In a short period of time, Cuban music has lost legends such as César “Pupy” Pedroso, Adalberto Álvarez and José Luis Cortés, el “Tosco”. For decades, these icons produced many of the most popular songs among Cuban dancers. Their passing undoubtedly leaves an enormous void, but other musical ensembles, with different creative styles, continue to bring life to that tumbao, the peculiar rhythm that always distinguishes the music made in this Caribbean archipelago.
ALEXANDER ABREU AND HAVANA D´PRIMERA
Alexander Abreu is considered one of the most complete trumpet players, and not only in Cuba. In addition to his virtuosity with that instrument, he owns a powerful voice and a great talent for composition and musical direction.
He played for the global jazz pacesetter that was the Irakere musical ensemble, and he also worked with renowned musicians who are prime examples of Cuban timba, such as Isaac Delgado and Pablo FG. In 2007, he decided to create his own musical band: Havana D’Primera.
With this ensemble, he has recorded ten albums. The debut album, 2009’s Haciendo historia, showed we were in the presence of a different kind of sound. Later on, 2013’s Pasaporte was considered one of the best Latin music albums by the Los Angeles Times. His 2016 song “Me dicen Cuba”, in which he played fragments of the Cuban national anthem, turned out to be highly popular, albeit controversial.
With 2018’s Cantor del pueblo, Abreu was nominated in the Best Salsa Album category at the Latin Grammy Awards.
His most recent album, Será que se acabó, has been very successful, and it received the Cubadisco 2022 Grand Prize. This record, co-produced by Abdala and the Catalan label Páfata, contains 20 songs that were hugely popular among dancers in the 1980s and the 1990s. Abreu has now made more contemporary arrangements of memorable songs such as “El baile del buey cansa’o” and “Échale limón”. The result was splendid.
ELITO REVÉ Y SU CHARANGÓN
Elito Revé followed on the footsteps of his father, Cuban music icon Elio Revé, who founded his Charangón orchestra in 1956. Elito, who is a pianist and composer, had to take over the direction of the ensemble after his father died in an automobile accident in 1997.
Over the last 25 years, Elito has been able to keep the Charangón’s legacy alive, and many of his songs are in the repertoire of anyone who enjoys dancing to Cuban music. The unforgettable “Uyuyuy qué veo” was a major success.
Some of his most outstanding albums are 2010’s De qué estamos hablando, 2015’s La salsa tiene mi son —which was an homage to his father— and La aplanadora de Cuba. One his most popular songs at the moment is “El cosquilleo”, a collaboration with Alexander Abreu.
Related article: Six Unforgettable Queens of Cuban Music
MAYKEL BLANCO Y SU SALSA MAYOR
Maykel Blanco is a highly regarded pianist, percussionist, composer and musical producer. With his ensemble Salsa Mayor, he has performed in more than 90 countries and owns a long list of songs that have reached the peak of popularity. Nowadays, Salsa Mayor is one of the bands drawing in the biggest crowds, and not just in Cuba.
Blanco formed his orchestra in 2004 and it was immediately clear that, by bringing together young and talented Cuban musicians, he had managed to give the ensemble a different sound. Among his most celebrated albums are 2006’s Recoge y vete, 2012’s A toda máquina and 2018’s Qué tiene que te mueve.
Moreover, Blanco has become a leading music promoter. In 2015, he decided to create the International Salsa Festival, a major event that has gathered the finest Cuban ensembles over its different editions.
EL NIÑO Y LA VERDAD
Emilio Frías, “El Niño”, was an important figure in Elito Revé y su Charangón. In 2013, he created his own orchestra —which he christened with the peculiar name “El Niño y la Verdad”— and became its lead singer.
This ensemble can bring on the moves in genres like son, guaracha and rumba. Emilio has a sonero’s timbre in his voice, and that means his songs have become highly celebrated by the salsa-dancing community in Latin America and parts of Europe, where the band has performed with major success.
His albums Llegó la Verdad and Más duro garnered highly favorable reviews. Then, with De vuelta al barrio, he won the Grand Prize at Cubadisco 2019. In 2022, he premiered his fourth album, El hijo del viento, with 10 songs and renowned guest artists such as Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Haila María Mompié.
MANOLITO SIMONET Y SU TRABUCO
With nearly a score of albums to their name, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco has managed to remain among the most popular ensembles in Cuban popular dance music.
Simonet is an outstanding pianist, musical producer and arranger. In 1993, he formed his orchestra, and two years later they premiered their first album, Directo al corazón. Then came Contra todos los pronósticos (1996), Marcando la distancia (1998), Para que baile Cuba (2000) and Se rompieron los termómetros (2001), which consolidated the Trabuco as one of the most relevant ensembles in Cuba.
For almost three decades of continuous work, Simonet has been able to fuse contemporary sounds with genres like cha-cha-chá, bolero and guaracha. The result of this blend has been a sound that distinguishes the Trabuco wherever it performs.