Monday, December 18, 2006

Interview with Gregorio "El Goyo" Hernández

El Goyo with Rumberos de Cuba, January 2004, singing "Mayeya" in duo with Juan de Dios Rámos. (Credit: Rumberos de Cuba Press Kit)

Continuing our celebration of El Goyo's 70th birthday last November 17, we publish here an interview by Patrice with the Master himself, conducted during the Stage International course at Tournai, Belgium, in August 2005.

Goyo is the usual professor of afro-cuban dance at this training course. He talks here about the transition of rumba from a purely spontaneous event limited to the "solar" to a more organized presentation, with the appearance of professional groups, real "agrupaciones of rumba", at the beginning of the 1950's. He also explains the importance of the first commercial recording of rumba, in 1956, "El Vive Bien" by Alberto Zayas y su Grupo Foklórico (aka Lulu Yonkori), the success of which he says inspired the creation of other groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

PATRICE: So, I would like for you to talk more about the history of the old groups, after Clave and Guaguancó, who were first, you told me.

GOYO: Yes. The first was Clave and Guaguancó. The first one after the coros de clave disappeared.

P: The coros de clave?

G: First were the coros de clave and later the coros de guaguancó: El Paso Franco, Los Rapidos Fiñes, Los Roncos, there were a series of groups, I can't remember them all, because they are stories that aren't... But there were a series of groups, that disappeared around the 1950s.

P: They existed already from the beginning of the 20th century...

G: "Yes. Then, later Clave y Guaguancó was formed. Either later or along with the coros. I don't have this well defined, because the date which they give for the beginning of this group came from the director, Flor de Amor. The current director, Amado Dedeu, asked Flor de Amor, and he replied, "I don't remember well, but I know that it was around World War II." And so from that we figure it to be 1945. Of course the War did not last just one year. So when it was it? The beginning, the end? And so they just say around 1945.

Later in 1953 — and this date is correct — Odilio Urfé formed the Coro Folkórico Cubano. And then later, in 1956...

P: The Coro Folkórico recorded a disc, but later, right?

G: Yes, they recorded a disc called "La rumba y la conga." I have a cassette of that, it explains the rumba and the conga. But they say that was made for the label Gema, a North American company. But it was a Long-Play and was not distributed in Cuba, I think because they weren't confident it would sell.

Cover (detail) of "Guaguancó Afro-cubano" Panart LP-2055

And so what does Andrés Castillo do? He's head of production at Panart [the first Cuban label]. And that lets him decide what to do. So he decides to do this number, "El vive bien." And that was a huge success. [Senen Suárez attributes responsibility for this recording to Panart owner Ramon Sabát. - Ed.]

So then what happens? It's wasn't like today in Cuba: if you want to promote a song you have to go on the radio, on TV... Back then you had to make little record, and then put it on the juke boxes. You made your own record. You went into the studio and left with your own disc in hand. There are discs that were bad. They are mounted [crossed] in the clave and they stayed like that.

So you got a few friends together, and you bought a little rum and they didn't pay you anything to record. Until recently in Cuba, for the official recordings, you were paid ten pesos per hour. So you wanted to make your record, you got a few friends together and said, "Let's do it!" And so everybody began to make their own little record. And thanks to the juke boxes that record ["El vive bien"] became a hit, a "boom," it was on all the jukeboxes, and then on the radio, on TV. And then you start to get the rise of the other groups, like Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

P: But in Alberto Zayas' record there are members of the Coro Folklórico, right?

G: Yes, part of that group is on there. It was like a section of that group.

P: Maximino Duquesne was part of the Coro Folklórico...

G: Yes, Maximino is an old rumbero, excellent rumbero. You know they call him "El Moro Quinto." At that time the group was called "Lulu Yonkori." Then later when they made the LP it came out with the name "Coro Folklórico Cubano." So all these groups started forming, and then little by little started disappearing because later they didn't record much. They didn't record anything. The Muñequitos had a time when they disappeared. Yes, you never heard the song that goes, "De nuevo aquí tienen a Los Muñequitos..."?

You see all these groups started dying out around the 1960's. Fariñas (Pedro Celestino) was in the Muñequitos, (and left them) because he earned just 150 pesos a month, and came to live in Havana... How could he stay there? And he had a good spot, he was in the tres-dos. Chacho (Ricardo Llorca), a friend mine who also was in the Muñequitos, he also had leave, he didn't earn enough. And all those groups that came up started disappearing:Los Hijos Buenos, Los Distintos, Los Principales, Los Tercios Modernos, Los Parragueños...they all disappeared.

I was in Los Tercio Modernos, with Juan de Dios [Ramos] "El Colo," Maximino Duquesne, José Antonio, Carlos Quinto and Miguelito [?], who now both live in Chicago, Zorrín, who no longer plays professionally, Pipi who is in the US...the group lasted until about 1961.

P: The Muñequitos had a time when they disappeared...

G: Yes, and they came back with the rumba:

"De nuevo aquí tienen a Los Muñequitos
Ahora sí es verdad que aparacerion, aquí están."

This song is part of that story, there were rumors, people started to talk.

Note: Goyo is referring here to the Muñequitos' song "Oyelos de Nuevo" (Florencio Calle), first recorded in the early '60's (?). The complete lyrics are:

“Un día yo salí de mi casa, de mi casa
Con la mente muy entretenida
Después yo fui sorprendido
con cosas que aquí se dan.
De nuevo aquí tienen a Los Muñequitos.
Ahora sí es verdad que aparecieron
¡Aquí están!
Veni' para que aprecien su valer
No les temen a la calumnia
Ni les sorprenden la injuria, aquí están
Los Muñequitos en la calle, hablen habladores."

"One day I left my house
in a happy state of mind
But I was soon suprised
by everything that goes on around here.
Here they are, the Muñequitos are back!
Now it's really true, they've appeared. Here they are!
Come and appreciate their greatness.
They aren't afried of lies,
Or surprised by the insults.
Here they are!
The Muñequitos are back on the street,
go ahead and gossip all you want."

G: So, Amado [Dedeu] came in as director of Clave y Guaguancó and he changed everything about Clave y Guaguancó. That group was for maintaining the tradition.

P: You mean, of the coros de clave and the coros de guaguancó.

G: Exactly. And they had this style that they didn't have later: they worked with
cajones. That's it. Cajones. Dressed in white, with alpargatas [espadrilles].

VIDEO: Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó performing a yambú in the traditional style, with cajones, on Cuban TV, probably 1970's.

G: I have a recording of them from back then at home. They had Agustín Gutiérrez, Miguel
Angel "Aspirina" [Mesa], Chano, the Chano of Malanga.

Conjunto de Claves y Guaguancó, probably c. 1967

P: And in Matanzas it happened just like in Havana, Matanzas had its groups too?

G: No, Matanzas did not have groups. The Muñequitos de Matanzas were formed as a result of the success of "Lulu Yonkori," and later Afrocuba de Matanzas. Also Folkloyuma, in Santiago de Cuba.

(Note: Typical year given for the founding of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas is 1952. - Ed.)

P: Folkloyuma is an old group too?

G: Yes. But all these groups came up after Lulu Yonkori. Look, the group that endured, with
difficulties but endured, was Clave y Guaguancó. They designated them as cultural patrimony, same for the Coro Foklórico Cubano. So then they began to get a guaranteed fixed salary.

Odilio Urfé worked with those groups but soon started working in tourist places like the Sans Souci, the Tropicana, he had the power to get into those places. I remember the revue "Van Van Iroko" in the 1956 until 1958 in the Sans Souci. A ton of the best musicians from the street started working in those revues. It was the best work group could get, you had guaranteed pay.

(L-R:) Ignacio Piñeiro, Marina Sánchez, Estela Rodríguez & Ana María García after a Coro Folklorico Nacional show in the sixties. (Credit: Liner notes, Coro Folklórico Cubano, "...en un solar habanero," EGREM CD 0424)

Like Emiliano Sanchez, like...the late Estela Rodríguez, I don't remember all of them, my head is getting old and I forget the names! The Romay Sisters [Mercedes and Juanita], Marina [Sánchez] (1920-2002) played saxophone with Anacaona and left to join the Coro Folkórico. Because Odilio Urfé, Mr. Odilio Urfé always had them working, making money.

P: And the people who became famous in the United States, like Julito Collazo or Mongo Santamaría, they were famous rumberos then?

G: Yes, but those people... look, Cuban folkloric rumba occurred first in the United States than in Cuba. And those people who left for the US, were already well-known timberos here.

P: Mongo recorded one of the first Cuban folkloric discs in the US, which had one rumba. He then recorded a second in 1955, called “Changó” (LP Tico 1149), re-released in 1978 as “Afro-cuban Drums & Chants” (LP Vaya 56), with 4 rumbas. Then in the 1960's he put out a third album, “Bembé” (LP Fantasy 8055), re-released as a compilation (with an album of cha-cha-chá) under the title “Our Man in Havana.” This one has that rumba that goes:
"El agua límpia, límpia, límpia todo
El agua también límpia la lengua
de la gente"
Do you know that one?

G: I don't know it. I do know Mongo was very successful there, I met him in 1980, when he came to Cuba. (Listens to a recording of "Para Ti Colega")

P: That is an old number...That is not of the disc "Bembé", but... it must be more recent. I don't know who's on that recording.

G: See? This number is sung with chorus.

P: Hmm?

G: The song is sung as a chorus. Not by a single voice, but a chorus. That's the influence from the first coros de guaguancó.

P: So then after 1960 the groups started to record again. In the 1970s the Muñequitos came back?

G: Well, the Muñequitos... the exact date when they came back I couldn't tell you. But I know that they returned again, the story is this: they say that there was a guy named Lorenzo Martínez [Composer of "Los Beodos." - Ed.] who was the one who moved it, who kept everything, but... Virulilla was was a chapista (metal-worker) [Actually an electrician - Ed.] he went back to working at that... Goyito Seredonio [?] who just died, and Diosdado, who became director. It comes from those times and he was very young when he joined the group and added a pair of dancers. So Odilio Urfé also puts in his group a pair of dancers.

P: And you were telling me that the Muñequitos formed listening to the disc "El vive bien."

G: That's what gave them the idea them to start their own group.
Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, c. 1956(?)

P: Who were the people that formed the first group of the Muñequitos?

G: If you ask me to name each one I don't think I could tell you. They were Ernesto Torriente, Juan Bosco [Mesa], Saldiguera [Esteban Lantrí], Virulilla [Hortensio Alfonso], Goyito Seredonio [Gregorio Díaz], Angel Pelladito, "Chachá" [Esteban Vega]...

P: Florencio Calle?

G: Florencio Calle, the director "Catalino," there were eight of them.

P: Then they began to compose...?

P: Who?

G: Rumba?

P: No, the compositions were made, chico.

P: All of them?

G: All that was done already. The only one that composed rumbas especially for records was Alberto Zayas. But back then it wasn't necessary to write rumbas for your record. In 1950's there wasn't that. Because, in the 1950's in Cuba, there was rumba every day in the street, every day and every week there was rumba. Because the rumba formed spontaneously.

P: There was rumba in lots of places?

G: I mean, spontanteously, without thinking about it: "Hey what's up? Have you heard the new rumba from Tío Tom?" "Which one?" "That one that goes "Los cubanos son rareza..."
Along comes another guy, he takes the clave, boom! boom! Here comes the cajones y se formaba la rumba!

It was like that, because there were places in which every Sunday there was a rumba.
I used to go to Arroyo Nuevo [Municipality about 5kms south from 10 de Octubre and Santos Suárez]. I knew that every Sunday there was a rumba at the Calderon's place. I lived in El Moro, so I would go over to Luyanó, where the Calderones lived. Or if not there, to the solar El Marinero, there were lots of places that had rumba every week.

P: And the famous solar "La Cueva del Humo"?

G: La Cueva del Humo is not a solar. La Cueva del Humo was a marginal district. Like Las Yaguas. It was not a solar. There were three districts in Havana like that. La Cueva del Humo, Las Yaguas and Isla de Pinos. Very poor places... people living with dirt floors, no bathroom, nothing. I have a film at home, "De cierta manera," (dir. Sara Gómez, 1974) [that shows how life was there back then].

That was a saying we had back then. In Cuba always there is a style of greeting, that comes from the people, "¿Qué volá, asere?", "No, aquí, de cierta manera, (in a certain way)". And later, "Give me a drink, no hay má' na´..." ("there's nothing else...").

The popular language of the street is like that. The women, for example. There was this rumba that says:

"Soy cubano y quiero a cuba
y muero por mi bandera
y te canto guaguancó
de la región matancera
La Habana es la cabecera
Como capital bendita
En ella se encuentra todo
Lo que Uds. necesitan
Desde un pollo zalamero
que le alegre el corazón
desde el alto magistrado
que dirige la nación"

Have you heard that one? It says "un pollo zalamero," what does that mean to you?

P: I don't know...

G: A pollo zalamero, that's how they called the women, like "Wow, what an flattering chicken!" "A beautiful woman!" then they said "aleja" then "jeba" and now they say "mango" - "You see that mango over there?" That's the popular slang. Well, the film [De Cierta Manera] goes back to those days. "So, what's up?" "Well, here in a certain way." That's the popular slang. Well, the film I was talking about goes back to those times: "What's up, man?" "Well, I'm here, in a certain way." And that's the name of the film.

But that saying was strong at the time that the Revolution begins to rehabilitate all those marginal districts. And to give houses to people. And to break a little the mentality. That is old. There in that film you are going to see something of Las Yaguas. It has some shots of Las Yaguas, how it was back in those times. Then there were three similar districts: La Cueva del Humo, Las Yaguas and Isla de Pinos, which they said was exactly between the Castiva Factory and Cristina. And Las Yaguas in Luyanó. That's there I lived.

P: Thank you.

G: At your service.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rumberos de Cuba: Tradition and Modernity

(This article was originally posted by Patricio at

Let’s take a look at the current discographic panorama of rumba: what do we have regarding groups who are making records, who are they, and how could we classify them? Here we will try to answer, and see what we have about groups who have made recordings in the last ten years:

  • Leading « historic » groups such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó, Grupo Yoruba Andabó, Afro-Cuba de Matanzas, and Los Papines.
  • A few important musicians who, as independent artists, make their own album under their own name, such as : “Pancho Quinto” Mora, Gregorio Hernández “El Goyo”, Mario Dreke “Chavalonga”, Pedro Celestino Fariñas, and some more yet internationaly unknown.
  • New groups playing « advanced » style rumba, such as Iroso Obba, or Rumba Eriera – both groups are composed with quite the same musicians.
  • New « agrupaciones » making « mixed rumba & afrocuban » or « mixed rumba & jazz » such as Wemilere (how difficult the birth of their CD), Awiri Yo (rumba-comparsa) or USA’s Deep Rumba.
  • A few american groups (with Cuban musicians who came to live in USA recently, or a few years ago) such as LP’s Montvale Rumba or Eddie Bobé’s Central Park Rumba…
  • A few provincial Cuban groups, who with many difficulties finally make their album, like Rumbatá (Camagüey), El Folkloyuma (Santiago), Rumberos de Hoy (Santiago)…
  • A few ethnomusicological recordings, produced all around the world from occidental countries or in Cuba itself.

Besides all these, there has been in Havana since the 1990’s a particular nucleus of rumberos, centered around Cuban producer Rodolfo Chacón Tartabull, a man close to Tata Güines and José Luis Quintana “Changuito”, both being very official artists and Egrem stars.

There never seemed to appear a single group out of this nucleus, nor a man able to gather those people under his own name – except for Tata during the « Aniversario » period.

This «conjunto de rumberos» existing since early 90’s could be called the «Rapsodia Rumbera school».

From this nucleus will finally emerge in early 2000 «Rumberos de Cuba», Rodolfo Chacón’s new project.

In this article we will now try to describe every single artist within this project.

Maximino Duquesne, Mario "Aspirina" Jauregui, "Marquito" Diaz
First version of percussion section of RDC
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Rumberos de Cuba is not what we could call a «guarapachangueo» group. It is more on the traditional side – but yet its style definitely belongs to modern rumba. The use of a « cajón and tumbadora » set for the tumbador player is a modern element, as is the style of the "conversations" between the tumbador and tres-dos. Compositions in RDC repertoire are either old songs (Omelé, Flor de Mayo), or « creative » (their version of the cumbia « El Cafetál » ), or new rumbas (El Trovador).

RDC is formed by old traditionalist musicians (Mario Aspirina) as well as young new rumberos (Ariel Monteresi). Therefore, Rumberos de Cuba is a clever mix of tradition and modernity.

The musicians’ resumes are so impressive that only respect can be shown to them, just this element is sufficient to put them among famous groups in the island. We can be sure of their future success when they become a bit more well-known. The quality of their first CD leaves no doubt about their future.

In the first version of the group, Mario “Aspirina” Jauregui Francis, Maximino Duquesne, “Marquito” Herminio Diaz, his son “Yosvani” Diaz played percussion, and Lázaro Rizo often palyed catá. Singers, (in addition to El Gato) were Luis Chacón Mendivel “Aspirina”, Miguel Ángel Mesa Cruz “Aspirina”, Sofía Rámos Morejón, and Pedro Francisco Almeida Berriel “Tatá” (at the same time working with Clave y Guaguancó). Dancers were « Aidita » Salina Sánchez and Dionisio Paul Palma. Both were in the coro in non-danced parts.

In year 2000 they recorded their first album, produced in 2004 by Egrem: “¿Dónde Andabas Tú, Acerekó?” (Egrem 0600), and a beautiful DVD, « Rumbón Tropical, » with guest Ricardo Gómez « Santa Cruz ».

(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Within this first version of the group they also recorded three unreleased CD tracks (“Yo Viné pa’ Ver”, “Dónde Andabas Anoche” and “Guantanamera”) with Tatá Güines and José Luis Quintana “Changuito”, with famous trumpet player Julio Padrón, tremendous tresero “El Guajiro” and a bass player, too. Within this project they toured in France during Summer and Autumn 2002 (I was lucky to see them at “Toros y Salsa” Festival in Dax).

The second version of the group added Santiago Garzón Rill “Chaguito” who also made a DVD named “Rumbambeo” with El Negro Triana and Juan de Dios Rámos.

After that Rumberos de Cuba worked in another project directed by Puntilla, as an “Homenaje a Gonzálo Asencio "Tío Tom"”. They recorded one still-unreleased 9 tracks cd with rumbas Tío Tom wrote, such as “La China Linda”, “¿Dónde Están los Cubanos?” or “Como tu Sabes”. Ernesto wrote a beautiful columbia called “El Tío Tom" for this project. The singers are Ernesto, Miguel Ángel Mesa and Puntilla, but some famous singers were invited too: El Goyo, Lázaro Rizo, and (from Grupo Yoruba Andabo) Juan Cámpos Cárdenas “Chán”, Geovani del Pino Rodríguez and Miguel Chapottín Beltrán.

Yosvani Diaz, Maximino Duquesne, "Marquito" Diaz
Second version of RDC percussion
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

In the last months of year 2004 Marquito Diaz died tragically, after a heart attack and being operated in a Havana hospital. Since 1992 he had formed with Maximino Duquesne one of the best “rítmica”, recording many famous albums, among them Rapsodia Rumbera.

After that, Rumberos de Cuba had to change for a 4th version of the group, with the famous “Cusito” (Jesús Lorenzo Peñalver), one of the best young akpwones in Havana, and tremendous drum player. Cusito had been a member of Juan de Dios’ Raices Profundas and Chavalonga’s “Ven Tú”, called now “Wemilere” (hear cd “Santería” at Harmonia Mundi). The young Yosvanni Diaz Herrera (Marquito’s son) is now more and more important in the group. I have see him playing better and better each year between 2001 and 2004. Their future and fourth cd project is called “Habana de mi Corazón”.

Members (or ex-members) of Rumberos de Cuba:

"El Gato"
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Ernesto Gatel Cotó “El Gato”- lead vocals
“El Gato” has always been a central character in the RDC project, as the main singer, and for being several times musical director of the group (see complete article about Ernesto).

Rodolfo Chacón Tartabull
( Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Rodolfo Chacón Tartabull - producer
Born in Cienfuegos, he enters the Egrem in 1990. “Songs and Dances” is the first record he produced. He won a “Gran Premio Egrem” in 1995 producing Tatá Güines and Anga Diaz “Pasaporte.” He also won a “First Prize in Traditional and Folkloric Music” with Tatá Güines’ “Aniversario.” He finally won a “First Prize at Cubadisco” Festival with the “Guajira con Tumbao” record.

(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Marcos Herminio Diaz Scull “Marquito” - percussion
Marquito began working as a professional dancer in the “Rita Montaner” company in Havana in 1968. Then he began to play percussion in many folkloric groups, then entered the “Conjunto Artístico de las FAR” (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias) where he stayed 10 years. He died in 2005, being not more than 43 years old. He was in Tata Güines’ group, in Rapsodia Rumbera and in Jane Bunnett’s project.

Yosvanni Diaz Herrera
(Photo Credit: Richard Housset)

Yosvanni Diaz Herrera - percussion (tres/dos)
One of the youngest member of Rumberos de Cuba. Marquito’s son. He has been member of many folkloric groups in Havana like “Iroso Obba” or “Awiri Yo”. He took part in the last cd of Miguel Ánga Diaz and in an experimental project leaded by Ry Cooder.

Yosvani Diaz & Maximino Duquesne at Palenque
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Maximino Duquesne Martínez “El Moro Quinto” - percussion and second vocals
Born May 29 1939 in the famous reparto “La Cueva del Humo” in Luyanó, barrio Concha y Fábregas, Maximino moved at the age of 9 to the barrio “Las Yaguas.” He has been a member of early 1950’s rumba groups such as “El Coro Folklórico Cubano,” and a founding member of the Conjunto Folklórico Nacional. He studied cuban folkloric percussion, and has always been considered a great rumbero, as well as güiro or bembé specialist. He’s been a part of many great rumba recordings, and took part in canadian Jane Bunnett’s project.

( Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Santiago Garzón Rill “Chaguito” - percussion and lead vocals
Born in Gantánamo, he began his musical career in changüí groups. He moved to Havana at the beginning of the 1990’s and entered “Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó,” where he stayed for six years. He is a rumba composer, too. He has been musical director of Rumberos de Cuba at a time. You may find his very good dvd “Rumbambeo” at

Ariel Monteresi
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Ariel Monteresi - lead vocals
Many people present Ariel as a “spiritual son” of Juan de Dios Rámos “El Colo”. At the age of 12 he began to work with Juan de Dios. He’s been a member of famous groups such “Ébano”, El Goyo’s “Oba Ilú”, or “Clave y Guaguancó”. He stayed one year in Italy working at the “Cabaret Tropicana de Roma”. He has been quite famous in Havana for singing his rumba “Dile que Yo Soy tu Tío”.

Dionisio Paul Palma
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Dionisio Paul Palma - dancer
He was graduate of the ENA University of Arts in 1982, and then entered the “Conjunto Folklórico Nacional.” He still works with the CFN, with the title of “Primer Bailarin Solista”, and as a teacher too.

Sofía Rámos Morejón
(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Sofía Rámos Morejón - lead vocals
She began her career in folkloric music in 1994, in the “Iyá Aché” group, staying with them for seven years. Like many women do, she often sings yambú in Rumberos de Cuba.

(Photo Credit: Official RDC photo)

Aida Salina Sánchez “Aidita” - dancer and coro
Since she was very young, she acted as a professional dancer on stage with artists such as Merceditas Valdés or Celina González. She has been a member of “Raices Profundas” and “Havana Night”. Later she danced with Conjunto Rumbavana or Jane Bunnett.

Mario, Miguel Ángel, and Luis Chacón: “Los Tres Aspirinas”
This famous family of Guanabacoa rumberos has had numerous members, many of whom have passed on, and many grandchildren or nephews form the new generation. The name “Aspirina” comes from one elder brother of Mario, Pedro, who always had serious toothaches, and had to keep for hours a aspirin tucked against his bad tooth. People nicknamed him “Aspirina.”

Mario "Aspirina" Jauregui Francis
(Photo Credits: Pascal Gouy "El Chévere.")

Mario "Aspirina" Jauregui Francis - percussion
Born 22 July 1932, Mario is considered the greatest quinto player in Cuba with Jesús Alfonso in Matanzas. At the age of nine he began to play batá drums with legendary Pablo Roche Okilakpá, and is said to have learned much quicker than anyone else. When he was still a child he began to play in ceremonies. He says he was the quinto player in the first rumba record ever “El Vive Bien,” but the credits don’t mention him [Tumbao CD reissue says Giraldo Rodriguez]. He is a founding member of the Conjunto Folkórico Nacional as a dancer. He is definitely the main guardian of the Havana-style percussion tradition in rumba as well as in batá drumming. He is one of the very few “alumnos” of Pablo Roche still alive, along with Esteban "Chachá" Vega. But unlike another of Roche's alumnos, Pancho Kinto (ibae), who invented many things in batá drum and in rumba, Mario is the incredible living testimony of old times, for he never changed his own style, that he learned with “Los Rumberos de la Historia.” Unlike many Cuban musicians, Mario is a small, thin, discreet and quiet man, and keeps himself in a very good physical condition. The French musician Karim Ammour is writing a book on Mario’s incredible life.

Miguel Ángel “Aspirina” Mesa Cruz “El Caballero de la rumba” - singer
One of the oldest rumba singers in Havana, Miguel Ángel is undeniable champion of the columbia syle. El Goyo often tells that he had been inspired with Miguel Ángel’s style. Member of early Clave y Guaguancó, as you can see in the incredible 1967 documental “Y tenemos Sabor”, Miguel Ángel opens the Rapsodia Rumbera record with his famous song “Miguel Ángel el Divertido”. He worked in Cabaret Tropicana for years. He is the perfect example of self-taught rumba musicians, and worked many times with legends of rumba habanera, such as Flor de Amor and Odilio Urfé.

Luis Chacón “Aspirina” Mendivel (R) with the Author

Luis Chacón “Aspirina” Mendivel - percussion, singer and dancer
A little younger than the two others, Luis Chacón has been director of many groups since the 1960 years. He sings, plays drums and dances with an incredible energy. He began playing in la Orquesta Jorrín and was a founding member of the Conjunto Folkórico Nacional. In 1964 he had his own group “Sicamalié.”

Rumberos de Cuba have made one beautiful cd “¿Dónde Andabas Tú, Acerekó?” you may find at:

and a tremendous DVD you may find at:

(This article was originally posted by Patricio at

Sunday, December 10, 2006

La Rumba: Part 2 of 3

This segment features rare footage of founding members of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Esteban "Saldiguera" Lantri & Florencio "Catalino" Calle, and also a great segment of Columbia de Puerto de Cardenas performing on the docks.

Click below to read a rough transcript and translation of the interview, and a link to download the clip.

SALDIGUERA: Siempre yo lo he dicho y lo sigo diciendo: que por lo meno(s) el canto, cuando se va a cantar un guaguancó, la inspiración que se hace en el guaguancó se avecina mucho con el español. Hay una cosa que todo él que canta rumba tiene que saber, tiene que tener eso de Español. Porque cuando Ud. hace:

(Cantando la diana: "Wa-rara..." etc.)

Esa cosa no, no es de Cuba, no... Esa cosa sale del curro*, de todo esta gente que estaban de allí...del (cante) jondo, esas cosas salian de allí.
Ahora, hay personas que dicen que no, pero yo, que mas o menos, que soy hijo del español también, siempre yo oí esa cosa, y esa cosa es de mi padre, y mi abuelo
esa cosa, ellos siempre tenian esa aire, no sé si se me pegó a mi
cuando chiquillo, y lo sigo haciendo.
Y todo él que canta siempre tiene muy "gmm", parecido siempre tirándo, siempre al Español esas cosas. El guaguancó se avecina mucho...

CATALINO:"...La Columbia se ha inventado en Matanzas precisamente, en la provincia,
esa parte de Sabanilla, que esa pertenece a un allí, cabildo de Congos
de allí Cubila, el difunto Cubila, Daniel, tambien, precisamente, sí, y allí bajaron de Unión de Reyes, para Sabanilla el difunto Francisco (Oviedo?, Violón?) Malanga, Celestino Domech, Carburo, no le recuerdo el nombre de él, le decían Carburo, de Jovellanos (Benito? Brito?) Roncona, Andrea Baró, él que, este, caramba que andaba (?) él por allá, por Colón... Victor la Feté(?), buen rumbero, Papa Montero..."

SALDIGUERA says that although some may disagree, for him rumba singing, especially the "diana," comes from the Spanish flamenco style of "cante jondo."

CATALINO states that the columbia started in Matanzas province, around Sabanilla, and then names some rumberos famous for their columbia performances...

Click here to download (87.6MB).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Celebrando: Ernesto Gatel "El Gato Maravilloso"

(Photo Credit: Rumberos de Cuba Press Kit)

Born on September 16th 1946, Rogelio Ernesto Gatel Cotó “El Gato Maravilloso” turned 60 a few months ago. (His cumpleaños de santo is Dec 20.) You may not know his face, but his voice has enlivened many of the best afrocuban recordings of the past 20 years, having worked with Clave y Guaguancó, and Tata Güines, among others, and most recently with Los Rumberos de Cuba. Thanks to Patricio for this article.

"El Gato" was born in the Havana barrio of Santos Suárez, where he lives today. His family was of modest means and soon moved to Regla, on the other side of the Havana bay, which along with neighboring Guanabacoa is considered to be one of the most "African" barrios of Havana. (The first plante de Abakuá was founded in Regla about 1830.)

While Ernesto suffered his share of racial prejuidice as he grew up (his was the only white family in the solar where they lived), he began studying percussion as a hobby, eventually joining the comparsa "Los Guaracheros de Regla."

He then studied traditional percussion, learning all Habanero folkloric styles (rumba, abakuá, arará, etc.) except batá drums, for he always considered batá drumming a huge task (which it really is!). He sometimes plays okónkolo when such a player is needed. In 1988, at the age of 42, he finally became a professional drummer.

Among his teachers were such rumbero luminaries as Maximino Duquesne Martínez “El Moro Quinto”, Luis Chacón “Aspirina” Mendivel and Francisco “Pancho Quinto” Mora (1933-2005).

Rumba at Ernesto's House
(Photo Credit: Pascal Gouy "El Chévere." Standing, from left to right: Yosvani Diaz, Ernesto, Lázaro Rizo, Aidita. Drummers left to right: Marquito, Mario "Aspirina", Maximino Duquesne)

Conjunto Clave y Guaguancó
In 1990 El Gato joined Cuba’s oldest rumba group, Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó, directed by Amado Dedeu, staying with them for 3 years. Though Ernesto was hired as a percussionist, Amado once found the group lacking a male singer and asked him to fill in and sing a few rumbas. Thus "The Cat" began a new life as a singer.

At that time the members of Clave y Guaguancó were:
Amelia Pedroso (Lázaro Pedroso’s niece and famous as a
yoruba female singer, who passed away in May 2000)
“Lalí” González Brito (who looked the same as Ernesto at this time - both were white and had a beard),
Pedro Lugo Martínez “El Nené”,
José (del) Pilar Suárez,
and Alejandro Publes (who passed away in 1991)

It was this lineup that in November 1990 recorded “Cantaremos y Bailaremos” or “Songs & Dances” (Xenophile GLCD 4023). This was the first “new style rumba” record ever released, after the “guarapachangueo” revolution in the 1980’s, begun by “Los Chinitos” from San Miguel del Padrón.

[Los Chinitos are said to have invented the guarapachangueo style of drumming, based on only two drummers, and new-shaped cajones while playing for “Cajones al Muerto” (Spiritism) ceremonies.]

Well distributed, the “Songs & Dances” album has been world-famous since then. The Cuban producer of the record, Rodolfó Chacón Tartabull, later became administrative director of Rumberos de Cuba.

Tata Güines
In 1992 Ernesto entered Tatá Güines’ group, and began world tours, playing in Mexico, Japan, Venezuela and Dominican Republic. Within Tatá’s group were Maximino Duquesne and Marcos Herminio Diaz Scull “Marquito”. Both will stay with Ernesto after the creation of Rumberos de Cuba, until Marquito’s death in 2005. Within Tatá’s group, they together recorded in 1995 “Aniversario” (Egrem 0156), featuring Pedro Lugo Martínez “El Nené”, Lázaro Rizo Cuevas (a singer who plays “palito” in the best 1990’s and 2000’s recordings), and Gregorio “El Goyo” Hernández, at his best. The producer of that record once again was Rodolfo Chacón.

Rapsodia Rumbera
In 1993 Ernesto sang on “Rapsodia Rumbera” (Egrem 0121), maybe the greatest Habanero rumba record ever. Marquito and Maximino play the tres-dos and the tumbadora, and the best quinteros in Havana play on top: Mario Jauregui “Aspirina” (4 tracks), Tatá Güines (3 tracks), Pancho Quinto (1 track), Amado Dedeu (1 track) and… Pedro Lugo “El Nené”! (1 track).

The vocal roster on Rapsodia Rumbera forms an “All-stars” in itself:
Miguel Ángel “Aspirina” Mesa Cruz
(record holder of the longest columbia - 45 mns),
Ernesto Gatel,
Pedro Lugo “El Nené”,
Juan de Dios Rámos “El Colo”,
Ricardo Gómez “Santa Cruz”,
Mario Dreke “Chavalonga”,
and Amado Dedeu, with Gregorio Hernández “El Goyo” as
director of coro arrangements.
(Ernesto only sings one song on this disc, "El Yerbero," with El Nené.)

With this group they toured in France, thanks to a project led by French musicians Olivier Congar and Karim Ammour.

In 1997, Ernesto became part of the “Afrekete - Iyabakuá” project (Pan Records CD2078) whose musical director was Javier Cámpos Martínez “Javierito”, together with Pancho Quinto, José Pilar, Maximino Duquesne, the young Eric Michael Herrera Duarte “Lucumí”, Lázaro Rizo and Marta Gallarraga (daughter of Lázaro Gallarraga).

Obá Ilú
In 1998 El Gato enters El Goyo’s group, “Obá Ilú”, to record the LP
Santería: Songs for the Orishas” (Soul Jazz Records CD38), where again he was the only white-coloured musician, with “Pedrito” Martínez Cámpos, Marta Galarraga, Maximino Duquesne, Lázaro Rizo, Ricardo Gómez “Santa Cruz”, Mario “Aspirina” Jauregui, and one of Goyo’s sons Lázaro Hernández Junco. At this time Ernesto also entered the Conjunto Folkórico Nacional as a lead singer.

Jane Bunnett
That same year he entered canadian saxophone and flute player Jane Bunnett’s project “Spirits of Havana”, recording with her three albums and the DVD. The first cd is “Chamalongo”, the second one is “Ritmo más Soul” (that I consider one of the best latin jazz records ever), and the third one is “Cuban Odyssey” (also released as a DVD) (2002). “Cuban Odyssey” was recorded all over Cuba, with many musicians of each town Jane Bunnett visited, such as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, Grupo Vocal Desandann in Camagüey, Los Naranjos in Cienfuegos, etc…

The "Cuban Odyssey" DVD was partly filmed in Ernesto’s house in Santos Suárez, “frente al cine Mara." Every rumbero in Havana knows that this living-room has a tremendous sound - this is the place where Rumberos de Cuba have rehearsals.

Los Eguns Hablan
Ernesto recorded on an 8th album in 2002, with a project led by Orlando “Puntilla” Ríos - whom Ernesto considers his spiritual father - named “Cuando los Espíritus Bailan Mambo”. This is a double CD featuring four groups: “Los Eguns Hablan”, “Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó”, “Grupo Yoruba Andabo” and a charanga playing violín a los Orichas, "Orquesta Estrellas Cubanas”.

Ernesto (left) at Puntilla's birthday celebration, Havana 2004
(Photo Credit: Patrice Banchereau)

Rumberos de Cuba
The group named “Los Eguns Hablan” represented the beginning of what will be afterwards named “Rumberos de Cuba.” In Puntilla’s record, the group, under Puntilla’s direction, was composed by: Ernesto Gatel, Lázaro Rizo, Guillermo Escolástico “El Negro” Triana, Santiago Garzón Rill “Chaguito”, Luis Chacón “Aspirina”, “Aidita” Salina Sánchez - a female dancer integrating the “coro”, “Lucumí”, Reynaldo Delgado Salerno “Flecha” (a famous akpwón and batalero who played the iyá drum on all Lázaro Ros’ “Oricha Ayé” CDs, and now lives in Geneva, Switzerland), and men who will become the percussion section of Rumberos de Cuba: Marquito Diaz (tumbador), Maximino Duquesne (tres-dos), Mario “Aspirina” Jauregui (quinto), and Yosvani Diaz (Marquito’s son), who can play either tumbador or tres-dos.

The admistrative director of Rumberos de Cuba is once again Rodolfo Chacón. The musical director is Ernesto Gatel. In the first version of the group, Marquito, Mario, Yosvani and Marquito played percussion. The singers were Luis Chacón, Miguel Ángel Mesa, Pedro Francisco Almeida Berriel “Tatá” (who had been in Clave y Guaguancó before that).

The dancers were Aidita and Dionisio Paul Palma. At this time they recorded their first album: “¿Dónde Andabas Tú, Acerekó?” (Egrem 0600) and a beautiful DVD, “Rumbón Tropical”, inviting among others Ricardo Gómez “Santa Cruz”.

Within this first version of the group they also recorded one three-tracks unreleased cd (“Yo Viné pa’ Ver”, “Dónde Andabas Anoche” and “Guantanamera”) with Tatá Güines and José Luis Quintana “Changuito”, with famous trumpet player Julio Padrón, the tremendous tresero “El Guajiro” and a bass player, too.

This group toured in France during summer and autumn 2002 (I was lucky to see them at “Toros y Salsa” Festival in Dax). The second version of the group added Santiago Garzón Rill “Chaguito” who also made a DVD named “Rumbambeo” with El Negro Triana and Juan de
Dios Rámos.

After that Rumberos de Cuba worked on another project directed by Puntilla, as an “Homenaje a Gonzálo Asencio Tío Tom”. They recorded one still-unreleased CD with rumbas Tío Tom wrote, such as “La china linda,” “¿Dónde están los cubanos?,” and “Como tu sabes." Ernesto composed a beautiful columbia named “El Tío Tom”. The singers are Ernesto, Miguel Ángel Mesa and Puntilla, but some other famous singers were invited too: El Goyo, Lázaro Rizo, and (from Grupo Yoruba Andabó) Juan Cámpos Cárdenas “Chán”, Geovani del Pino Rodríguez and Miguel Chapottín Beltrán.

In the last months of year 2004 Marquito Diaz died tragically, after a heart attack and surgery in Havana. Since 1992 he had formed with Maximino Duquesne one of the best “rítmica”, recording many famous albums, among them Rapsodia Rumbera.

After that, Rumberos de Cuba had to change for a 4th version of the group, with the famous “Cusito” (Jesús Lorenzo Peñalver), one of the best young akpwones in Havana, and tremendous drummer. Cusito had been a member of Juan de Dios’ Raices Profundas and Chavalonga’s “Ven,” (now called “Wemilere,” with a CD, "Santería" on Harmonia Mundi). The young Yosvani Diaz Herrera (Marquito’s son) is now more and more important in the group. I have see him playing better and better each year between 2001 and 2004. Their future and fourth CD project is called “Habana de mi Corazón."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Dec 4: Güiro for Changó

¡Kabiyosile Changó! ¡Ka wó!

Dec 4th is the day of Changó. To celebrate, we present a video of a performance by Agrupación de Güiros El Niño de Atocha, from the Cuban TV Special "La Rumba y el Tambor," directed by Angel Hernández Calderín.

Patricio writes:

Changó is a very important Orisha in Cuba, because Yoruba slaves in
Cuba mainly came from Oyo, for many years the dominant Yoruba kingdom. (Before becoming an Orisha, Shangó had been an early king of Oyo, in the 17th century.) Brazilian Yoruba slaves mainly came from Ketu, which was a Nago nation, south-west of Oyo.

This is why Changó's drums, the batá, came to dominate Orisha ceremonies in Cuba (in Yorubaland each Orisha has its own particular drum), and also why the batá are not found in Brazil.

Changó is fire (“ina”), he eats fire and throws fire. Storms and
lightning are owned by him. His colours are red (fire or blood, or
life) and white. He wears a crown, for he was king of Oyo. He holds an
“oché” (double axe) as his "attribute."

Changó is the Orisha of music and drums. He is a womanizer and takes
great care of how he looks and how he is dressed. He sometimes acts in
a stupid way (Orishas have the same qualities and defects than humans).

His movements when dancing often symbolize lighting (as the women
seated around him in the video do): he raises his arm upward towards the sky, where he “catches” lighting and brings it down to earth, towards his penis.
He is a warrior, too, and fights with enemies while dancing.

(Click below for more about Agrupación de Güiros El Niño de Atocha, lyrics and translations, and to download a clip of this video.)

About Agrupación de Güiros El Niño de Atocha

This group is fairly (and deservedly) well-recorded. Their discography includes segments on such discs as

Cantos de Santería (Artex 090)
"Sacred Rhythms of Cuban Santeria" (Smithsonian Folkways

and also on "Toque de Güiro" vol. VIII of the Antología De La Música Afrocubana. The following is our translation of the notes from that disc, by María Teresa Linares:

The group "El Niño de Atocha", from Limonar, Matanzas, was founded by Benito Aldama (pictured below).

(Photo credit: Benito Aldama Herrera "Elélegba" from Orin Orisa: Songs for Selected Heads, by John Mason. Mason tell us: "He was born in August 1906. His mother, Marcelina Aldama "Changó Larí" was an Egbado slave direct from Nigeria. Photo taken in Limonar, Cuba 1988.")

The instruments used differ from those of the other groups on this record and inlude a tumbadora and two guatacas (hoe blades), besides three güiros or abwes (shekeres).

The members of the group are:

Benito Aldama, vocal soloist and director
Marta Vayún, chorus
Rafael García García, percussionist
Juan Baró Baró, percussionist
Felix Aballí Domínguez, percussionist
Raúl Ventosa, percussionist
Claudia Rendón, percussionist
Pedro Gamure, percussionist
Dagoberto Neninger Díaz, percussionist

Song Lyrics

(Note: Here El Niño de Atocha are performing in a “false” stage context, so they
repeat every song twice or three times, when in a religious context
they would be repeated be ten or twenty times. They also have a “strange,” unique way of pronouncing yoruba words, or even sing “other” words than what we might be used to, because they sing in the “campo” style, different from the urban context. For example, in Havana they would say:
“Wo le nche, wo le nche, wo le nche Obá ido la”
instead of
“Mo le nse a, mo le nse a, mo le nse a gba itó la”
but of course the song remains the same.)

(Rezo hablado. Akpwón: Benito Aldama.)
A ka ma se Olufina O ke ¡ka wó, kabiyosile Changó!
A yeún erán, a erán agutan, eran alú, eran akukó, a yeún orí, a yeún oguedde

Akpwón: Mo le nse, mo le nse, mo le nse gba itó...
Coro: Mo le nse a, mo le nse a, mo le nse a gba itó la
Akpwón: Mo le nse, mo le nse, mo le nse, ¡habla vasallo!
(there, he is calling vasallo to sing = el coro)
Coro: Mo le nse a, mo le nse a, mo le nse a gba itó la
Akpwón: Mo le, a mo le nse, mo le nse gba itó la
Coro: Mo le nse a, mo le nse a, mo le nse a gba itó la
Akpwón: O, a mo le, a mo le o, mo le nse gba itó la
Coro: Mo le nse a, mo le nse a, mo le nse a gba itó la
Akpwón: E, Aladó oyina, Baba o Coro: Aladó oyina

Akpwón: Baba o
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Baba o
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Changó Changó
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Oguede o ma se
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: O-o Takuá
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún Changó
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún erán
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún a malú
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Gba ku tan
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún akukó
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún amalá
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: A yeún orí
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Changó Changó
Coro: Aladó oyina
Akpwón: Changó Lerí
Coro: Aladó oyina

Akpwón: ¡Agwe-e!, wara-wara omo Oni Changó yo ma de e le yo era
Coro: Wara-wara omo Oni Changó ma de e le yo era
Akpwón: O-wo, wara-wara omo Oni Changó, ¡kabiyosile omo Changó!
Coro: Wara-wara omo Oni Changó ma de e le yo era
Akpwón: Wara-wara omo Oni Changó ma de e le yo era
Coro: Wara-wara omo Oni Changó ma de e le yo era
Akpwón: Omo Oyó
Coro: E le yo era
Akpwón: Omo Oyó
Coro: E le yo era

(the first coro is a mistake: “Omolo Iyansá” is for Oricha Oyá)

(Possible) Translations:

A ka ma se = We/(will)/harvest/always/do, so: = we always will do the
O ke = You that are above, up there
Olufina = owner of fire
Olufina oke ka wó kabiyosile Changó = Changó’s salutes and Changó’s
A yeún erán = we (sons of Changó, like you do) eat meat
(A) yeún agutan = we eat calf
Erán alú = tongues meat
Erán akukó = rooster meat (one of Changó’s favourite meal)
A yeún orí = we eat heads
A yeún oguedde = we eat plantain bananas (one of Changó’s favourite meal)
¡Agwe! = god that lives inside güiro, just like Aña lives in batá
Mo le nse = I can do
Oba itó la = King with breeding, save me (John Mason), (could be:) King
of saliva who licks up
Aladó = owner of adó (gourd containing magic power)
Oyina (o yí ina) = you roll fire (you spit fireballs)
Baba o = O Father
Oguedde o ma se = You will always provide bananas
Takuá = Tapa or Nupe, African people from central Nigeria, northern
from yorubaland
A yeún amalá = we eat yam porridge (other Changó's favourite meal)
Changó Lerí = Changó Owner of heads (that comes into his sons’ heads)
Wara-wara = downpour (John Mason)
Omo Oni Changó = Children (ahijados) who own Changó
Ma dé = always come
E le yo era(n) = You know how to get (them) satisfied with meat
Omo Oyó = child of Oyó

Many thanks to Patricio for this great effort! Click here to download this clip in mp4 format.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Homenaje: Luciano Pozo y Gonzales - Ibae

b. 7 January 1915, Havana, Cuba
d. 2 December 1948, NYC

"Te voy hacer un cuento
muy verdadero y sano
de toda la ocurrencia
que tenía Chano

Te cantaba y te lloraba
una columbia
Te cantaba y te bailaba
un guaguancó
Una conga liviana
de su propia inspiración"

—Calixto Callava, "Chano en Belén"

A brief bio in English here.
More photos below, thanks to Patricio...

With Rita Montaner

Chano's "Conjunto Azul"

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Miguelito Valdes