Friday, December 05, 2008

Puntilla Tributes in NY

TRIBUTE TO PUNTILLA, part 1 in collaboration with the BRECHT FORUM:

DATE & TIME: Sunday, December 7th 6 - 9 pm
PLACE: The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets) NYC

TRIBUTE TO PUNTILLA, part 2, in collaboration with the SCHOMBURG CENTER:

DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 13th 1:30 - 3:00 pm
PLACE: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Blvd, between 135th St. and 136 St. Harlem, NYC

November 16, 2008

For Immediate Release:

ZEYBRAH presents the 9th annual:
Moment In Time Festival:
Tribute to ‘Puntilla’
Honoring Orlando ‘Puntilla’ Rios
Father of the Bata Drum in America
African Music, Dance & Theatre for Global Understanding and Peace
Free Admission

Contact: Basha Alade (732) 290-0927,
or Lisa Vives at

This year’s MOMENT IN TIME FESTIVAL will pay tribute to the Afro-Cuban virtuoso Orlando Rios, known familiarly as “Puntilla”, who died in August of this year. His nickname, which refers to the hammering of a finishing nail, describes both his amazing ability to ‘hammer’ out precise melodies on the drums and his small physical stature.

He has influenced generations of Cuban folkloric musicians, both on and off the island. Already a well-known performer when he left Cuba in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, soon after his arrival in New York he revolutionized the Afro-Cuban folkloric community, bringing rhythms, songs, and drumming techniques.

He was well-versed in many folkloric and sacred drumming styles, including yuka, abakuá and rumba, but perhaps his greatest impact in New York was his knowledge of the sacred bata drum, and his willingness to share that knowledge.

Students of all backgrounds rushed to his workshops, hungry for these cultural riches; prior to Puntilla’s arrival, the Cuban musicians with expertise in these areas had been reluctant to share their knowledge.

Puntilla was respected as a ceremonial performer and singer, but he was equally well-known for his collaborations with jazz musicians like Michele Rosewoman. He soon formed his own group, Nueva Generación, and performed throughout the U.S, in Europe and Japan.

ZEYBRAH – a non-profit cultural organization - has brought together members of several dynamic groups that have played with Puntilla and have been influenced by him.

The Brecht Forum will host the first event on Sunday, December 7th from 6-9 p.m.Veteran percussionist Gene Golden (whom Giovany Hidalgo credits as one of his mentors) will lead a group of drummers, singers and dancers drawn from three ensembles, Puntilla’s Nueva Generación, Gene’s Grupo Quinto Mayor and Latin Grammy nominees Raices Habaneras; some of the performers include dancers Xiomara Rodriguez, Rita Macias and Pedro Domech, singer Abraham “Abie” Rodriguez and drummer Michel Aldama. The program will culminate in a rumba abierta – a jam session dedicated to Puntilla’s memory.

The following week will be the second part of the tribute at the Schomburg Center for Research of Black Culture and History, on Saturday, December 13th from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. as part of their Junior Scholar’s Program open to the public. Following an introduction/ libation by several community elders, Brandon Rosser, a student and performer with Puntilla will offer a personal reflection. Two of Puntilla’s longtime female collaborators – and pioneers in their own right – will round out the program with excerpts of their work.

Amma Mcken is the director and co-founder with Olukose Wiles (past honoree of Moment in Time) of the group Omi Yesa, founded in 1972, making it the oldest African-American cultural group. In June 2007 she released an album called Alaako Oso, (“the owner of the song is elegant”) for which Puntilla was the musical director. Omi Yesi will present a musical selection tribute based on the Afro-Cuban Yoruba tradition, featuring outstanding percussionists and dancers, including Neil Clarke and Larry Washington.

Michele Rosewoman, a pioneer in blending Afro-Cuban traditions and contemporary jazz, will perform with members of her group New Yor-Uba. In 1983 Michele received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for the formation of this group, which featured Puntilla; the ensemble premiered at Joseph Papp's Public Theater in NYC. New Yor-Uba will perform sacred cantos (chants) and bata (two-headed Cuban drum) in a contemporary jazz setting in tribute to Puntilla, with renowned percussionists Pedro Martinez, Roman Diaz and Mauricio Herrera and bassist Armando Gola.

The Moment in Time Festival is a cultural celebration produced by ZEYBRAH (Zest for Youth Brings Rhythm Arts and Humanities), in collaboration with the Junior Scholar’s Program of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and The Brecht Forum. ZEYBRAH, a nonprofit organization, has been organizing cultural festivals in NYC since 1984. Previous honorees include Afro-beat pioneer Fela Anakulapo Kuti and his mother, woman’s rights activist Fumilayo Anakulapo Kuti; the Obalesu of Nigeria; famed drummers/stilt walkers Baba Kwame Ishangi and Baba Olukose Wiles; Mongo Santamaria, Afro-Cuban /jazz pioneer, Papa Ladji Camara, Father of the Djembe Drum in America; President/Poet Leopold Senghor, Balogun Love, and Maguette Fall.

TRIBUTE TO PUNTILLA, part 1 in collaboration with the BRECHT FORUM
DATE & TIME: Sunday, December 7th 6 - 9 pm
PLACE: The Brecht Forum
451 West Street (between Bank & Bethune Streets) NYC

TRIBUTE TO PUNTILLA, part 2, in collaboration with the SCHOMBURG CENTER
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 13th 1:30 - 3:00 pm
PLACE: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Blvd, between 135th St. and 136 St. Harlem, NYC

Zest for Education of Youth Brings Rhythm Arts and Humanities

Friday, October 17, 2008

Saludando a un rumbero: Virgilio Martí

Virgilio Martí

b. Havana, 1919 - d. New York City, 17 October 1995
(Photo credit: Cristobal Diaz Ayala collection)

Today let's remember a fine rumbero, singer, composer, percussionist, and actor, Virgilio Martí.

Cristobal Diaz Ayala writes, Virgilio "became well-known in Havana at the end of the 1940s, especially as a singer of guaguancó. Began touring the world in 1949, and met his wife in Peru in 1960."

He settled in New York City in the 1960's, becoming a fixture on the local scene, and participating in the classic rumba LP "Patato y Totico" (1968). He also performed with his brother, renowned quintero Eloy Martí, along with Gene Golden. Here is a clip from a 1979 appearance at the Shomburg Center:

In the early 80s he released "Saludando a los Rumberos," in which he fronts a full band including Andy and Jerry Gonzales, and Ignacio Berroa on drumset.

In 1985 he appeared as "Cheo Babalu" in the film "Crossover Dreams" (dir. Leon Ichaso) with Ruben Blades:

In the 1990s he contributed to the soundtrack of the film "Azucar Amarga."

To commemorate Virgilio's life and art we are happy to present today Virgilio's extremely rare first solo LP, "Guaguancó," courtesy of Alan Boss at the Cuban Art Space. (By the way, Alan has a large collection of cuban vinyl he is selling little by little, so if anyone is interested, get in touch.)

There are no credits listed, but the disc seems to be mostly a self-produced effort, with Martí probably playing many of the parts himself, and overdubbing the harmonies and the coros.

Despite the title, this album contains few original guaguancó songs. It does include everything from popular Mexican tunes to Peruvian waltzes, which is not that surprising really - Martí had a real knack for turning songs from other genres into rumbas. He's probably best known for his adaptation of Brazilian composer Jorge Ben's "Más que nada," which appeared on "Patato y Totico."

There is however an interesting Martí composition here called "Qué susto," a rumba which makes reference to an obscure Abakuá ritual:

What a fright my friend had
When they went to Bakiñán
The one who heard the bells of the diablito
The one who said quietly:
"I don't want to be held captive"

The Iyamba, who was upset, sang this song:
"Emumbán eta atafañongo tevere kison kiñongo"

Patricio writes:

"Bakiñán" really should be "Bakriñán," from "Bakriñampe," which means skull, a drum built from a human skull to weep at its death, to the highest-ranking of las Potencias. It's played the same as the Ékue, with yin or canna (caña) de Castilla. (From Cabrera - La lengua sagrada de los ñañigos.)

Bakriñampe drum,
in El Museo de Folklore Afro Cubano de Guanabacoa

Photo by Scott Wardinsky

This song is about a traditional Abakuá punishment inside a potencia. When one "brother" of the brotherhood does not act correctly he is punished in this way: A funeral ceremonial is performed for him just as if he had really died. Of course the guilty brother is present and he is forced to watch it - that's why he's scared.

Enjoy. Download here.

Guaguancó (1979)
Virgilio Martí
Gema 5060

Side A:
1. Amanecer (Armando Manzanero)
2. Todos vuelven (Rafael Otero)
3. A tus pies (D.R.) (Agustin Lara)
4. Mi infancia (Laureano Martinez)
5. Saludando a los rumberos (Manolo Albo)

Side B:
1. Lo voy a dividir (R. Livi)
2. Acanapon (D.R.)
3. El pañuelito (D.R.)
4. Que susto (Virgilio Marti)
5. Odiame (Rafael Otero)


1. Amanecer
Compositor: Armando Manzanero

y ver tu rostro sonreír
es un placer
un privilegio para mí

Buscar la luz
en el fulgor de tu mirar
es despertar con el amor

Mirar que el sol
en tu cabello se anidó
y la alborada
en tu sonrisa se escondió
Ver que mi verso
tiene un ritmo y un color
es un placer

con la importancia de saber
Que soy de ti
que pertenezco sólo a ti
que nunca más
mis sueños fríos sentirán
Es ya tener
un porvenir

Y ver que tengo junto a mí
Lo que hace tanto
tanto tiempo pretendí
es un placer
un privilegio para mí
es un placer
un privilegio para mí

2. Todos Vuelven
(Vals de Cesar Miró)

A la la la..

Todos vuelven a la tierra en que nacieron
al embrujo incomparable de aquel sol
Todos vuelven al rincón donde vivieron
pero el tiempo del amor no vuelve más

Bajo el árbol solitario del pasado
cuántas veces nos ponemos a soñar
Todos vuelven al rincón donde vivieron
pero el tiempo del amor no vuelve más

El aire que trae en sus manos?
la flor del pasado,
y su aroma de ayer,
nos dice muy quedo al oído
su canto aprendido del atardecer
nos dice con voz misteriosa
de cardo y de rosa,
de luna y de miel,
que es santo el amor de la tierra
es linda la ausencia que deja el ayer.
que es santo el amor de la tierra
es linda la ausencia que deja el ayer.

Coro: Todos vuelven

3. A tus pies
Compositor: Agustin Lara

En tu pié menudito,
como un alfiletero,
en cuya felpa rosa,
prendí mi amor entero.

Y tu pié tan chiquito
tiene tal distinción,
que por eso yo quiero
dejar a tus pies mi corazón

Alfombra de rosa quisiera
poner a tus plantas
Regar tu sendero florido
de cosas muy santas.

Amarte con fervor
hasta la muerte,
Ser un príncipe azul
para quererte.

Buscarse la paz de mi huerto,
las flores más bellas.
Poner en tus noche divinas,
regueros de estrellas
Y como un pecador arrepentido
implorar a tus pies
perdón y olvido
perdón y olvido

4. Mi Infancia ("Amargura")
Vals Peruano de Laureano Martínez

Quisiera que volvieran
los días de mi infancia
para vivir alegre
y sin preocupaciones
Quisiera que volvieran
los días tan felices
de esas lejanas horas
que aún viven en mi mente

Pero todo es quimera
y pura fantasía
los días que se fueron
jamas han de volver
por eso es que muy triste
voy siempre delirando
soñando con la infancia
que nunca más volvió

Felices los que tienen
el calor de una casita
dichosos los que viven
siempre al lado de sus viejos
a ellos los envidio
porque yo no tengo a nadie
a quién contar mis penas
y mi desesperación

Tan sólo mis tambores
me acompañan por el mundo
con ellos las tristezas
mi alma suele delirar
porque ella es noble y buena
la que nunca me abandona
y juntos por el mundo
seguiremos hasta el fin

Coro: Seguiremos hasta el fin

5. Saludando a los rumberos
Compositor: Manolo Albo

Saludando a los rumberos
de aquel tiempo
si mi mente no me falla, si señor
Un ofrenda para todos los que fueron
y crearon el sabroso guaguancó
melodías que se escapan de un diluvio
de problemas y de infelicidad
Se presentan en la forma más sublime
haciendo eco de este dulce repicar

Para todos, mis saludos como hermano
con respecto, con cariño de verdad
de la musa inspiradora yo les traigo
el mensaje que viene del Arará
de la musa inspiradora yo les traigo
el mensaje que viene del Arará

Coro: Así se toca mi guaguancó

6. Lo voy a dividir
Compositor: Roberto Livi

A la, a la la...

Esta será la ultima canción
que canto para ti
ya lo decidí lo pensé bien
no puedo mas seguir así,
ahora quiero ser libre como antes
como siempre fui,
porque ya me cansé de estar queriendo
a quien no me quiere a mi.

De ahora en adelante
cambiaré mi forma de vivir,
todo el cariño tan inmenso
que guardaba para ti,
lo voy a dividir,
lo voy a dividir,
con gente muy diferente a tu manera
de pensar y de sentir,
y te repito que el cariño
que guardaba para ti,
lo voy a dividir,
lo voy a dividir.

7. Acanapon
D.R. (Abakuá)

Jeyei Baribaribariba be nkama
Esunkañoso Abasí
Jeyei momi obonekue metankan iriongo
Sino muto abakuá akerefión (E)forí ankomo
Komo ereme nta
Endeme efí, endeme efó
Sanga mokumbán

Esunkañoso Abasí
Jeyei momi obonekue metankan iriongo
Sino muto abakuá akerefión (E)forí ankomo
Komo ereme nta
Endeme efí, endeme efó
Sanga mokumbán

A la la la...

Ékue uyo ke akanapón, ¡nkama!
Asere Mosongo moto
Efimerem Ekueñón
Monina Nkumpiá mutekémbere
Monina Nkumpiá mutekémbere
Abakuá Efó

A la la...

Solista: Emomi fere ankomo

Coro: Abakuá Efó

Solista: Endeme efí, endeme efó
Solista: Anawe kisón kiñongo
Solista: Yo sí soy endeme efó
Solista: Emomi fere ankomo

8. Mi Pañuelito ("El pañuelito")
Tango de Gabino Coria Peñaloza y Juan de Dios Filiberto

El pañuelito blanco
que yo te di,
fue regalado por mi madre,
fue para ti;
lo has despreciado
y en llanto empapado
y me has hecho sufrir

Y mi vida estaba triste
cuando te vi
cuando de tus dulces labios
oí decir
que ya no me amabas
y que te alejabas
por siempre de mi
que ya no me amabas
y que te alejabas
por siempre de mi

Coro: Mi pañuelo, yo te lo di

9. Qué susto
Compositor: Virgilio Martí

A, ala, a lala lalala

Qué susto pasó a mi amigo
cuando lo fueron a Bakiñán
Él que oía los cencerros del diablito
Él decía muy bajito
"Ya no me quiere murar"
El Iyambá que estaba molesto
entonaba esta canción:

"Emumbán eta atafañongo
tevere kison kiñongo"

Coro: Ekué, ekué todos no son obonekue, ekué ekué

10. Odiame
Letra de Federico Barreto
Musica de Rafael Otero López

Odiame por piedad yo te lo pido,
ódiame sin medida ni clemencia,
Odio quiero más que indiferencia,
porque el rencor hiere menos que el olvido

Si tu me odias quedaré yo convencido,
de que me amaste mujer con insistencia,
Pero ten presente de acuerdo a la experiencia,
que tan solo se odia lo querido
Pero ten presente de acuerdo a la experiencia,
que tan solo se odia lo querido

Odiame por piedad yo te lo pido,
ódiame sin medida ni clemencia,
Odio quiero más que indiferencia,
porque el rencor hiere menos que el olvido

Si tu me odias quedaré yo convencido,
de que me amaste mujer con insistencia,
Pero ten presente de acuerdo a la experiencia,
que tan solo se odia lo querido
Pero ten presente de acuerdo a la experiencia,
que tan solo se odia lo querido

Saturday, September 06, 2008

"PERC" - Pequeña Enciclopedia de la Rumba Cubana

Patricio has started a unique, historic, impossible and really fun project, an evolving reference site that attempts to list bios and info on as many rumberos as possible:

"La rumba cubana nunca ha sido una música comercial, ni es lucrativa, ni tampoco ha tenido estrellas de fama mundial, sino una sola: Chano Pozo.

La verdadera rumba se toca en los solares, entonces es imposible, para nosotros que no somos cubanos, conocer a centenas de rumberos buenos que aquí no vamos a poder mencionar.

Tampoco no podemos mencionar a rumberos de antaño como a Malanga, Mulenze, Andrea Baró, El Conde Bayona y otros tantos que solamente quedan en la memoria de los que los han conocido.

También vamos a mencionar a muchos músicos que no son especialistas de la rumba, sino de la música afrocubana o popular, pero que un día u otro han grabado algo de rumba.

Aquí solamente queremos ayudar a la gente que son amantes de este género, o que lo quieren estudiar, para que mejor sepan quién son todos estos rumberos y rumberas.

Les agradecimos a todos los rumberos y autores que nos han ayudado en nuestro camino de estudio, sobretodo a Gregorio Hernández y a María del Carmén Mestas por su libro maravilloso.

Les pedimos disculpas a todos los autores de las muchas fotos que aquí aparecen, pero que no podemos citar, por no conocerlos.

Este sitio no es completo ni es perfecto, pero lo vamos a mejorar, poco a poco, por seguir estudiando la vida rumbera de Cuba, actual o pasada."

Like the Cancionero Rumbero, (and this blog too, for that matter) it's hoped that readers will contribute corrections, comments and info as well.

Check it out here and enjoy:

Friday, August 29, 2008

Tonadas Trinitarias

Música Tradicional Spirituana Vol. II
Tonadas Trinitarias
Conjunto Folklórico de Trinidad

Track List:

Side A:
1. Los negros congos (2:56)
2. El Simpá y el Tamarindo (2:46
3. Tu has venido al mundo (3:00)
4. Delirio (2:44)
5. A la calle me voy (2:20)
6. Pa' los mayores (2:46)
7. Gloria llegó (1:32)

Side B:
1. Para el santo Juan de Dios (2:33)
2. Yo vengo a pedir merced (1:58)
3. Las mañanas de San Juan (2:00)
4. Canta Juana (2:50)
5. La independencia (4:52)
6. Una corona al general Maceo (3:24)

I'm not sure now when I first came across the term "tonada trinitaria." I was thinking it was with Afrocuba de Matanzas' 1996 release "Raices Africanas" which included "Pa' los mayores":

Yo traigo pa’ los mayores
de Pueblo Nuevo
Yo traigo los angelitos vestidos de oro
Las flores más elegantes de mi cantero

Clara le dijo a Cirilo,
“Cirilo, no me busques más”
Cirilo le dijo a Clara,
“Tú eres la mujer,
Tú eres la mujer de mi corazón”

Tun, tun, tun ¿quién va?
Tun, tun, tun ¿quién va?

“Soy tu marido mujer,
¿No me conoces la voz?
Abre la puerta por Díos
Que eso sí no puede ser”

Coro: Llorona llorona, llorona no llores más

But checking the liner notes to that disc, I see that is listed as a yambú, of matancero coro de clave origin, with no mention at all made of tonadas trinitarias. So maybe it was somewhere else.

Anyway, this song "Pa' los mayores," with it's beautiful melody and seemingly strange narrative (Who are Cirilo and Clara? What do they have to do with the flowers to Pueblo Nuevo? And who is the "llorona"?) has become something of a standard in the rumba repertoire, and I have often wondered about it and tonadas trinitarias in general. What are they exactly? How did they sound originally? It's been very difficult to find anything in-depth written about them, and even harder to find any recorded examples.

Today we can attempt to answer some of these questions.

I recently came across the LP pictured above, which is the most comprehensive recording of tonadas trinitarias that I am aware of. Long out of print, we are happy to bring it to the light of day here to help spread awareness and enjoyment of this obscure genre.

To help answer some of our questions, our friend Johnny Frías, an ethnomusicology student at the University of Florida has shared this article with us:

Tonadas Trinitarias
by Johnny Frías
© 2008 Johnny Frías

The tonada trinitaria is a musical manifestation from Trinidad de Cuba, a town in the central part of the island of Cuba known for its colorful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets.

Trinidad de Cuba
(Photo: Wikipedia)

The genre has a clear African ancestry and influence from the music of the white Cuban campesinos (country peasants).

Trinidad was the most important center of sugar cane production in the province of Las Villas [today Sancti Spíritus] during the nineteenth century. The third city founded in Cuba, it was an important Caribbean port and center of contraband due to its central location on the southern coast of Cuba.

Coinciding with the growing demand for sugar in the nineteenth century, a large number of slaves were brought into the Valle de San Luís (today called Valle de los Ingenios), the fertile valley home to Trinidad’s sugar cane production. It was here in the rural area surrounding Trinidad that the tonada trinitaria first developed. 
["Tonadas Trinitarias" simply means "tunes from Trinidad" though the term "tonada" is used to describe various other campesino musics of Cuba as well. - Ed.]

In the slave barracks, the Africans and their descendants were exposed to the music of their white campesino neighbors, who improvised décimas to the accompaniment of stringed instruments. They absorbed some of these influences, and along with their ingenuity produced the basis for what would be further developed in the urban areas of Trinidad.

The tonadas trinitarias may have existed as early as 1851 according to information collected by Enrique Zayas. They were practiced and popularized among the poor blacks, mulattoes and whites of the marginal neighborhoods, and preserved in the cabildos of the many African ethnic groups.

By the 1860s this music – known early on as tango and then fandango – was being performed by singers and drummers during the religious holidays and festivals of Trinidad. Singers and groups formed from the different barrios, or neighborhoods, of the town and met to sing, dance, compete, and parade through the streets, much the same as the coros de clave.

The groups are made up of lead singers called guías or gallos, a chorus of mixed voices, and drummers. The musicians are known as tonadistas. The music itself is based on a repeated chorus between which competing gallos improvise poetic lines based on the theme.

The gallo begins with the theme (tema or estribillo) and is immediately joined by the percussion, then answered by the chorus. The primary rhythm is in 12/8, although in practice it contains rhythms in the melody and percussion that are in 2/4. These groups interpret rumba as well in this format, yet primarily perform tonadas, of which there are hundreds.

Song themes may be patriotic, amorous, religious, or comment on other social situations. They have been transmitted orally through the generations and are now truly the domain of folklore, as none of the authors are known.

The instruments include three drums specific to the tonada trinitaria, a muela or guataca (hoe blade) and a güiro. The drums, due to their tuning style, have a clear Carabalí ancestry, but were shortened to facilitate the ambulatory nature of the groups. They are called [from lowest pitch to highest] bombo or salidor; un solo golpe or marcador; and quinto. The muela, güiro, bombo, and marcador repeat patterns over which the quinto improvises.
Drum used in tonada trinitaria ensembles.
Note similarity of size and rope-and-wedge
tuning mechanism with drums used in Abakuá,
of Carabalí (southern Nigeria-Cameroon frontier) origin (below).
(Photo Credit: Cidmuc)

Set of Abakuá drums.
Tend to be slightly conical in shape,
as opposed to the tubular shape
of those used in tonadas trinitarias.

(Photo credit:

Presently there is only one published recording of tonadas trinitarias, by the Conjunto Folklórico de Trinidad, which still includes some tonadas as part of their repertoire performed at the Palenque de los Congos Reales.

Sadly, most of the actual groups dedicated to the tonadas trinitarias are no longer active, and the surviving repertoire is limited to the memories of a select few tonadistas. It is a personal goal of mine to research, document, and promote this genre in order to preserve this beautiful music for future generations.


Esquenazi Pérez, Martha. Del areito y otros sones. La Habana: Ediciones Adagio, 2007.

Giro, Radamés. “Tonada trinitaria.” Diccionario enciclopédico de la música cubana.

Zayas, Efraín. Personal interview. 7 July 2008.

Zayas Bringas, Enrique. “La tonada trinitaria: También es campesina.”


We'll add here a few key excerpts from Rolando Pérez's article "El tambor en las tonadas trinitarias" in Clave, La Habana, 1986:
"Las tonadas dejaron de salir a la calle en 1958, ya muertos Alfonso Puig y Venerando Lugones, sus propulsores. Sus respectivos sobrinos: Manuel Quesada Puig y Francisco Cuéllar Lugones...continuaron, algunos años más tarde, la vieja tradición."

("The tonadas stopped performing publicly in 1958, with the deaths of Alfonso Puig and Venerando Lugones, its main protagonists. Their respective nephews, Manuel Quesada Puig and Francisco Cuéllar Lugones picked up the old tradition a few years later.)
"En tiempos pasados se establecían controversias entre los grupos de tonadas de diferentes barrios como los de Jibabuco y el Simpá, en las que se decían, a través del canto, las cosas que se sabian uno de otro. Es por ello que, al decir de Manuel Quesada (Bola), las tonadas eran cantos de picapleitos que a menudo terminaban de bronca."

("In times past there were "controversias" (verbal duels) among the tonada groups from different neighborhoods such as Jibabuco and el Simpá, in which they said, through song, the things that were known about each other. This is why, says Manuel Quesada (Bola), that the tonadas were contentious songs that frequently ended in fights.")

"Las tonadas se cantaban y tocaban en ocasión de la Fiesta de San Juan y San Pedro los días veintitrés y veintinueve de junio respectivamente. La víspera de San Juan cantaba por las calles durante toda la noche, y al amanecer los músicos iban al rio y se lavaban la cara con sus aguas, costumbre que evidencias las vinculaciones religiosas de esa tradición musical."

("The tonadas were sung and played in the Fiestas de San Juan and San Pedro. on the 23rd and 29th of june respectively. On the eve of San Juan there was singing in the streets all night long, and at daybreak the musicians went to the river and washed their faces, a custom in which the religious links of this tradition are evident.")

"Según nos han comunicado, las tonadas se tocaban también en las festividades de San Antonio (trece de junio), patrón del Cabildo de Congos Reales de Trinidad. En relación con esto debemos recalcar que las tonadas trinitarias han estado asociadas en su desarrollo con dicho cabildo. Algunos de los integrantes pertenecian y pertenecen aún al grupo de tonadas. Un ejemplo de ello fue Venerando Lugones, quien era cajero - tocador de caja - en el cabildo y tocador de quinto en las tonadas."

("According to what we have been told, tonadas were also played in the festivals of San Antonio (13th of June), patron saint of the Cabildo de Congos Reales de Trinidad. In relation to this we should emphasize that the development of the tonadas trinitarias has been associated with this same Cabildo. Some of the members once belonged and still belong to tonada groups. An example was Venerando Lugones, who was cajero - (caja, or large drum player) - in the cabildo and quinto player in the tonadas.")

To go back to "Pa' los mayores," just to show you how confusing Cuban music can be, we see this song referred to as a yambú by Afrocuba de Matanzas, yet it seems to contain elements of at least three different genres of Cuban music: a tonada trinitaria, "Cirilo y Clara" which Helio Orovio refers to as a conga, and finally Rolando Pérez tells us that "Llorona llorona, llorona no llores más" is actually a "rumba managua," a musical genre about which Pérez tells us little other than that it was accompanied by the same drums as the tonadas.

Listen here to "Pa' los mayores" in its (original? Does Trinidad even have a Pueblo Nuevo barrio like Matanzas does?) version as a tonada trinitaria:

Download the full album here.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Imagenes de Puntilla

Our friend Gene Golden passed along these photos of Puntilla, taken by Allen Spatz at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in June 28, 2008. More photos at

Gene Golden, Puntilla, and Abraham Rodriguez

Taken at the Damrosch Park Show

Nosotros, "La rumba"

Just getting around to ripping and posting the complete rumba sequence from the great "Nosotros La Música" dir. 1964 by Rogelio Paris (and widely available on DVD).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Orlando "Puntilla" Rios: De la Habana a Nueva York

The "Nueva Generación" show scheduled for Lincoln Center tonight is most definitely on:

93rd Birthday Tribute to Graciela
Sunday, August 17, 2008 7:30 PM
Damrosch Park Bandshell
Lincoln Center Out of Doors - free, no tickets required

Featuring José Alberto “El Canario” y su Orquesta with special guests Xiomara Laugart and David Oquendo, Orlando “Puntilla” Rios y Nueva Generación and a special appearance by Graciela.

It will be a tribute to Graciela as originally planned, but now will certainly be a tremendo homenaje to Puntilla.

As part of our own little homenaje, we are posting a copy of Puntilla's classic and rare first LP, "De La Habana a Nueva York." This was released sometime in 1983 on the "Puntilla Folkloric Records Co." label and was never released on CD.

The track list:

Side A
  1. Chants for Babalú Aye (A capella Arará)
  2. Ichara Ichá (Arará)
  3. Yesá for the Orishas (Yesá)
  4. Yemayá (Arará)

Side B
  1. Chants for Agallú (Arará)
  2. Hondos Dolores (Guaguancó de Tío Tom)
  3. Tu Ley (Rumba de Tío Tom)
  4. Rumba for Elegguá (Rumba de Rubén Martínez [sic] "El Tao")


Hector "El Flaco" Hernández - Iyá, Chéquere
Gene Golden - Itótele / Guagua (Tu Ley)
Carlos Córdoba - Okónkolo / Bombo / Drums
Carlos Sánchez - Chéquere
Orlando Ríos "PUNTILLA" - Iyá (Chants for Agallú) / Quinto (Tu Ley)
Daniel Ponce - Itótele (Yesá) / Playing three Congas (Rumba for Elegguá, Hondos Dolores)/Tumbadora (Tu Ley)
Miguel Fuentes - Guaguá / Okónkolo / Marimba
Lázaro "Popó" Parrado - Claves

Orlando Ríos "PUNTILLA"
Olufemi Mitchell
Alberto Morgan
Carlos Sánchez

Iris de Palá / David Palá

The album is beautifully produced, the drums sound great and there is some great vocal work on here as well. Vinyl rip is unmodified, but the record is in great shape and the mp3s are at 320kbps. So for those of you who can't make it to the show tonight, enjoy Orlando "Puntilla" Rios: De la Habana a Nueva York.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Orlando "Puntilla" Rios: Ibbae

(Note: This article was written by Patrice Banchereau and originally appeared in French on his blog Echú Aye.)

Yesterday, Tuesday 12th of August 2008, at approximately 1:30 am, Orlando Ríos "Puntilla" passed away, due to a heart attack.

He had been under dialysis for several years. The viewing for Puntilla starts tomorrow (Thursday) at 4pm, at the Montero Funeral Home, 1848 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx.

(UPDATE: The Lincoln Center show scheduled for this Sunday, is ON.)

Born in Havana on December 26, 1947, Puntilla came to USA in 1981 with the Marielito wave, quickly changing the batá scene in New York single-handedly, becoming THE new influence for American bataleros.

He also was renowned as a great rumbero, and definitely astonished the USA with his interpretation of "Oferere" and "Arere" on the "Totico y sus Rumberos" (MONTUNO MCD 515) record in 1992, in which he was the musical director.

On the cover (below), Puntilla is the small man against the street lamp, looking frozen stiff, his hands in the pockets of his leather coat.

Here is the décima in "Arere":

Oye señores caramba,
le voy a hacer un relato
que por un río yo pasé
Parado allí yo me quedé
a contemplar el agua limpia
fresca y clara
Mi alma recocijada
una Santa me encontré
al verla yo me impresioné
Oye, que me dijo vacilante:
“camina muchacho un poco más pa’lante
y encontraras a Eleguá,
Santo que sin ninguna mata
te limpiará tu camino
Obatalá es tu camino,
oye, pues te cuida sin cesar
y te librará, muchacho
de toda tu males y manías
tu ves…
Omoni Alawana mama ke nya irawo, e…

Successfully leading many "tambores" in New York and East-coasts basements and private houses, right after arriving in the United Sates he started his own group, "Nueva Generación," which released a live album, "Spirit Rhythms" (LATITUDES LAT50603) in 1987. This cd is now completely out of print, even on the Latitudes website.

(Photo from John Mason's "Orin Oricha")

(Román Díaz and Puntilla)

He then took part in Emilio Barretto's ambitious "Santísimo" project, with a boom-like first album.

Every director of every conjunto folklórico in Cuba still dreams of having such a marveolous sounding coro like the one on this wonderful cd.

Beside these choral miracles, it contains many vocal duets between Emilio Barretto, (many will find his non-traditional interpretations somewhat disturbing) and one Amelita Pedroso demonstrating all her skillful and mastered chanting.

Puntilla offers a wonderful iyesá to Iroko and Ochún - ¡sabrosísimo!:

"Kó kó kó Iroko mo iyesá
E bí abba uchiche Arabba
Arabba sise oguedde
E bí abba sise Arabba
Arabba sise oguedde
Iroko lo iyesá
Gba ilé kó kó kó"

Santísimo, first album
(sleeve colors have been changed)

Santísimo's second album was a "tambor doble" recorded in ceremony conditions, with a quite bad (but much more authentic) sound:

Santísimo, second album

Meanwhile, Puntilla recorded two cds with Deep Rumba (or "Rumba Profunda"), a kind of Latin Jazz All-stars:

  • "Alto en la Fiebre de la Rumba" featuring Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, Robby Ameen, Xiomara Laugart, Andy González, Richie Flores, Paoli Mejías, Haila Monpié, Giovanni Hidalgo, Román Díaz and Pedrito Martínez


  • "This Night Becomes a Rumba", featuring more or less the same musicians, plus Milton Cardona, Rubén Blades and Jerry González:

More recently, in the early 2000's, Puntilla renewed contacts with rumberos of Havana for two new albums featuring pure rumba:

The first one was a soundtrack for Marta Moreno Vega and Bobby Shepard's:
"Cuando los Espíritus Bailan Mambo":

Sadly this film now seems to be out of print…

In this double cd, four groups, plus a group of cuban rappers, "Anónimo Consejo":

-Los Egun Hablan (in fact part of Rumberos de Cuba).
-Grupo Yoruba Andabo
-Conjunto de Clave y Guaguancó
-El Conjunto Estrellas Cubanas, a famous charanga, playing "violín a los Orichas".

The second Havana rumba record, though recorded in 2003, was released in 2007, "A Tribute to Tío Tom." Once more, it features Rumberos de Cuba - with guests - under "Puntilla y el Conjunto Todo Rumbero" name (see article here).

You'll find most of the lyrics of this album on the Cancionero Rumbero blog.

You can listen to/or buy some tracks and download the inside booklet HERE.

The musicians with Puntilla are:
-Maximino Duquesne (tres-dos)
-Marquito Herminio Díaz (tumbador)
-Mario "Aspirina" Jáuregui (quinto)
-Ernesto Gatel (chant)
-Aidita (coro)
-Miguel Ángel Mesa
-El Goyo Hernández
-Lázaro Rizo
-Geovani del Pino
-Juan Cámpos Cárdenas "Chán"
-Miguel Chapottín Beltrán

(with Michele Rosewoman, as part of her "New Yor-Uba" ensemble)

(with Patricio, birthday rumba january 2004, Havana)

Unfortunately, many health problems began to bring Puntilla down, at the beginning of the 2000's.

His wonderful energy of the past began to fade, little by little; his magnificent voice got damaged, so did his hearing. All his fans began to feel pain, knowing that his damaged health altered his singing, something which had never occurred before.

He went to Cuba many times to recover and get cured, and in January 2004 organized at his family home in Havana a great rumba. I was lucky enough to be there. In the main room, his friends could watch clips from "Cuando los Espíritus Bailan Mambo." Outside, El Negro Triana and Salazar never stopped singing. Chapottín, Ernesto Gatel, Chaguito, and some two dozen great rumberos were there.

Puntilla, who was wearing under his clothes an enormous bandage all around his belly did not sing, but before "despedir a todos," he began "Mi Arere" just outside the front door, and then asked Ernesto Gatel to follow with "El Trovador".

Listen here:

Puntilla's role in the rumbero and santero world has always been wide, but he also played a part on the Latin Jazz scene: when Fernando Trueda rented the Sony studios for his film "Calle 54," he called Puntilla for a rumba that was in everyone's head that year:

"Si a Compay Galletano ¿cómo sin diente wa a mole'?
Wai, wai, wai ilaso
Wai, wai, wai ilaso
Wai, wai, wai ilaso
Kó kó wa a mole"

There he gathered in the "Nueva Generación" none other than:
Patato Valdés, Andy González, Román Díaz and Pedrito Martínez.

I remember when the film went on French Canal+, watching the video tape dozens of times, always with the same thrill on my skin. At home, children used to sing all day long: "Ma ni Lodo, ma ikokó ka iña…"

Ibae ibae n'tonú Orlando Puntilla…

As an ending, here are some vids from YouTube. A thousand thanks to all who "posted" those.

In this last video, Amadito (Amado Dedeu's son), Ernesto Gatel (who always tells that Puntilla was his main inspiration) and Tata (Pedro Franscisco Almeida Berriel) are talking on the phone with Orlando… quite moving.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

En un barrio viejo

Online Videos by

A guy named Figerola has recently been posting some rare and historic documentaries by Cuban director Nicolas Guillén Landrian. (Unfortunately they're on the advertising-plagued, but what can you do?)

"En un Barrio Viejo" is my favorite one, because of the great shots of Havana life c. 1964, and of course the wild afrocuban footage (mostly starting at about 6:40). That caiman on the head is pretty hard to forget. There's another film of his featuring Pello el Afrokán here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Random Rarities

An otherwise unproductive Google search for "tonadas trinitarias" led me to the blog "¡Viva el colectivo!" dedicated to "the art of the collective disc," a term I was unfamiliar with but which apparently means those 1970's compilations and live festival recordings of folk singers, especially folk songs in the sense of grassroots social justice folk songs.

Lots of stuff by Silvio, Pablo, Victor, which personally is not up my alley at all.

However there were some things I found on a couple of discs which are notable.

First, "Música cubana" SR Records SRLP-1305 (1978). This is apparently "recordings from Radio Nacional and TV2 Sweden."

1. "Canto a Elegguá" by Conjunto Folklórico de Guanabacoa
A very nice bembé tratao for Elegguá and others from this group I had never heard of, but you know with a name like that they have to be good, right?
2. "Oyá, diosa de los vientos" by Conjunto Folklóricio Nacional de Cuba
Tratao with batá accompaniment, Lázaro Ros singing at first, followed by (I think) Candito Zayas (I am sure someone out there can correct me if I am wrong).
3. "Tierra de Hatuey" by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas
(Erroneously listed on the album as "Oyelos de nuevo.") Never heard this performance of this great tune which is on at least two other of their discs.
4. "Columbia" by Tonadas Trinitarias
This is the selection that led me to the blog, but as far as I can tell it's a pure columbia, the group performing it must be a group known as "Tonadas Trinitarias." There seems to be a little info about them in the liner notes, but they are in Swedish. (Anyone?) Very raw stuff, del campo, nice.

The other disc was "Encuentro de Música Latinoamericana" Casa de las Américas / EGREM-CNC LD-CA-9 (1972), which contained the gem "Guasa Columbia" by Conjunto de Guaguancó de Mario Alán.

This is most likely the same group featured in our "Old School Rumbas Revisted" post. Great performance by Miguel Ángel Mesa on this one, and a nice old style columbia on cajones. Very good recording quality too.

Anyway, I took the liberty of putting these selected tracks separately here, just in case anyone doesn't want to download the whole discs. (Clicking on the album titles above will take you directly to the original posts.)


Friday, July 18, 2008

Where it all began: "En un cuartico...."

Guaguancó Matancero
Standing (L to R): Florencio Calle "Catalino"; Gregorio Díaz "Goyito";
Esteban Vega Bacallao "Chachá"; Pablo Mesa "Papi"; Ángel Pellado "Pelladito"
Seated (L to R): Hortencio Alfonso "Virulilla"; Esteban Lantri "Saldiguera"; Juan Bosco Mesa

"Entonces en la calle Salamanca entre Matanzas y Jovellanos, allí donde comezamos nuestros ensayos, en un cuartico, que no tenía nada, ocho hombres, que no cabíamos, a veces que habian compañeros que estaban por fuera, y querían ver el ensayo, digo, "Chico, tú, no es posible, no es posible, tu no cabe aquí..."
Ever since I first heard the great Virulilla describe the origins of Los Muñequitos in that inimitable voice of his, I have wanted to see that "cuartico." (Complete interview and translation here.)

Well our friend Chuck Silverman took a trip recently to Matanzas and he sent this photo of that hallowed spot were the eight gentlemen pictured above made some of the finest music ever recorded. Thanks Chuck!

Florencio Calle's house on Calle Salamanca in Matanzas,
where Los Muñequitos de Matanzas first rehearsed
Photo Credit: Chuck Silverman, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ibae: Luis Embale

Luis Embale, early 1950's
(Photo Credit: Courtesy familia Embale)

Born 23 January 1930, a legendary rumba singer who's voice was sadly never recorded, an inspiration to his brother Carlos, Guillermo "El Negro" Triana, and who knows how many others.

El Solar de los Embale
221 Calle Ángeles, e. Corrales y Gloria

(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)

The great Benny Moré would frequent the solar of the Embale family, at 221 calle Ángeles in Jesus María, pictured above, to sing rumbas.

Entering the Solar
(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)

Guillermo Triana, "El Negro," grew up down the street at Nº. 212.

Miguel Chappottín would often sing harmony to Luis' voz prima.

View from interior of the solar.
The Embale's apartment is to the right.

(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)

Among Luis' favorite numbers to sing were:


Ya se oye por la esquina
Un rumbón muy especial
Que baña la calle Vera
Con su luz primaveral
Ya está cayendo la noche
Y el misterio nocturnal
Lo mismo que mi alma
Se refleja en tu mirar
Tengo el alma muy contenta
Porque anoche te besé
Y al son de tu mirada
Mi cariño te entregue
Pero porque
Tu tendras que ver
Que en este nuevo amor
La historia se repetirá
Por eso yo me he puesto a analizar
De que todo en la vida es un cuento
Xiomara, ¿porque?
Xiomara, ¿porque?
¿Tu eres asi?
Óyelo bien Xiomara, habla
Dime si estás arrepentida
De haberme querido tanto
Como yo te quisé a ti
Jamás podrás comprender cuanto te quisé
Jamás podras olvidar cuanto te adoro
Ya todo terminó y todo se acabó
Sin amigo y sin amor
Que yo también como todo
Tuve dinero, amigo y amor
Si el amor se ha olvidado de mi
Y mis amigos me brindan traición
Mi amigo y mi amor
Mi amigo y mi amor
Se han ido los dos

Coro: Qué lástima con Xiomara a mí me dá

and "Yo tengo un cráneo contigo"

Yo tengo un cráneo contigo, nené
Y quiero que tú sepas
Que de ti me enamoré
Cuando yo te conocí
Caminando por la calle
A mirar tu lindo talle
Negra yo me estremecí
Recuerda que tú me diste a mí
Una grancita de amor
Para vivir un idilio amoroso los dos
Dime si no lo recuerdas
O es que se te olvidó
O es que mi cariño
En ti nunca perduró
Por eso en mi canto yo te digo así
Yo tengo un cráneo contigo, nené
Y quiero que tú sepas
Que de ti me enamoré

Coro: Anda, decidete

Entrance to the Embale's apartment.
(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)

Echoes of past rumbas.
(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)

Luis Embale, far right. Havana, early 1950's.
Others unidentified.

Courtesy familia Embale)

Luis Embale was returning home one night from a rumba in Las Yaguas (a notoriously poverty-stricken Havana district, home at various times to Tata Güines, Mongo Santamaria, and El Goyo) when he accidentally cut his arm.

The wound became infected and Luis died of tetanus a few days later, on June 11, 1958.

He was 28 years old.

José Luis Rey Embale (nephew) and Felicia Embale Molina (sister)
Remembering Luis in their house in El Cerro.

(Photo: Barry Cox, February 2008)