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Afro-Cuban All Stars

About this Artist

Afro-Cuban All Stars is a unique orchestra that has always been devoted to promoting the full range of Cuban music, one that embraces several generations and all musical styles. Over the years many of the band’s musicians have become international stars, including brilliant performers such as Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer, Guillermo Rubalcaba, Amadito Valdes and Manuel “The Guajiro” Mirabal.

The genesis of the Afro-Cuban All Stars has its roots early in the 1990s. At this time the son ensemble Sierra Maestra, headed by Juan de Marcos, received a lot of international exposure. As a consequence, de Marcos was introduced to Nick Gold, president of World Music Records (at that time a small independent world music label). That encounter led to a couple of very successful tours in Europe. Later the group went to London and recorded Dundumbanza, considered one of the jewels of the world music scene of the early ‘90s. (In retrospect, this recording opened the doors to the further incredible boom of the traditional Cuban music of the period.)

Months later, de Marcos got the go-ahead to do an album celebrating the classic Cuban sound of the ‘50s – a recording whose personnel would feature many great musicians that de Marcos knew. An agreement reached, the plan was to prepare two projects: one featuring a Cuban big band and the other favoring a more traditional sound reminiscent of the acoustic style of Nico Saquito or Portabales.

In March of 1996 they recorded the album A toda Cuba le Gusta, featuring nearly 60 performers. Then, with the addition of celebrated artists such as Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo, Eliades Ochoa, Barbarito Torres, and legendary American guitarist Ry Cooder, what became the Buena Vista Social Club. Finally, with low budget and only during two live sessions and simple orchestrations written at the studio by de Marcos, they also recorded the first solo album of Rubén González, “Introducing Ruben Gonzalez”. This was destined to be one of the most successful of the “Buena Vista” series of recordings.

During the spring of 1997 and along with the release in Europe of the three albums, de Marcos and a select group of stellar musicians started touring all over the continent under the banner of a band christened the “Afro-Cuban All Stars.” The original line up, familiar from the records, included Ruben González and Guillermo Rubalcaba (piano), Orlando López (bass), Amadito Valdés (timbale), Carlos González and Roberto Valdés (bongos & cuban percussion), Ángel Terry (congas), Daniel Ramos, Alejandro Pichardo and “Guajiro” Mirabal (trumpets), Alberto “Molote” Martínez and Jesús “Aguaje” Ramos (trombones) and, Raúl Planas, Manuel Licea, Pío Leiva, Ibrahim Ferrer and Félix Baloy (lead singers).

After several years of success – including four Grammy nominations, being the subject of several documentaries and films, and recipients of many other distinctions – the All Stars are certainly one of the best-known and successful Cuban orchestras along with Los Van Van and Irakere.

Afro-Cuban All Stars has also opened the doors to a new generation by incorporating young musicians into the band. With his project, de Marcos has developed a concept: to stand up on the roots for creating the future. More so than simply creating a band, his approach has allowed him to expand its creative range by incorporating contemporary styles of Cuban music; as well, as a fluid approach to adjusting the orchestra’s line-up by changing or adding musicians as appropriate to best reflect the different styles of music from the various periods that the band features.

The Afro-Cubans are the same orchestra that can be seen in those distinct performances captured in the famous Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club documentary by Wim Wenders, the Tony Knox documentary Salon of Dreams, or the DVDs Live in Japan and Live in The Hague.