Tag Archives: Puerto Rican music

Artist Profiles: El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico

El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico began after the breakup of the Combo de Rafael Cortijo in 1962. At the time, several former members met with Rafael Alvarez Guedes, a business manager, with the purpose of forming amusical group that would accompany Dominican singer Joséito Mateo in a recording for the Gema label. The album, titled Meneame los mangos (Shake my mangos), featured Rafael Ithier, Eddie Pérez, Hector Santos, Kito Velez, Martin Quiñones, Miguel Cruz and Roberto Rohena. The group, baptized then by Alvarez Guedes as El Gran Combo, met again to set the foundation of what would be one of the most prestigious nationally and internationally.

After a stormy beginning, the quality of their musicians opened the doors to WIAC radio, where they started a show together with Fidel Cabrera. Little by little, they became better known in Puerto Rican homes. On May 26 of they that year they made their first public presentation at the Bayamón Rock and Roll club. Later they moved over to WKAQ, where the group had its TV debut on “La Taberna India (The Indian Tavern). They later played at La Concha Hotel, in a tribute to Rafael Cortijo.

After that, singer Chiqui Rivera left the group and Sammy Ayala recommended a young man from Trastallares named Junior Montañez as a replacement. During his premiere, at WKAQ, the singer performed a number that impressed several of those who were present, including Felipe “LaVoz” Rodríguez, who told him that there were too many ‘Juniors’ in the business and that he should change the name for “Andy.” Since then,and for the next 15 years, Andy Montañez, became a legendary figure in Latin American music. After that, Roberto Rohena returned and stayed with the Combo for seven years, before leaving permanently to create his Apolo Sound.

Two days before the murder of President John F. Kennedy, the group’s first album, Acángana, came out. The island was in mourning and the producers of the album, the brothers Alvarez Guedes, stopped the distribution in Puerto Rico and sent the recording to Panama, Venezuela and Mexico, where it got considerable airplay. Afterwards, it arrived to New York and finally to Puerto Rico, where it reached gold status.

The following year, El Combo performed in New York City forthe first time. There, they had a great success at the top dance halls,including the Palladium Ball Room, the Bronx Casino, the Manhattan Center and The Caborrojeño. From there, other doors were opened in Curacao, Panama, Santo Domingo, Venezuela, Colombia and the rest of the American continent, where their songs reached the top of the charts. During that time the Combo acquired so many fans, that soon they were given an exclusive contract with the Puerto Rican TV show “El Show de las 12,” produced by Paquito Cordero.

The excess of publicity through the TV screen shrank the demand for the group at dance halls and public and private celebrations,because the fans enjoyed their music daily from their arm chairs. The album sales declined and so did the bookings. After recording LPs, in 1967 the group won its second “gold album” for Boogaloo con el Gran Combo.

Two years later, the group’s stability was at stake. Several musicians left and joined the ensemble. Roberto Rohena and Elias Lopes left el Gran Combo. They were replaced by Baby Serrano and Edwin Cortés. Later, Hector Santos and Victor Pérez also left, and they were replaced by José Duchesne and Mike Torres. Mike left and was eventually replaced by Tommy Sánchez. Soon after, Edwin Cortés left and Gerardo Cruz joined the group, staying for ten years. In spite of the difficulties, the members were able to get along and”Los mulatos del sabor” became popular again.

The decade of the 1970s began with other changes. Milton Correa left and Miguel Marrero joined El Gran Combo. Mike Ramos joined the band and Mike Torres left. He was replaced by Alfredo (Taty) Maldonado. In spite of the renovation, the orchestra continued winning followers and that year they received yet again the “Momo de Oro, the top Venezuelan award, for best international orchestra. The group had achieved international fame.

Representatives of several record labels entered into conversations with El Gran Combo, but they did not prosper. Gema did not renew their contract. Without a record company the orphaned group took the difficult decision of producing its own albums. To do this, Andy had to mortgage his home for $7.000 payable in 30 days. That’s how the EGC label was born. Its first release was Estamos primeros, El Gran Combo (We Are first, the Gran Combo).

In 1971 the combo added the trombone, skillfully played by Epifanio (Fanny) Ceballo, who remained with the group until he died of cancer in 1991. The first release with the new sound was De punta a punta. It included the classics “Don Goyo,” “Achilipu” and “Le dicen papá.”The following year Record World Magazine gave them the award for “El Combodel Año” (Combo of the Year) and they also won the Gold Album Festival in Miami. A little later, singer Pellin Rodríguez left to pursue solo projects. Hewas replaced by Marcos Montañez, Andy’s brother. Marcos stayed with the group for about six months, until he was replaced by sonero Charlie Aponte.

One of the group’s founders, bassist Miguel Cruz left in1975 due to health reasons. He was replaced by Fernando Pérez. The following year, El Gran Combo’s members were declared “Honorary Citizens of New Orleans”and in 1977 they won the Presidential Cup of Venezuela for best international musical group. Sadly, that year other members left. Martin Quiñones retired and Andy Montañez received an offer to sing with Dimension Latina in Venezuela.Substituting Andy was difficult, but they found the right voice in the talented Jerry Rivas.

Many doubted the new singers, but the doubts soon vanished with the recording of “El Gran Combo en Las Vegas,” winner of a gold album in 1978.

The decade closed with other important rewards, including an acknowledgment from the Festival of Bomba and Plena of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. The new decade began with yet another gold album, “Aqui no se sienta nadie” (No One Sits Down Here); as well as a successful trip to Peru. The following year El Gran Combo received the Calendario de Plata (Silver Calendar) in Mexico, a traditionally difficult market to conquer.

Upon turning 20 years old, El Gran Combo received multiple national and international recognition, including “El Congo de Oro”from Colombia, a Resolution of the Puerto Rican Senate and another from the town of Dorado, as well as a Paoli Prize. Two years later El Gran Combo took its music c to the cold lands from Alaska, where they lit the atmosphere with the heat of their rhythm. They celebrated the visit with Breaking the Ice – El Gran Combo en Alaska, nominated for a Grammy. That year they won another Paoli Prize and the radio station Z-93 dedicated its First National Salsa Day to Rafael Ithier. By then,  El Gran Combo had conquered countries like England,Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, Japan and the United States.

In 1982 came in a historical concert in the Madison Square Garden, where they celebrated their Silver Anniversary in front of a packed audience that intoned standing “Happy Birthday.” Other accolades followed: “The Guayaquil Luminoso” from Ecuador, the “Premio Aplausos a la Mejor Orquesta,” a Resolution by the Puerto Rican House of Representatives, another by the town of Bayamon and a proclaim by the town ofJuncos, among others. Five years later El Gran Combo celebrated its 30th anniversary with a series of festivities that included a softball game with current and legendary Major League baseball stars as well as guest artists like Victor Pellot Power, Rubén Sierra and Gilberto Santa Rosa.

The tributes continued in Madrid (Spain), where they held a big celebration and got wide press coverage. Upon their return, the Senate of Puerto Rico honored them and passed a resolution called Embajadores de Nuestra Musica (Ambassadors of Our Music).” But the people of Puerto Rico had its biggest celebration at the Hiram Bithorn stadium in front of thousands of loyal fans who enjoyed the musical history of the “Mulattos del Sabor,”together with Andy Montañez, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Jerry Rivera, Alex D’Castro,Johnny Ventura and La Sonora Ponceña. Two months there was another tribute at the Puerto Rican convention center.

In 2006, they released Arroz con Habichuela (“Rice and Beans”) which featured three hit singles: “No Hay Manera” (“There’s No Way”), the title song, and “Si la ves por ahí”.

On August 9, 2013 founder Eddie “La Bala” Perez died.

On December 12, 2014 the lead singer Charlie Aponte retired.

On January 24, 2015 Anthony Garcia became lead singer, replacing Aponte. Later in 2015, El Gran Combo received the Latin Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


Menéame los Mangos, el Gran Combo con Joseito Mateo (Gema Records, 1962)
El Gran Combo… de Siempre (Gema Records, 1963)
Acángana (Gema Records, 1963)
Ojos Chinos, Jala Jala (Gema Records, 1964)
El Caballo Pelotero (Gema Records, 1965)
Traigo un Tumba’o, Meneíto Me (Gema Records, 1965)
El Swing del Gran Combo con Pellín y Andy (Gema Records, 1966)
En Navidad (Gema Records, 1966)
Maldito Callo (Gema Records, 1967)
Esos Ojitos Negros (Gema Records, 1967)
Fiesta Con El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1967)
Boleros Románticos (Gema Records, 1967)
Tú Querías Boogaloo, Toma Boogaloo (Gema Records, 1967)
Pata Pata, Jala Jala Y Boogaloo (Gema Records, 1967)
Boogaloos Con El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1967)
Tangos (Gema Records, 1967)
Merengues (Gema Records, 1968)
Guarachas (Gema Records, 1968)
Bombas, Bombas, Bombas (Gema Records, 1968)
Los Nenes Sicodélicos (Gema Records, 1968)
Latin Power (Gema Records, 1968)
Smile, It’s El Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1968)
Este Si Que es el Gran Combo (Gema Records, 1969)
Estamos Primeros (EGC Records, 1970)
De Punta a Punta (EGC Records, 1971)
Por el Libro (EGC Records, 1972)
En Acción (EGC Records, 1973)
5 (EGC Records, 1973)
Disfrútelo Hasta el Cabo! (EGC Records, 1974)
7 (EGC Records, 1975)
Los Sorullos (EGC Records, 1975)
Mejor Que Nunca (EGC Records, 1976)
Internacional (EGC Records, 1977)
En Las Vegas (Combo Records, 1978)
¡Aquí No Se Sienta Nadie! (Combo Records, 1979)
Unity (Combo Records, 1980)
Happy Days (Combo Records, 1981)
Nuestro Aniversario (Combo Records, 1982)
20th Anniversary (Combo Records, 1982)
La Universidad de la Salsa (Combo Records, 1983)
In Alaska: Breaking The Ice (Combo Records, 1984)
Innovations (Combo Records, 1985)
Nuestra Música (Combo Records, 1985)
Y Su Pueblo (Combo Records, 1986)
25th Anniversary (Combo Records, 1987)
Romántico y Sabroso (Combo Records, 1988)
¡Ámame! (Combo Records, 1989)
Latin Up! (Combo Records, 1990)
20 Grandes Éxitos (Discos Fuentes, 1990)
Erupción (Combo Records, 1991)
¡Gracias!: 30 Años de Sabor (Combo Records, 1992)
30 Aniversario: Bailando Con el Mundo (Combo Records, 1992)
First Class International (Combo Records, 1993)
Puerto Rico: La Ruta del Sabor (Combo Records, 1994)
Para Todos los Gustos (Fonovisa Records, 1995)
The Best (Sony Discos Norte, 1995)
Por Todo lo Alto (Fonovisa Records, 1996)
16 Boleros (Discos Fuentes, 1996)
35th Anniversary: 35 Years Around The World (Combo Records, 1997)
Pasaporte Musical (Combo Records, 1998)
Nuevo Milenio: El Mismo Sabor (Combo Records, 2001)
40 Aniversario en Vivo (BMG, 2002)
Estamos Aquí…¡Y de Verdad! (Sony Discos Norte, 2004)
Arroz Con Habichuela (Sony Discos Norte, 2006)
Sin Salsa No Hay Paraíso (Sony Discos Norte, 2010)
50 Aniversario, Vol. 1 (EGC Records, 2013)
Alunizando (EGC Records, 2016)


Plena Libre to Celebrate Hispanic Heritage in New York and Raleigh

Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated Puerto Rican ensemble Plena Libre will be performing Sunday, September 16, 2018 at SOBs in New York City and Sunday, September 23 at La Fiesta del Pueblo in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The New York performance will be the opening concert of the World Music Institute’s 2018-2019 season. Plena Libre combines traditional Puerto Rican rhythms with modern Afro-Caribbean influences, and folkloric musical roots with contemporary compositions.

The band led by Gary Núñez uses a hard-hitting horn section, master frame drum players, and lush three-part vocal harmonies.

Plena Libre’s mosr recent albums include: Más Libre (RykoLatino, 2000), Estamos Gozando! (Times Square, 2004), Evolucion (Times Square, 2005), Plena Al Salsero (Times Square, 2008), Corazón (Gn Musica, 2012) and Amores en el Camino (Gn Musica, 2017).

Sunday, September 16, 2018, 8:00 p.m.
204 Varick St, Manhattan
Tickets: $20

Sunday, September 23, 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
La Fiesta del Pueblo
City Plaza, Fayetteville St. Raleigh, NC


Admired Saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón To Release New Single Milagrosa on August 10, 2018

Miguel Zenón – Milagrosa

Celebrated Puerto Rican saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón will release the single Milagrosa, introducing Zenón and the Chicago-based innovative Spektral Quartet on August 10, 2018.

The single is extracted from the upcoming album Yo Soy la Tradición, an ambitious concert-length work that draws upon the rich folk music traditions of Puerto Rico and expressed through the modernist lens of Zenón’s compositions.

The inspiration for “Milagrosa” comes from the religious practice of La Promesa, making a promise to La Virgen de La Milagrosa (Our Lady of Grace).

Commissioned by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival, Yo Soy la Tradición is a collection of eight works for alto saxophone and string quartet that showcase Zenón and the Spektral Quartet.



Next Zenón and Spektral Quartet Performances

Friday, September 21 -Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center, Chicago, IL. Benefit concert for hurricane relief.
Saturday, September 22 – Ripon College, Ripon, WI
Wednesday, November 14 – UMASS Amherst, Amherst, MA
Thursday, November 15 – Villa Victoria Cultural Center, Boston, MA
Friday, November 16 – Kennedy Center Jazz Club, Washington, DC


Masterful Puerto Rican Percussion Labyrinth

Hector “Coco” Barez – “El Laberinto del Coco” (Hector “Coco” Barez, 2018)

“El Laberinto del Coco” is the first solo album from virtuoso Puerto Rican percussionist Hector “Coco” Barez. He has compiled his numerous musical influences (including his work as percussionist for Calle 13 and Bacilos) over a rich foundation of Afro Puerto Rican rhythms called bomba.

The album features a wide range of genres, bridging tradition and contemporary music, from rootsy Afro Puerto Rican pieces to energetic Latin jazz, fusion, powerful rock, irresistible funk and cosmopolitan world music in the form of Middle Eastern and Australian aboriginal musical influences. While most of the album is highly engaging and features masterful percussion performances, fiery brass and superb guitar work, two of the tracks include rapping which is an increasingly annoying vocal form.

Hector “Coco” Barez invited friends from Puerto Rico, the United States, Spain and France’s Reunion Island to participate in the album.



The lineup on the album includes Héctor”coco” Barez on percussion; Amarilys Rios on vocals; Chamir Bonano on vocals; Kiani Medina on vocals; Ellen Cockerham Riccio on violin; Tressa Gold on violin; Kimberly Ryan on viola; Schuyler Slack on cello; Tobias “Toby” Whitaker on trombone; Bob Miller on trumpet; John Lilley on saxophone; JC Kuhl on baritone saxophone; Abiud Flores on bass; Edward Prendergast on bass; Derrick Englert on bass; Todd Herrington on bass; Ben “Wolfe” White on keyboards; Efrain Martinez on drums; Kelli Strawbridge on drums; Reggie Pace on beatbox; Edmer Omi Lebron on electric guitar; DJ Williams on electric guitar; and Andrew Rapisarda on electric guitar.



Buy the El Laberinto del Coco digital download or the CD from ellaberintodelcoco.bandcamp.com/releases


Sublime Salsa by Juan Pablo Díaz

Juan Pablo Díaz – Fase Dos (Juanpi Música, 2016)

Vocalist, songwriter and actor Juan Pablo Díaz is one of the rising talents of Puerto Rican salsa. Fase Dos showcases his talent as a singer and songwriter. The songs on Fase dos feature a wide range of salsa arrangements, from irresistible dance numbers inspired by classic salsa, Cuban son and rumba and Puerto Rican folk music to timeless, nostalgic boleros with lush strings.

It’s not easy anymore to break into the salsa field. Major labels and corporate stations are pushing tiresome commercially-driven reggaeton and hip hop in Puerto Rico so new talents like Juan Pablo Díaz are a welcome addition to the music scene in the Caribbean island.

As a songwriter, Juan Pablo Díaz has demonstrated he’s one of the best lyricists in new salsa as well. He covers topics that range from love to social conscience issues like greed and migration. His delivery reminds me of the great salsa maestro Rubén Blades.

The album features a large cast of superb musicians, including formidable percussion and brass sections.

Fase Dos is a superb salsa album featuring the exceptionally expressive and memorable vocals of Juan Pablo Díaz.

Buy Fase Dos


Extraordinary Plena Journey

Plena Libre – Amores en el Camino (Gn Musica, 2017)

Plena Libre, one of the great Puerto Rican bands rooted in tradition is back with another outstanding recording titled Amores en el Camino. The 12-piece powerhouse combines captivating rhythms like plena and bomba with jazz, salsa and global music elements.

The album opens with “Puerto Rico,” a song dedicated to this beautiful island that has suffered so much recently. This song signifies the Puerto Rican melting pot, where Afro-rooted traditions meet the Spanish poetic and guitar tradition in the form of the cuatro guitar, performed by guest Christian Nieves.

Amores en el Camino contains songs by band leader, bassist Gary Núñez and a new generation of plena songwriters.

On Amores en el Camino you’ll find other remarkable guests such as trumpet meaestro Luis “Perico” Ortiz and the steel drum from neighboring Trinidad and Tobago.

Amores en el Camino (Love’s Journey) received support from the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña and the National Endowment for the Arts.

With Amores en el Camino, Plena Libre demonstrates that it’s a the forefront of Puerto Rican music, showcasing the best of the island’s musical traditions.

Buy Amores en el Camino


Miguel Zenón to Perform Benefit Concerts for Puerto Rico

Miguel Zenón – Photo by Jimmy Katz

Renowned saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón is set to perform with the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, featuring Fred Harris, music director, and clarinetist/composer Evan Ziporyn in benefit concerts celebrating the resiliency of Puerto Rican people.

The concerts will take place Friday, March 2, 2018 at MIT in Cambridge, MA; and Saturday, March 3 at Hunter College in New York City.

All funds raised will be donated to the Puerto Rico Recovery Fund.


Christmas in El Barrio with Los Pleneros de la 21 in New York City

Los Pleneros de la 21

Puerto-Rican music ensemble Los Pleneros de la 21 is set to perform Christmas in El Barrio on Sunday, December 10, 2017 at Kumble Theater in Brooklyn, New York City.

Los Pleneros de la 21 draw from Puerto Rican traditions in music and dance, including the drum driven bomba and plena. Christmas in El Barrio celebrates community, family, and cultural identity.

The current lineup includes Juan Gutiérrez, Camilo Molina Gaetán, Julia Gutiérrez-Rivera, Nelson Matthew González, Nicholas Laboy, Zaccai Curtis, Alex Apolo Ayala, Iván Renta, Hommy Ramos, Flaco Navaja, Karenly Nieves, and Gabo Lugo.


iLe of Calle 13 to Perform in Miami Beach, Donations for Puerto Rico will be collected during the Event

Ileana “iLe” Cabra, the young vocalist of Puerto Rico’s acclaimed band Calle 13 is set to perform on Thursday, November 2, 2017, at North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach. The Rhyhm Foundation will be collecting donations for Puerto Rico at this concert.

Ileana will be presenting her new album titled iLevitable featuring exquisitely-crafted boleros, folk songs and Latin jazz standards.



Items Most Needed For Puerto Rico:

Water Filters and Purifiers

Personal Hygiene Products

Babies – wipes, etc
Feminine products
Men – shaving cream, etc
Cotton swabs, tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, deodorant, shampoo, soap, etc.

Basic Medications

First Aid Kits
Vitamins for Babies, Children and Adults
Over the counter medicines for Babies, Children and Adults

Basic Products And Portable Solar Energy

Solar powered lanterns, radios and chargers
Hand fans

Non-Perishables, Canned Goods

Low sodium
Canned fruits
Baby formula, baby food

iLe in Concert
Thursday, November 2, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave, Miami Beach
Tickets $27.50 + fees – Available Online


Artist Profiles: Yomo Toro

Yomo Toro – Photo by Verna Gillis/Soundscape

Yomo Toro, a cultural icon for 50 years, was one of Latin music’s most beloved musicians. Victor Guillermo Toro was born on July 26, 1933 in the Guarnica province of Puerto Rico in Ensenada, where a statue of him now stands in the town square.

He began learning cuatro with his father and during his teens performed with many popular and folkloric groups. He moved to New York in 1956, and throughout the ’60s played with such groups as Ramito and Los Panchos.

From the late ’60s through the mid-’70s he hosted a TV show on Channel 41. In 1970, he joined Willie Colon and Hector Lavoe in recording the classic Asalto Navideño, a groundbreaking album that combined New York salsa with traditional Puerto Rican Christmas music and became one of the best-selling salsa albums of all time.

He was a member of the famed Fania All-Stars, which included such artists as Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe, Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentin, Roberto Roena, Ray Barretto, Larry Harlow, Cheo Feliciano, and Ismael Miranda, and toured with the band throughout the world.

Yomo Toro

He appeared on more than 150 albums, including over 20 solo albums for Fania, Island, Rounder and Green Linnet Records. He has recorded with such stars as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Linda Ronstadt, David Byrne, and Marc Anthony, made several cross-cultural albums, and worked on the soundtracks of Woody Allen’s Bananas and Crossover Dreams.

In his last years he performed with Larry Harlow and the Latin Legends Band and appeared in the off-Broadway show Sofrito! In addition to performing, he was an accomplished songwriter, particularly of romantic ballads.

In 2012, several press releases came out in June, confirming that Yomo Toro was severely ill, suffering from kidney failure due to many years of high blood pressure.

Yomo Toro died on Saturday, June 30, 2012 at 11:40 pm after more than a month in a New York hospital due to kidney failure.


* Asalto Navideño
* The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, with Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe (Fania, 1975)
* Funky Jibaro (Polygram, 1988)
* Gracias (Mango, 1990)
* Las Manos de Oro (Xenophile Records, 1995)
* Celebremos Navidad (Protel, 1996)
* Celebrando Navidad (Ashe Records, 1999)
* Romantico (1999)
* Musica del Mundo Entero (2000)
* Alma de Ramito (Fania, 2000)
* El Espiritu Jibaro (The Jibaro Spirit), with Roswell Rudd (Sunny Side Records, 2007)
* 24 Canciones Inolvidables de R. Hernandez (Combo, 2008)
* La Herencia (Fania, 2008)