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Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal (trumpet) has been a key figure in the Cuban music scene for over 50 years and has played with just about every Cuban star you could care to mention. During World Circuit’s now legendary recording blitz in Havana in 1996, Guajiro was featured on all three of these seminal albums: Afro-Cuban All Stars’ A Toda Cuba Le Gusta, Buena Vista Social Club, and Introducing Rubén González. Having been an integral part of many albums in the Buena Vista series and a key member of Ibrahim Ferrer’s touring band, Guajiro released his debut solo album, the Latin Grammy-nominated Buena Vista Social Club Presents Manuel Guajiro Mirabal in 2004.
Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos (trombone / vocals / musical director) was born in 1951 in Pinar del Rio, where he began his musical studies in the National School of Arts. He started playing the trombone in local groups until 1979, when he moved to Havana and began playing with the great female quartet Los D’Aida. That same year he took part in the Estrellas de Areito recordings. Aguaje has played on the World Circuit recordings of the Buena Vista Social Club® and Afro-Cuban All Stars, and the solo albums of Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, and Omara Portuondo. He was Rubén González’ musical director and he has been touring extensively since 1997 with the various Buena Vista Social Club projects.
Barbarito Torres (laúd) – Barbarito’s professional career started in 1970 with Serenata Yumunina, a group led by Higinio Mullens. In three years he was discharged and travelled with Siembra Cultural, later renamed Grupo Yarabi. Eventually he settled in Havana and became a permanent member of Orquesta Cubana de Cuerdas. Later he joined Celina González and her Grupo Campoalegre as their musical director; at the same time, he was featured with Grupo Manguare, recording and touring with both groups.
Barbarito is well known for his contribution with the Afro-Cuban All Stars and the Buena Vista Social Club®. Both ensembles won a number of awards, including a Grammy for the Buena Vista Social Club® album in 1998. Since the Buena Vista project Barbarito has continued with his solo career, touring around the world with his group. In 1999 his first solo album, Havana Café, was released, followed in 2003 by Barbarito Torres.
The story of the life of OMARA PORTUONDO (b. 1930) reads like something out of a film script. The daughter of a well-to-do family and a mother of Spanish descent, she relinquished everything to marry a handsome black member of the Cuban national baseball team – a fact that she kept secret since mixed marriages were frowned upon in Cuba at that time. Omara’s first encounter with music was at a very early age. Just as in any other Cuban home, the future singer and her siblings grew up with the songs that her parents, for lack of a gramophone, sang to them.
However, before taking up singing as a career, a fortuitous event led her to first try her hand at dancing, following in the footsteps of her sister Haydee, who was a member of the dance company of the famous Tropicana cabaret. The relationship between Omara and the Tropicana remains intact today, and up to 1998 she still performed there from time to time.
Omara and Haydee also sang well-known American numbers with a group that included César Portillo de la Luz, José Antonio Méndez, and blind pianist Frank Emilio Flynn. They called themselves Los Loquibambla, and their style, a Cubanized version of the bossa nova with touches of American jazz, was known as “feeling.” In their radio debut, Omara was introduced as “Miss Omara Brown, the girlfriend of ‘feeling’,” the name by which she is still known by many Cubans today.
In 1952, Omara and Haydee, together with Elena Burke and Moraima Secada, set up a vocal quartet, directed by pianist Aida Diestro. This group became one of the greatest in the history of Cuban music, despite the fact that the original ensemble only recorded one single, on the RCA Victor label in 1957.
Magia Negra, Omara’s debut record, was released in 1959. Despite having embarked on this solo project, Omara Portuondo continued as a core member of Las d’Aida. Two years later, she had to cut short a series of concerts at a Miami hotel and return to Cuba due to the Cuban Missile Crisis, which led to the breaking of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba and to a long period of isolation for the Caribbean country.
Omara joined one of Cuba’s most important orchestras, La Orquesta Aragón, with which she traveled all over the world and also recorded several albums, such as the one she did with Adalberto Álvarez in 1984 and Palabras and Desafíos, both on the Spanish Nubenegra label and on which she was accompanied by Chucho Valdés.
However, what really catapulted Omara Portuondo to her well-earned fame was her appearance in the cinema in the mid-1990s. The success of the Buena Vista Social Club record and the film revealed to the public at large a voice, which for years had thrilled those fortunate enough to see her perform in cabarets and clubs in her native Havana. Omara was also the star of the third launching of the Buena Vista Social Club: Buena Vista Social Club presents… Omara Portuondo (World Circuit). Released in 2000, the album was enthusiastically received.
As a result of this renewed popularity, Omara experienced one of her most fertile and successful periods. In 2003 she went back to the studio to record her second solo album for World Circuit. Flor de Amor signaled a change in the direction of Omara Portuondo’s career: it is an album marked by a more subtle sound and a richness of texture. Before 2004 had come to a close, Omara received two great surprises: in Montreux, the International Red Cross appointed her International Ambassador, making her the first Cuban artist to achieve such a distinction; and Flor de amor was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Tropical Record category.
In 2006, Omara continued along the same lines that have characterized her work in recent years. Indeed, her deep-rooted social conscience led her to establish the Fundación de Amigos de Omara in Cancun to provide support to women from all over the world who are the victims of the social and economic circumstances that affect developing countries. Moreover, she kept up her intense musical activity with concerts in Latin America, Asia, and Europe, among these one of very special significance for her: the performance in Barcelona that brought her together with Mayte Martín and Martirio in the show “Entre Amigas,” in which she paid tribute to her idol, Ibrahim Ferrer, whom she also honored with the songs “Casablanca” and “Killing Me Softly,” songs which she and Ferrer sang together on Rhythms del Mundo (Universal).
In 2008 Omara continued with Gracias (Montuno Producciones), the record that marked her 60th year in the music business. With Gracias, Omara’s aim was to relive the numbers that she has found most moving and to work with the songwriters she most admires.
In October 2009, Omara was one of the first Cuban artists to play in U.S.A. for six years. She performed two wonderful concerts in San Francisco and Los Angeles, which left both the audiences and the critics wanting more. The following month Gracias won the Latin Grammy for the Best Contemporary Tropical Album.
For 2011, she has released a new album with the pianist Chucho Valdés, Omara & Chucho. This project brings together two of Cuba’s most highly regarded musicians, and they will be touring this show in 2011 across Europe.
ARTURO SANDOVAL is fluent in at least four musical languages. He can burn through an Afro-Cuban groove, tear up a bebop tune, soar over a Mozart concerto, or soothe you with a luscious ballad with equal power and grace.
Granted political asylum in July 1990 and U.S. citizenship in 1999, Sandoval and his family now call Miami, Florida home. A protégé of the legendary jazz master Dizzy Gillespie, Sandoval was born in Artemisa, a small town in the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on November 6, 1949, just two years after Gillespie became the first musician to bring Latin influences into American jazz. Sandoval began studying classical trumpet at the age of twelve, but it didn’t take him long to catch the excitement of the jazz world. He has since evolved into one of the world’s most acknowledged guardians of jazz trumpet and flugelhorn as well as a renowned classical artist, pianist, and composer.
Sandoval was a founding member of the Grammy-winning group Irakere, whose explosive mixture of jazz, classical, rock, and traditional Cuban music caused a sensation throughout the entertainment world. In 1981, he left Irakere to form his own band, which garnered enthusiastic praise from critics and audiences all over the world. Sandoval was voted Cuba’s Best Instrumentalist from 1982 to 1990.
Arturo Sandoval has been awarded four Grammys, six Billboard Awards, and an Emmy. The latter was awarded for his composing work on the entire score of the HBO movie based on his life, For Love or Country, starring Andy Garcia. He is one of the most dynamic and vivacious live performers of our time, and has recently been seen by millions in the Grammy Awards performing with pop phenomenon Justin Timberlake as well as on the Latin Billboard Awards with the gifted Alicia Keys, where he was awarded his 6th Billboard Award for Best Latin Jazz Album.
Not only is Sandoval a tenured professor at Florida International University, but he works nationally and abroad with innumerable institutions and their music departments, offering several scholarships, exercise books, clinics, and seminars, and has rendered a considerable amount of time working with the NARAS educational program. Furthermore, Hal Leonard Publishing has not only released additional education books with recorded CDs that include original exercises by Sandoval, but has also published various big band, combo, and marching band charts from his award-winning albums. Arturo Sandoval maintains one of the most extensive educational programs in the industry.
Sandoval is a renowned classical musician, performing regularly with leading symphony orchestras from around the world. He has composed his own Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, which can be heard on Arturo Sandoval: The Classical Album. Also, he has been chosen to perform with the foremost orchestras on primetime television, and was asked by John Williams to record the composer’s original Trumpet Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra. His classical artistry has earned him the respect and admiration from the most prestigious conductors, composers, and symphony orchestras worldwide.
Arturo Sandoval’s versatility can be heard on recordings with everyone from Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Woody Shaw, Michel Legrand, Bill Conti, and Stan Getz to Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka, Rod Stewart, and Alicia Keys, among many others. He has performed with Celine Dion at the Oscars, John Williams with the Boston Pops, and at the Super Bowl with Tony Bennett and Patti LaBelle. His playing can also be heard on Dave Grusin’s soundtrack for Havana, in the Mambo Kings soundtrack with his Grammy-nominated composition “Mambo Caliente,” and in the soundtrack of The Perez Family. He was commissioned by the Kennedy Center to compose the music for the ballet Pepito’s Story, choreographed by Debbie Allen.
Arturo Sandoval reaches beyond the scope of mere effort. His struggles while in Cuba and since his defection have given him more energy and strength, urging him to accomplish and surpass his childhood dreams. Filled with a virtuoso capability, he desires nothing more than to share his gift with others who feel the same intense adoration for music as he does. One frequently speaks of Arturo Sandoval’s virtuoso technical ability or his specialty in high notes, but anyone who has seen him on the piano, lyrically improvising a ballad, or has had the opportunity to enjoy the diversity of his music through his compositions – straight-ahead jazz, Latin jazz, or classical – knows that Arturo Sandoval is one of the most brilliant and prolific musicians of our time.