Cuba’s music, and its people who are seemingly so invested in keeping its classic alive, is perhaps the biggest thing I took away when I visited the island in 2013.
Everywhere I went, whether it was a large restaurant, or a tiny café, singers of all ages, crooned out the classics such as “Guantanamera,” “El Manisero,” “Chan Chan.” Often they were accompanied by supremely talented musicians, nothing sounding a lick out of tune.
For an island that many describe as “stuck in time,” I hope they never lose that part of their culture should its status (namely with the United States) change.
This innate ability to keep Cuba’s son, guaracha, pregnoes, and charanga, alive and well on the island, is what you should keep in mind when listening to Cha Cha Cha, the newly re-mastered album by one of the greats of the golden age of Cuban music, Abelardo Barroso with Orquesta Sensación (Nov. 17 on World Circuit Records, the label behind Buena Vista Social Club.)
What you’ll hear in timeless classics such as, “La Hija de Juan Simón,” “El Guajiro de Cunagua,” and “El Manisero,” is Barrosso’s beautiful voice wonderfully complimented with Orquesta Sensación’s classic line-up of flute and violins, piano, and backup singing, that makes the music distinctly Cuban.
Oftentimes, tracks will start off slow and break into an energetic rumba, like in “La Mulata Rumbera.”
One of Cuba’s all-time great singers, Barroso was born in Havana in 1905. He first burst onto the scene in the 1920s recording with all three of the era’s finest bands during the first great wave of Cuban son music. In the 1930s he was known as the ‘Cuban Caruso’, performing with the most popular danzon groups of the day and becoming one of Cuba’s first radio stars. By the early 1950s, he found himself playing for tips outside a nightclub before staging a spectacular comeback after he was discovered by Rolando Valdés, the director of Orquesta Sensación, one of the great charanga bands of the cha cha cha boom of the mid-1950s.
Together they would go on to record the tracks for Puchito Records. Although they were known primarily as a cha cha cha band, Barroso and Orquesta Sensación put their unique stamp on the gamut of other Cuban styles. Barroso toured and performed with Orquesta Sensación in Venezuela, Miami and New York, and continued to record with the orchestra until 1965. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during those club performances.)
Today, Barrosso has especially dedicated fans in West Africa, where his voice is still heard and revered in cafes and on the radio across Guinea, Mali, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire. You can pick up the album, beautifully re-mastered 40 years after his death in 1972, online.
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