Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tata Guines (1930-2008)

February 7, 2008
Tata Güines, 77, Cuban Master of the Congas, Is Dead

Tata Güines, one of the most important percussionists on the tumbadora, or conga drum, in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz and son montuno, died on Monday in Havana, where he lived. He was 77.

The cause was a kidney infection, according to Cuban state media.

Known for drawing a great range of sounds from his drums, with his fingernails as well as his hands, he was highly imitated, one of the best tumbadora soloists of his time, along with Chano Pozo and Patato Valdés.

Born Federico Arístides Soto in Güines, southeast of Havana, the son of a musician who played the six-string instrument called the tres, Mr. Güines moved to Havana in 1946. By the 1950s he was working with major Cuban bandleaders, including Peruchín, Bebo Valdés, José Fajardo and Chico O’Farrill. In the late 1950s he played as a soloist on the enormously influential recordings made for the Panart label of Cuban jam sessions led by Israel (Cachao) López, originally released as “Descargas en Miniatura.”

Also by the late 1950s he had joined forces with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, forming a new band, Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, later known as Los Amigos. But with the rise of the nueva canción singer-songwriter movement in Cuba, instrumentalists like Mr. Güines were falling out of favor. His second wind came with his participation in the “Estrellas de Areito” sessions in 1979, recordings made for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the descarga style from 20 years before.

By the ’90s, even before the waves of recognition for older Cuban musicians started by the “Buena Vista Social Club” film and record, Mr. Güines was recognized as an old master, and toured often. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel (Angá) Díaz, his greatest stylistic descendant, on the 1995 record “Pasaporte,” which won the Egrem album of the year award, Cuba’s equivalent of a Grammy.

He worked with other young bands, including Orlando Valle’s, and Jesús Alemañy’s band Cubanismo; he also recorded “Chamalongo,” with the Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett, and played on the title track of Bebo Valdés and Diego el Cigala’s popular 2003 album, “Lágrimas Negras.”

Cubans mourn 'King of the Congas'

By JAVIER GALEANO, Associated Press WriterTue Feb 5, 8:08 PM ET

Cuban musicians, family and friends remembered the island's most famous conga drummer, Tata Guines, as he was buried outside Havana on Tuesday after a six decade career that helped popularize Afro-Cuban rhythms worldwide.

Known as the "King of the Congas" and "Golden Hands," the 77-year-old Guines died Monday after being hospitalized for hypertension and kidney problems.

"There's no one in Cuba, if not the world, better at making percussion an art," Cuban music critic Jose Luis Estrada wrote Tuesday in the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

Mourners sang, clapped and swayed at a ceremony in his hometown of Guines — which he took as his stage name at the start of his career.

Born Federico Aristides Soto on June 30, 1930, Guines was best known for playing the conga, a tall, barrel-like drum central to Rumba and Afro-Cuban music and culture.

He took the stage in Havana in the early 1940s with the Partagas Sextet and moved to the United States in 1957, where he performed with jazz greats Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Though he enjoyed success in the U.S., Guines was upset by the racial segregation he experienced there and returned to Cuba after Fidel Castro's rebels toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Guines won a Latin Grammy in 2004 for "Lagrimas Negras," or "Black Tears," a collaboration with legendary exiled Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdes and Spanish singer Diego La Cigala. He also worked with the Rumba Cubana All-Stars on "La Rumba Soy Yo," or "I Am the Rumba," which won a Latin Grammy in 2001.

He received Cuba's National Music Award in 2006.

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