960s, together with the Estudiantina Invasora and the Cuarteto Patria, had for over three decades animated many a day and night at the Casa de la Trova in Santiago de Cuba.

In 1993 and 1994 a number of young musicians from other septets, such as Sones de Oriente and Septeto Luz, joined Melodías de Ayer and Fernando Dewar, a tres player, took over the leadership of the group. Seeking to return to their roots, they decided to give up the mambos and stick to the discipline of the traditional septet: guitar, tres, bongo, clave, maracas, acoustic bass and trumpet, with the addition of the drum, which they retained in honor of Arsenio Rodríguez. In the Santiago de Cuba style, the two singers maintain the first and second harmony with equal emphasis.

Despite the fact that the group was eight in number, they retained the name Septeto Santiaguero because of the way they perform the son, the bolero, the guaracha, the guajira, and the guaguancó, which are completely rooted in the septeto sound. Together they created a group that preserves and pays homage to one of Cuba’s most important musical forms, with a vitality demonstrating that the septeto tradition is still fresh and alive in Santiago de Cuba today.

Fernando Dewar, musical direction, tres and backing vocals
Rudens Matos, guitar, backing vocals, occasional solo vocals and choreography
Pedro Antonio Rodón (Tony), solo vocals and claves
Inocencio Heredia (Chencho), solo vocals and maracas
José Delgado (El Pepe), bongos, tumbadora and cowbells
Adolfo Aguilera, bass
José Alberto Rodríguez, trumpet


Septeto Santiaguero
Para Los Bailadores: En Directo Desde Galapagar (Nubenegra, 1997)
La Pulidora (Nubenegra, 2000)
La Chismosa (Nubenegra, 2002)


Artist Profiles: Septeto Nacional

Septeto Nacional

Cuban son was definitely forged in 1927 when Ignacio Piñeiro founded the renovating Septeto Nacional. Piñeiro lived in Havana from 1888 to 1969, earning his living with odd jobs, as a stevedore, a cigar roller, a carpenter, the kind of work you do if you grow up in Pueblo Nuevo, the black quarter of the city. Even as a child, Ignacio Piñeiro sang in choirs and played drums with the Afro-Cuban cabildos. Then he formed his own first line-up, Los Roncos, the Hoarse Ones, for which he composed choir music.

In 1926 he played bass with the Sexteto Occidente, whose leader was María Teresa Vera. Piñeiro traveled to New York with this sextet and on his return to Havana he immediately set about making history with son: in 1927, together with the trovadores Juan Ignacio de la Cruz Hermida, Bienvenido León Chacón and Alberto Villalón, who until then had performed as a trio, plus the tres player Francisco González and José Manuel Incharta on bongos, he founded the Sexteto Nacional – under contract to Columbia Records in Havana, who had been eagerly searching for a band capable of competing with the Sexteto Habanero, who were under contract to RCA Victor. Not only did Piñeiro write countless sones for his sextet, which became a septet only a few months later with the cornet player Lázaro Herrera, he also played bass in the new line-up. Piñeiro took the traditional sound of son, based on vocals percussion and strings and modified it by adding a trumpet for the first time as a lead instrument.

The Septeto National played around the clock on all Havana’s radio stations and gave concerts on public squares and in theaters. The capital city was raving about the new sound – a son cubano, certainly, but not the simple form brought from Santiago to Havana by the trovadores, but more refined, with a cornet and artistically arranged harmonious parts, strongly syncopated and eminently danceable, like Piñeiro’s greatest hit “Échale salsita”- this son is regarded as the original form of salsa. In 1932 George Gershwin traveled to Cuba and happened to turn on the CMCJ radio station when the Septeto Nacional were playing Piñeiro’s sones. Gershwin visited Piñeiro and the two men became friends. Gershwin studied Piñeiro’s sones and even cited “Échale salsita” in his own “Cuban Overture.” But other Septeto Nacional hits had also become part of the classic repertoire of nostalgic son line-ups and modern salsa bands: for example “No jueges con los Santos” (“There’s no playing with the Gods”), a half-joking, half-earnest warning about respecting the Afro-Cuban gods, an early musical demonstration of black consciousness.

In the late 1920s, Havana’s dance enthusiasts witnessed a musical sparring match for which there is no comparison in the history of Cuban music. For two whole years, the Sexteto Habanero and Piñeiro’s Sexteto Nacional (when Piñeiro enlarged his sextet into a septet, the Sexteto Habanero did likewise) confronted one another in the form of three simultaneous recording sessions – a master performance in terms of strategy and psychological warfare, especially as the two sextets, or septets, worked with one and the same lead singer: Abelardo Barroso, also called “the great Caruso”. Even their repertoires were identical in parts. The mulatto Abelardo Barroso had been singing with the Sexteto Habanero since 1925, that is to say, with Ignacio Piñeiro’s competitors. For Barroso, this had been his fourth attempt to make something of his life; he had tried his hand as a chauffeur, a boxer and a pelota player, and had failed each time. But there was still music, and it was as a singer that Abelardo Barroso finally got lucky. In the end, Barroso became an idol as the acclaimed lead singer in the two most renowned son line-ups.

In spring 1929, the Septeto Nacional had a brief moment of victory over their competitors, when they were selected to travel to the Ibero-American Fair in Seville and perform son at the Cuban pavilion. Spanish audiences fell in love with Cuban son and Septeto Nacional became a celebrity

In 1933, the Septeto Nacional was invited to the “Century of Progress” World Exposition in Chicago, where they not only gave concerts but also made records and were awarded a gold medal. The group had a new new singer, Marcelino “Rapindey” Guerra. At that time, Piñeiro recorded the hit song “Echale salsita”.

The Septeto Nacional’s turn-over in musicians was so fast that one scarcely knew who to expect on stage when the Septeto Nacional was finally announced.

Founder Ignacio Piñeiro left the group in 1935. The septet had to assert itself against the competition of innumerable son ensembles. Despite all the concerts and radio broadcasts, the musicians earned very little, and Piñeiro gave up for financial reasons.

Lázaro Herrera took Piñeiro’s place, but the Septeto Nacional could only keep its head above water for another two years; the famous septet was disbanded in 1937.

In 1940, the singer and sonero Miguelito Valdés brought the septet together once again for a recording session.

Septeto Nacional resurfaced again in 1954, when radio producer and musicologist Odilio Urfé encouraged a reunion. Septeto Nacional came back, led once more, by its founder, Ignacio Piñeiro and it included many of its original musicians and singers. The group performed for television that year. At that time, the cha cha chá held sway over the dance halls, and the existing son orchestras had long since expanded into conjuntos, with a strong wind sectio. The “home-made” sound of the old son septets, with only one cornet, sounded outmoded, out of fashion.

It was some years before audiences rediscovered the nostalgic sound of the 1920s. After the Revolution of 1959, the Septeto Nacional was upgraded and the musicians from the original line-up (Lázaro Herrera and Bienvenido León) invited for interviews. The Septeto was able to record several LPs and performed, above all, in the traditional Casas de la Trova. In the course of time, the Septeto Nacional line-up became younger. The new musicians, however, had no difficulty in imbuing the unbeatable charm of the old sones with new spirit.

The third generation of the Septeto National can certainly stand up to comparison with the legendary band’s original line-up. All the musicians are excellent instrumentalists and inspired soneros, who play the fresh-sounding arrangements by band leader Ignacio Esteban Aymé Castro, otherwise known as “Richard”, as if a time machine had catapulted the original Septeto from the beginning to the end of the twentieth century.


Septeto Nacional De Ignacio Piñeiro (Areito, 1965)
Sones Cubanos (Areito, 1969)
Mas Cuba Libres (Network Medien, 1999)
El Sabor De La Tradicion (Ferment, 2005)
Glorias De Cuba (West Side Latino Records, 1976)
Soneros Mayores (Areito, 1979)
Clasicos Del Son (1987)
Soneros De Cuba (Real Rhythm, 1999)
¡Sin Rumba no hay Son! (World village, 2010)


Artist Profiles: Rubén González

Rubén González

A maestro musician whose piano playing in the 1940’s helped invent the pre-Castro Cuban sound as we know it today, Rubén González had in recent years virtually stopped making music. He suffers from arthritis, and no longer owns a piano.

Born in Santa Clara in 1919, González was one of a trio of pianists who developed the mambo and embraced modern jazz harmonies in the 1940s in his native Cuba. González also developed his own very distinctive style during this fruitful period of music in Cuba. In 1996 González was invited to come out of retirement to play first with the Afro Cuban All Stars, and then with Ry Cooder on the Buena Vista Social Club album. The very next year, González released his first solo album at the ripe age of 77, after more than half a century in music.

Introducing Rubén González was released in September 1997 to widespread critical acclaim, and González has since been pictured in both TIME Magazine and The New York Times.

After working with González on the Buena Vista Social Club project, Ry Cooder proclaimed González as “the greatest piano soloist I have ever heard in my life. He’s like a Cuban cross between Thelonius Monk and Felix the Cat.”

He died in December of 2003.


Rubén González (Areito, 1975)
Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 1997)
Introducing…Rubén González (World Circuit, 1997)
A Toda Cuba le Gusta, with Afro-Cuban All Stars (World Circuit, 1997)
Chanchullo (World Circuit, 2000)
Todo Sentimiento (Yemayá Records, 2004)
Buena Vista Social Club at Carnegie Hall (World Circuit, 2008)
Lost and Found, with Buena Vista Social Club (World Circuit, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Roberto Carcassés

Roberto Carcassés, also known as Robertico, graduated in percussion from the Escuela Nacional de Arte, in 1991. He toured as a pianist with the “Grupo de Santiago Feli” in Argentina, Germany and Spain between 92 and 95. He also took part on a tour in Spain and USA with the group Columna B, between 98 and 99. He taught at Stanford University, in the Jazz Workshop for two years (98-99).

He was invited to perform at the following festivals: Jazz Festival in Barcelona (97), Festival de La Habana (95,96,97) and Utah Jazz Festival (98). He recorded the CDs: “Trampas del tiempo” (Pavel y Gema) for Nube Negra Records, “Jazz Timbero” (Bobby Carcasses) for Tummy Music Records, “Columna B” for Mambo Music, Selma Reis for Velas Records. He composed the soundtrack to the film “Violetas” (Mexico), 1997. He also composed some songs for the movies “Cuarteto de La Habana” (Spain) and “New Rose Hotel” (USA).

He participated as a collaborator with the following personalities: Chucho Valdés, Gonzalito Rubalcaba, Changuito, Winton Marsalis, George Benson and Harper Simon. His most recent disc is The Cuban Jazz Project: Roberto Carcassés “Invitation” for the recording company Velas Records.

Roberto Carcassés is another excellent surprise from the current Cuban musical scene. Today Roberto takes form as a pianist and musician in the most ample sense of the word. The CD Roberto Carcassés “Invitation” is part of the series “The Cuban Jazz Project Invitation” is a sample of the many aspects of his musical capacity. Roberto assembled for the recording the best musicians from this generation of Cuban music, like the brilliant trumpet player “El Indio” and the sax players César López and Alfred Thompson of the famous Irakere Band.

Roberto is the son of Cuban jazz legend Bobby Carcasses.


Invitation (Velas, 2000)


Artist Profiles: Rey Caney

Rey Caney

Reinaldo Hierrezuelo La O, better known professionally as Rey Caney, was a Cuban singer, guitarist and tresero. He was born December 30, 1926 in Santiago de Cuba. Rey Caney led the essential Cuarteto Patría for some time.

Rey Caney was one of Cuba’s musical celebrities. Together with his brother Lorenzo he formed the duo named Los Compadres that toured around the world. Caney was also a member of the Sonora Matancera, sharing his voice with Celia Cruz and Celio González. He used to be Beni Moré’s replacement at the “Alibar” Havana cabaret.

Caney performed in the U.S with Arsenio Rodríguez, Machito and Joe Valle.

Rey Caney was a co-founder of La Vieja Trova Santiaguera.

He died on February 23, 2016 in Havana, Cuba


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: Reinaldo Creagh

Reinaldo Creagh

Reinaldo Creagh was born on July 9, 1918 in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba.

During many years, Reinaldo Creagh was the leader of one of Santiago de Cuba’s legendary bands La Estudiantina Invasora. He was one of the founders of the Vieja Trova Santiaguera and its more representative voice and unique personality.

At the beginning of 1999, when he turned eighty years old, Reinaldo released his first solo CD titled “Boleros de toda una vida” (A whole life’s Boleros) which received critical acclaim. During his live performances he traveled through history’s most important boleros.

Reinaldo Creagh died on November 16, 2014 in Santiago de Cuba.


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)