Tag Archives: Puerto Rico

Artist Profiles: Hector “Tito” Matos

Hector “Tito” Matos

Hector “Tito” Matos is a Puerto Rican percussionist who specializes in the traditional Puerto Rican rhythms, bomba and plena. His extensive work have taken him to stages and festivals all over the world playing with bands such as Pleneros de la 21 and Pleneros de la 23 Abajo.

He is considered to be one of the best requinto players of his generation. The requinto is the pandereta (tambourine, originally from Spain) that constantly improvises in plena. He has appeared in recordings by some of the most recognized Latin jazz musicians such as Eddie Palmieri’s Rumbero del Piano and David Sanchez’ Obsesion.

In 1997, while living in New York City, he founded Viento de Agua and recorded De Puerto Rico al Mundo, their first album as a band. The group modernized the traditional rhythms by including piano, bass, a brass section and, for the first time ever, a drum set. They released a second album with a more traditional approach, under the Smithsonian Folkways record label. Materia Prima is a back to the roots album featuring the genres, bomba and plena, with their original sound using only the traditional instruments.

Discography:

De Puerto Rico al Mundo (Qbadisc, 1998)
Materia Prima (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2004)
Fruta Madura (2009)
Opus IV (2013)
Sonidos Primarios (2015)

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Artist Profiles: Gilberto Santa Rosa

Gilberto Santa Rosa

Salsa star Gilberto Santa Rosa was born August 21, 1962 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He made his first recordings for Combo Records, the label of El Gran Combo’s maestro Rafael Ithier. Starting in 1990 he began achieving enormous success with his great shows in San Juan, which would become his trademark.

In 1995, El Caballero de la salsa (the gentleman of salsa) signed with the Sony label and from that time many of his CDs became gold and platinum. Gilberto Santa Rosa is one of salsa music’s superstars and a popular bolero singer as well.

Discography:

Perspectiva (Discos International, 1991)
A Dos Tiempos De Un Tiempo (Sony Discos, 1992)
Nace Aquí (Columbia, 1993)
Tres Con Cache (Bronco, 1993)
De Cara Al Viento (Sony Tropical, 1994)
En Vivo Desde El Carnegie Hall (Sony Tropical, 1995)
Escencia (Epic Records, 1996)
…De Corazón (Sony Discos, 1997)
Salsa Sinfónica En Vivo Teatro Teresa Carreño Caracas (Sony Discos, 1998)
Expresión (Sony Discos, 1999)
Romántico (Sony Discos, 2000)
Intenso (Sony Music, 2001)
Viceversa (Sony Discos, 2002)
Solo Bolero (Sony, 2003)
Auténtico (Sony Discos, 2004)
Asi Es Nuestro Navidad (Sony, 2006)
Directo Al Corazón (Sony Discos, 2006)
Contraste (Sony Music, 2007)
Irrepetible (Sony Music Latin, 2010)
Gilberto Santa Rosa (Sony Music, 2012)
Necesito Un Bolero (Sony Music, 2014)

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Artist Profiles: Zaperoko

Zaperoko was formed in the early 1980s when a trombonist named Edwin Feliciano visited Cuba to perform with a leading salsa orchestra of the time. The effect of hearing a relatively new rhythm called Songo, pioneered by Juan Formell and his groundbreaking ensemble Los Van Van, sent the impressionable young musician racing back to his home in Puerto Rico to explore some of the ideas that had been already forming in his mind.

The outcome of this meditation resulted in a group called Zaperoko and a debut album released by Montuno Records in 1983 called Cosa De Locos. Produced by Rene López, one of the most admired men in the history of Latin music, this album helped pioneer the genre which today is called World Music.

Zaperoko joined forces with another band, Los Pleneros del Truco, to form Truco & Zaperoko.

Discography:

Zaperoko (Montuno Records, 1983)
Zaperoko II (Montuno Records, 1986)
Tarde En La Noche (Zap’s Records, 1989)

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Artist Profiles: Willie Rosario

Willie Rosario – Photo by Gerald López Cepero

Fernando Luis Rosario Marin was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico, on May 6th, 1930. He studied guitar bass, and saxophone encouraged by his mother. His family moved to New York when he was 16 years old. Willie Rosario studied journalism and public relations, but music soon became his profession.

Willie Rosario started his band in an era where there was fierce competition amongst the revered bands of the late 1950’s such as Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, Jose Curbelo, Orlando Marín, Joe Cuba, Alfredito, Cesar Concepción, Moncho Lena, Cortijo y su Combo, Vicentico Valdez, and last but not least, the venerable and worshipful, Machito and his Afrocubans.

The environment in which Willie Rosario developed as a bandleader instilled in him a sense of discipline and professionalism which he has maintained to this day, but the characteristic most associated with Willie Rosario is the Swing or solid rhythm section which is geared to the dancer, the rhythm section is complemented by a unique brass section comprised of four trumpets and a baritone sax, the only salsa band with this type of brass section.

The list of hits by the Willie Rosario is as impressive as the names of his well-known singers: De barrio obrero a la quince”, Chango Ta veni”, Lluvia”, Busca el Ritmo”, Amor Clasificado”, “Botaron la pelota”, “Atizame el fogon”, “El Apartamento” and many others. Puerto Rico Caribbean

Discography

El Bravo Soy Yo! (1963)
Fabuloso y Fantástico (1966)
Latin Jazz a Go-Go-Go (1967)
Two Too Much (1967)
Haida Huo (1968)
Boogaloo y Guaguancó (1968)
El Bravo de Siempre (1969)
De Donde Nace el Ritmo (Inca Records, 1971)
Más Ritmo (Inca Records, 1972)
Infinito (Inca Records, 1973)
Otra Vez (Inca Records, 1975)
Gracias Mundo (Inca Records, 1977)
From the Depth of My Brain (Top Hits, 1978)
El Rey del Ritmo! (Top Hits, 1979)
El de a 20 de Willie (Top Hits, 1980)
The Portrait of a Salsa Man (Top Hits, 1981)
Atízame el Fogón (Top Hits, 1982)
The Salsa Machine (Top Hits, 1983)
Nuevos Horizontes ( Bronco, 1984)
Afincando ( Bronco, 1985)
Nueva Cosecha ( Bronco, 1986)
A Man of Music ( Bronco, 1987)
The Salsa Legend ( Bronco, 1988)
Unique ( Bronco, 1989)
Viva Rosario! ( Bronco, 1990)
The Roaring Fifties ( Bronco, 1991)
Tradición Clásica (NRT, 1993)
¡Sorpresas! (Tiffany Records, 1995)
Back to the Future (HMS Records, 1999)
La Banda Que Deleita (Gennara Records, 2006)
Evidencia (Gennara Records, 2016)

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Artist Profiles: William Cepeda

William Cepeda – Photo by Susanne Moss

William Cepeda was born in Loiza, a small coastal town in Puerto Rico renowned for its adherence to West African-derived customs and culture. Cepeda grew up immersed in the dynamic traditions of bomba and plena, the island’s two most distinctive folkloric styles.

In his evolution as a musician, Cepeda has thoroughly explored both contemporary Latin and jazz styles, working with and gaining the respect of such famed leaders as Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Paquito D’Rivera, David Murray, Donald Byrd, Slide Hampton and Lester and Joseph Bowie.

His work with the D’Rivera-led United Nation Orchestra further exposed jazz fans around the world to a brawny, technically brilliant trombone style that places him in the vanguard of contemporary stylists on this most demanding of instruments.

My Roots & Beyond features Cepeda in the company of such celebrated fellow Puerto Ricans as percussionist Bobby Sanabria, bassist John Benítez, both noted for their Latin jazz abilities and cuatro player extraordinaire Yomo Toro, an early exponent of the island’s jíbaro (countryside) music and a legendary figure from the heyday of salsa in the seventies. .

“Traditional Puerto Rican music isn’t heard that much outside of the island and it’s a shame. We have a very strong music. By using a variety of instruments and the wealth of jazz resources, I have brought this rich tradition to another level, to a wider audience but also to a new level of feeling, more in line with the experience of today. I’m putting a little fire into it, with the result, I hope, of offering a dynamic and beautiful music for many, many people to enjoy.”

Discography:

My Roots And Beyond (Blue Jackel Entertainment, 1998)
Bombazo – Grupo Afro Boricua (Blue Jackel Entertainment, 1998)
Expadiendo Raices – Branching Out (Blue Jackel Entertainment, 2000)
Unity (Casabe, 2007)
Live at Montreux Jazz Festival (Casabe, 2007)
Ando Vacilando (Casabe, 2008)

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Artist Profiles: Truco y Zaperoko

Truco y Zaperoko

Several decades ago, two groups were formed in Puerto Rico. Outwardly, they had little in common but as fate would have it they eventually discovered each other’s unique talents and became a group which is simply without parallel in both concept and execution.

Truko and Zaperoco were two separate bands that fused into one entity. Their trademark is the deliberate fusion of folklore with a progressive and danceable Latin ensemble, for which they received a 2004 Grammy Nomination for their album Musica Universal. The band has also been voted the most exciting live act in Puerto Rico, as well as receiving huge accolades from and touring with such legends as Andy Montañez and Gilberto Santa Rosa.

For two decades, Truco, led by Hector Valentin, was recognized as one of the leading ensembles in the history of Bomba y Plena, the traditional music of the Afro-Puerto Rican people. The distinguishing characteristic of Plena is the battery of three handheld drums which loosely resemble the tambourine in design. Each drum is pitched differently and played by a different member, the ensemble effect is stunning when left in the hands of men like the Maysonet Bros. who are the core of the Truco ensemble. The other distinguishing element are the group harmonies that these men engage in while playing these complex rhythmic passages. Bomba y Plena is in general music of celebration and this spirit of alegria (happiness) informs every note that is played by this inspired organization and its humorous and profound leader, Hector Valentin.

Zaperoko was formed in the early 1980s when a trombonist named Edwin Feliciano visited Cuba to perform with a leading salsa orchestra of the time. The effect of hearing a relatively new rhythm called Songo, pioneered by Juan Formell and his groundbreaking ensemble Los Van Van, sent the impressionable young musician racing back to his home in Puerto Rico to explore some of the ideas that had been already forming in his mind. The outcome of this meditation resulted in a group called Zaperoko and a debut album released by Montuno Records in 1983 called Cosa De Locos. Produced by Rene López, one of the most admired men in the history of Latin music, this album helped pioneer the genre which today is called World Music.

These two groups -among the greatest in any genre- come together every few years to record an album and present a very few special live concerts, where music fans are treated to one of the best fusions of folkloric and dance music in the world today.

Discography:

Fusión Caribeña (Ryko Latino, 1999)
Musica Universal (Libertad Records 2003)
En Plena Rumba (Lujuria Music, 2008)

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Artist Profiles: Tito Gómez

Tito Gómez

Salsa singer Tito Gómez was born April 9, 1948 in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico although he became an adopted son of Colombia.

Tito Gómez was a veteran sonero, recognized internationally as a gifted singer with a spectacular voice. After making his name during a five-year stint with the great Puerto Rican institution Sonora Ponceña, Tito Gómez left in 1973 for a brief time with the breakaway La Terrifica. Thereafter, a couple of albums with Ray Barretto in 1975 and 1976 further raised his profile.

Tito returned to Ponceña in 1978 and went on to work with Tito Valentin, Venezuela’s La Amistad, Charlie Palmieri, La Terrifica, Rubby Haddock and Colombia’s legendary Grupo Niche before successfully resuming his solo career in 1991, creating several successful productions with Tito Rojas.

Tito Gomez delivered power non-stop old school salsa and mambo, pitched high, with the mix favoring the upper register.

He died June 11, 2007 in Cali, Colombia.

Discography:

Fuego En El 23! (Inca Records, 1969)
Para Gozar Borinquen (Inca Records, 1977)
Tierra Musica y Sentimiento (Nuestra Records, 1979
Brujerias (Nuestra Records, 1982)
Un Nuevo Horizonte (Musical Productions, 1991)
Agradecimiento (Zeida, 1993)
Recogiendo Frutos (Musical Productions, 1995)
Volver (Musical Productions, 1997)
Quien Nos Iba A Decir (Envidia, 2000)
Comenzando (En cero Musical Productions, 2004)
La Herencia (Fania, 2012)

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Artist Profiles: Tito De Gracia

Tito De Gracia

Rafael Angel ‘Tito’ De Gracia was born on April 4, 1962 in Villa Palmeras, Santurce, Puerto Rico. He began playing the tumbadoras at 5 years of age and at 12 he was already playing the bongos and the timbales. He also studied the trumpet from 14 to 16 years old. In his early adolescence, he joined the band Los Chiquitines del Son as a percussionist, directed by renowned guitarist Max Torres.

From 1978 to 1980, he played the timbales with the salsa band Maldades, lead by pianist Archie Pereira. Later, from 1980 to 1982, he played the tumbadoras with saxophonist Hector Lopez’s orchestra San Juan, recreating the music of Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. From 1982 to 1984, Tito continued to play the tumbadoras with the Panamericana orchestra, under the direction of trumpetist Carlos ‘Coamito’ Rodriguez.

In 1984, due to his consistent and brilliant performances, Tito De Gracia, was signed with the company Latin Percussion. From 1985 to 1990, he joined bongo player Roberto Roena’s Apollo Sound orchestra playing the timbales and also singer ‘Cano’ Estremera’s orchestra, in this case first playing the bongos and later the timbales.

From 1990 to 1999, Tito played the timbales with Andy Montañez’s orchestra and from 2000 until today he performs with singer Michael Stuart’s orchestra, where he plays a combination of timbales and drums. From 2002 until today, he has also performed with the band Truco y Zaperoko and with Rumbantela.

Tito De Gracia has recorded and performed with various bands in several music genres, joining great contemporary music figures like Mark Anthony, Willie Colón, Celia Cruz, Oscar De León, Luis Enrique, Trina Medina, Ismael Miranda, Andy Montañez, Jerry Rivera, Eddie Santiago, Ricardo Arjona, Chayanne and Franco de Vita, pianist Papo Lucca, flute players Nestor Torres and Dave Valentin and with trumpetist Humberto Ramirez and Tego Calderón. Tito began to perform as group leader in 1996 with his 7 Knights and since 2003, directing his Naoka Jam, with whom he recorded his debut album My Latin Roots (ONC Records).

In 2003, Tito De Gracia performed in Carolina, Puerto Rico (2003) in the kettledrum player’s concert, where he was presented an Official Proclaim and he also performs in the film Habana Nights, filmed in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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Artist Profiles: Nestor Torres

Nestor Torres

Nestor Torres was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in 1957. He took flute lessons at age 12 and began formal studies at the Escuela Libre de Música, eventually attending Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University. At 18, he moved to New York with his family. “That’s where I first developed my improvisational skills as a charanga (Cuban dance music) flutist,” he says. “In charanga, the flutist improvises a great deal – the focus of his solos are to make people dance. Even when I play today, my approach is still very rhythmic and melodic.”

Torres went on to study both jazz and classical music at the Mannes School of Music in New York and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, among other places.

He moved to Miami in 1981, and signed with PolyGram, where he released Morning Ride in 1989. His major label debut climbed quickly to the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts and soon brought him widespread acclaim. Tragedy struck a year later when an accident in a boat race left him with eighteen fractured ribs, two broken clavicles and a collapsed lung. His record company dropped him, he and his wife divorced, and his home was nearly repossessed.

A longtime practitioner of Nichiren Buddhism – a branch of Buddhism with roots in 13th-century Japan – Torres says the ordeal “taught me that no matter how difficult and hopeless my situation seemed, my life was fine. It was not about ‘Why me?’ but rather ‘Okay, this is what I must deal with and overcome now…so let’s go!'”

An outpouring of sympathy followed from the South Florida community, including a benefit concert staged by a local radio station and individuals who stepped forward with money to save Torres’ home. “An appreciation for life and a realization that we are all interconnected is the greatest legacy of that experience,” he says. “I also learned firsthand about the value of the people behind the scenes – the nurses, my family and friends, and especially my fans. Were it not for them, I would not have been able to overcome this difficult situation.”

Torres began the long recovery process and released Dance of the Phoenix in 1990. In 1994, he recorded Burning Whispers for Sony. His Latin-jazz composition ” Luna Latina” was nominated in 2000 for a Latin Grammy. A year later, he won a Latin Grammy for This Side of Paradise. “Of course it was a great honor and privilege to win the Grammy,” Torres reflects. “That being said, the fact that I was to receive it on 9/11 gave my work and my music a stronger sense of mission and purpose. Terrorism and violence come from ignorance, anger, arrogance and hopelessness. Music and culture inspire and empower; they soothe the human heart and enlighten the spirit. I have made it my prime point to create music and live my life as an artist and a human being in a way that does just that.”

Mi Alma Latina: My Latin Soul, a compilation of Latin standards was released in 2002. Torres’ Heads Up debut, Sin Palabras (Without Words), released in March 2004, features a re-working of the Latin classic “Contigo Aprendo,” the Alejandro Sanz hit “Regálame La Silla Donde Te Esperé,” and nine original tunes. In addition to Torres’ fine musicianship, the album features a number of talented producers, including James Lloyd (from Pieces of a Dream) on seven tracks, Carlo Pennisi from Miami and Jimmy Haslip (of Yellowjackets).

Carlo has a very fresh sound and a European sensitivity that appeals to me a great deal,” Torres says. “Jimmy, Danny and Baby Boy are a unique writing team with an impressive and impeccable pop music approach. James Lloyd is a master. His work with Pieces of a Dream has consistently been on top of the charts. Plus, he’s a great producer and a lot fun to be around.”

Torres has worked with everyone from Tito Puente to Gloria Estefan and many contemporary jazz greats. He still performs at benefit concerts all over the world, but especially in his adopted hometown of Miami. Recently, he returned to the Escuela Libre de Música in Puerto Rico as a judge at their first juried music competition. And he still gives master classes to students.

These types of activities are wonderfully rewarding and fulfilling,” Torres says. “I enjoy people, I enjoy serving and consider it a blessing to be able to make a difference.”

Discography:

Puro Sabor (Polydor, 1978)
Morning Ride (Verve Forecast, 1989)
Dance Of The Phoenix (Verve Forecast, 1991)
Burning Whispers (Sony Latin Jazz, 1994)
Talk To Me… (Sony Discos, 1996)
Treasures of Heart (Shanachie, 1999)
This Side Of Paradise (Shanachie, 2001)
Mi Alma Latina – My Latin Soul (Shanachie, 2002)
Charanga Caliente (En Descarga) (Envidia, 2003)
Sin Palabras – Without Words (Heads Up International, 2004)
Dances, Prayers, & Meditations For Peace (Heads Up International, 2006)
Nouveau Latino (Diamond Light Records, 2008)
Del Caribe, Soy! Latin American Flute Music (Naxos, 2017)
Jazz Flute Traditions (Alfi, 2017)

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Artist Profiles: Nelson González

Nelson González

Born in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico on May 30, 1948, Nelson González is distinguished for his mastery of the Cuban tres guitar. This traditional instrument is indispensable to the interpretation of ‘Son’, the most popular form of Cuban dance music.

His love of Puerto Rican and Cuban music developed at an early age and was nurtured in New York City, where he arrived at the age of 12. During the 1960s, many of today’s acclaimed and virtuoso Latin musicians convened regularly at the home of Andy and Jerry González to participate in weekly ‘jam sessions’. Nelson joined these young and notable musicians that included talents such as Dave Valentin, Hilton Ruiz, Oscar Hernández, Milton Cardona, Nicki Marrero, Tommy López, Jr., Eladio Pérez, Charlie Santiago, Papo Vásquez, Orestes Vilato, and the powerful voices of Adalberto Santiago, Willie Garcia, Justo Betancourt and Virgilio Martí. It was during this period that Nelson explored his interest in the tres.

Nelson’s attraction to the Cuban tres was initially driven by its reputation as a formidable challenge to achieve technical mastery. The tres guitar is comprised of three sets of double strings and is known for the degree of technical difficulty it imposes in order to generate a full chord from a limited number of strings. His first tres was borrowed from Andy González and it marked the beginning of his journey with an instrument that represents the richness and tradition of Cuban folklore.

Essential to his development was René López, musicologist and leading authority on Cuban music. Through him, Nelson learned the fundamentals and history of Cuban music. He used the recordings of Arsenio Rodriguez and ‘El Niño’ Rivera, two masters of the tres guitar and pioneers of the Cuban ‘son’, to guide his training. Their genius and the ‘descarga’ of Israel López Cachao strongly influenced Nelson’s music style and skill in incorporating the Tres to the rhythm of the drums. Inspired by the paucity of tres players in Latin America and the Caribbean, Nelson vowed to preserve tradition through his dedication to this instrument and is regarded by Cachao as the ambassador of the tres.

His first opportunity as a performer in the Latin music scene was in 1971 as a member of the Justo Betancourt Band. He later played with Orq. Harlow during which time he developed a close friendship with Ismael Miranda that later served to create Orq. Revelacion and soloist for the band. During the 1970’s, Nelson recorded with all of the top Latin bands including Charanga Típica Ideal and two international recordings with African Charanga groups. He was invited to join Grupo Folklórico Experimental Nuevayorquino and in 1972 joined Típica ’73 for four years. After its dissolution he served as a founding member of Los Kimbos with Adalberto Santiago. He formed his own band in 1976, Nelson González and his Band and recorded two albums, with one produced by the TR (Tito Rodriguez) Record label.

Nelson has won five Grammy Awards for participation on the following albums: Cachao Master Sessions I ,Cachao Master Sessions II, Gloria Estefan’s Mi Tierra, Gloria Estefan’s Alma Caribena, and Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri’s Masterpiece.

His other accomplishments include: winner of the ‘Best Salsa Band In Latin America’ Award for Tipica ’73 at the Primer Festival Mundial de Salsa in 1976; winner of the 1977, 1978 and 1979 ‘Best Tres Player of the Year’ Award from Latin NY Magazine.

He has made numerous television appearances and his performances throughout Latin America, Europe and the United States span 25 years. Nelson formed part of Danny Rivera’s band, who is regarded as the National Voice of Puerto Rico. He also collaborated with and co-directed three of his albums, one of which won the “Tu Musica” Award in 1997 (Hágase La Luz.) His indispensable contribution to the Broadway Musical production, The Capeman. and member of the guitar and string ensemble, led to friendship with composer and musical director Paul Simon that will inevitably lead to future collaboration. He has served as a guest artist with the singer, La India. He toured with Grammy Award winner Marc Anthony, and he and his band Son Mundano headlined as the opening act for Marc Anthony’s October 4th 2000 Oscar De La Hoya Foundation benefit concert in Los Angeles.

His album Son Mundano, honors Cuban roots, integrating a particular Puerto Rican style that strengthens their musical-spiritual bond.

Nelson González played in 5 Grammy Award-winning albums: Mi tierra by Gloria Estefan (1993); Master Sessions Vol I by Cachao (1994); Master Sessions Vol II by Cachao (1995); Alma Caribeña by Gloria Estefan (2000); and Masterpiece by Tito Puente and Eddie Palmieri (2000).

In 2005 he published the book Tres Guitar Method (Mel Bay).

Solo Discography:

Son mundano (Discos Orbe, 1977)
Pa’ los Treseros (Agogo, 2001)

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