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A discographic overview of the popular Cuban dance music noted for its use of the flute and/or strings.

Article: Charanga

by John Child (


The name for both a kind of Cuban music and the bands that play it: a light, elegant, sprightly music; at its most lush and string-laden verging towards kitsch MOR; at its most commercial a light medium for pop covers; at its hardest a virtuosic interplay among overblown flutes, searing strings and percussion. The bands developed out of charangas francesas (19th C. 'French orchestras') and are characterised by flute lead, legato strings (violins and cello), rhythm section (crisp timbales, conga, güiro, bass, piano) and unison male voices; they were identified with the danzón, regarded as Cuba's national dance; hence bands also became known as danzoneras; from early '50s played cha cha chá and other Cuban rhythms; by the time Orquesta Sublime's '59 recording of 'La Pachanga' by composer Eduardo Davidson (b Baracoa, Oriente Province, Cuba; d 10 June '94, NYC, USA) introduced the pachanga rhythm, bands were simply called charangas (some credit José Fajardo's charanga as the first to perform pachanga).

Danzón stemmed from 19th C. Cuban contradanza, itself originating from the French contredanse introduced to Cuba by French exiles fleeing the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. First danzón is credited to be 'Las Alturas de Simpson' written in 1877 and first performed in 1879 by Black composer, cornetist, bandleader Miguel Faílde Pérez (b 23 Dec. 1852, Caobas, municipality of Guacamaro, Matanzas, Cuba; d 26 Dec. '21, Cuba; led own band 1871-1920); Afro-Cuban composer, clarinetist, professor, bandleader José Urfé (b 6 Feb. 1879, Madruga, Cuba; d 13 Nov. '57, Havana, Cuba) is credited as the first to inject rhythmic elements derived from the son into the danzón with his '10 composition 'El Bombín de Barreto', adding more swing, a broader appeal beyond white elite circles, and setting the mould for danzones thereafter. Pianist, composer, bandleader Antonio María Romeu (1876-1955; a white Cuban of French descent) is credited with introducing piano into the danzonera lineup of flute, violin, double bass, timbales and güiro, while a member of the Leopoldo Cervantes group early 20th C.; he organised his own danzonera '11, which he led until his death; made recording debut '15. While a member of Arcaño y sus Maravillas, cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, arr. Orestes López 'Macho' (late older brother of Israel 'Cachao' López) wrote the '38 danzón 'Mambo', which paved the way for the popular music and dance style; infl. by Arsenio Rodríguez's conjunto, leader Antonio Arcaño (1929-1994) became the first to add conga to the danzonera format c. '40. While a member of Orquesta América, Enrique Jorrín (1926-1987; violinist, composer, arr.) developed the cha cha chá rhythm from the final part of the danzón; cha cha chá became a craze that swept Cuba and USA during the '50s.

In addition to those mentioned, notable Cuban charangas of the last 70 years, many of which are still active, incl. Orquesta Neno González (organised in Havana '26 by pianist González), Orquesta Belisario López (founded in Havana '28 by López [1903-1969]; he relocated to NYC '60, there organised a new band and performed until his death), Orquesta de Cheo Belén Puig (founded in Havana '34 by pianist, composer Puig [1908-1971]; his band performed into the '50s), Orquesta Aragón (formed '39), Orquesta Melodías del 40 (formed '40 in Havana by pianist Regino Frontela Fraga; recorded, made radio and TV appearances for 30 years), Orquesta Almendra (founded '40 by composer/ multi-instrumentalist Abelardito Valdés [1911-1958]; he composed the danzón standard 'Almendra' '38), Orquesta Maravillas de Florida (founded '48), Orquesta Sensación (founded '53 by percussionist Rolando Valdés, who persuaded legendary sonero Abelardo Barroso [1905-1972] to come out of over 15 years retirement to perform and record with this popular band in the second half of the '50s; there have been various reissues of Barroso with Sensación incl. the commendable Tiene Sabor '92 on EGREM; Valdés later relocated to NYC where he organised a new Sensación and made two LPs on Ansonia '78-9), Rosendo Ruiz Jr. y su Orquesta (led by composer Ruiz Jr.: b 16 Oct. '18, Havana; penned famous cha cha chá 'Rico Vacilón'), Barbarito Diez y su Orquesta (singer Diez [1909-1995] joined Romeu's danzonera '35; became co-leader '55 after Romeu's death; band later acquired Diez's name), Orquesta Ritmo Oriental (founded '58), Orquesta Revé (a charanga derivative formed '59 by percussionist Elio Revé [b 23 June '30, Guantánamo, Cuba; d 23 July '97, Cuba]; lineup omits flute, adds trombones, tres guitar and sacred batá drums), Estrellas Cubanas (Fajardo's former band renamed under leadership of violinist, composer, arr. Félix Reina), Orquesta Original de Manzanillo (formed '63), Los Van Van (formed '69 by ex-Orquesta Revé member, bassist/ composer Juan Formell: b 2 Aug. '42, Havana; creator of the songo rhythm; band's sound fuses strings and 'bones), Orquesta Aliamén.

Following successful late '50s tours by Fajardo and Aragón, NYC's charanga heyday (which was dominated by the pachanga craze) began '60, led by Charlie Palmieri's Charanga 'La Duboney' (initially with Johnny Pacheco on flute) with four violins, infl. by Aragón; Pacheco y su Charanga, Mongo Santamaría's jazz-oriented charanga, Ray Barretto's Charanga Moderna, Pupi Legarreta y su Charanga , and Fajardo, who settled in USA '61. Charanga boom abated in NYC mid-'60s, most bandleaders eventually swapping strings for brass, but Orquesta Broadway has kept going as popular dance band for over 30 years; Orquesta Novel (previously called Orquesta Típica Novel) continued recording until '89. Ironically, on the evidence of Farándula NYC charts for '60: it was a brass-and-sax-led big band cover of Davidson's 'La Pachanga' by Afro-Cuban singer Rolando La Serie backed by Bebo Valdés' orch. (incl. on the LP Sabor A Mi on Gema) that originally held the number one slot for several months, rather than a charanga version; however a flood of pachanga numbers performed by charangas followed during the next few years. Other significant NYC-based charanga names that emerged during '60s incl. flautist, composer, arr., prod. Lou Pérez; Alfredito Valdés y su Charanga Popular (led by the veteran Afro-Cuban sonero: b 23 Mar. '10, Havana, Cuba; d '88, NYC, where he'd relocated May '56; George Goldner produced LP Viva Valdez '63 on Tico reissued '95, other '60s material compiled on Alfredito Valdés y su Charanga Popular '95 on Faisán); bandleader, vocalist, percussionist, composer, label boss Joe Quijano (his was not a strict charanga, but a lineup of two trumpets, flute, unison voices and a rhythm section playing with a charanga feel).

Charanga came back mid-'70s during brass-led NYC salsa boom; new bands were Típica Ideal, Super Típica de Estrellas (led by veteran flautist Don Gonzalo Fernández), Charanga 76 (formed '76 led by Cuban güiro player Filipe Martínez, played smooth pop style with singers Hansel Martínez, Raúl Alfonso, who later worked as successful duo Hansel & Raúl), Sublime, Charanga Casino (formed '78 as a slick commercial band led by güiro player/ composer Filipe Javier Ramos; singers Miguel Martin and Oscar Díaz went on to make duet LPs), Charanga America, Gene Hernández y Novedades. Fusion with typical frontline of conjunto trumpets and tres with Colombian vallenata accordion style to create 'charanga vallenata' hybrid was played in '80s by Roberto Torres (some credit flautist Nestor Torres with having devised charanga vallenata before Roberto).

Low key mid to late '80s NYC revival of charanga incl. LPs by Fania All Stars, Rudy Calzado, Charanga Calé, Orquesta Son Primero, Charanga De La 4, Broadway, Novel, America. In the late '80s and '90s Los Angeles-based Bongo Logic (organised '87 by timbalero, percussionist, prod., composer, arr. Brett Gollin: b 27 May '52, LA, USA) made interesting use of the charanga format in the Latin jazz idiom. A charanga lineup augmented by tres, trumpets,'bone and saxes was employed on the notable Senegal meets New York salsa Africando releases: Vol. 1 - Trovador and Vol. 2 - Tierra Tradicional and Gombo Salsa '93-6 on Stern's. Also noteworthy are Bronx-based Charanson led by pianist Héctor Serrano; their 'Descarga (Around Midnight)' of Dec. '87 is one of the highlights on The Montuno Sessions - Live From Studio 'A' '95 on UK Mr Bongo label, which also incl. a track by Charanga Calé. Evolucionando '96 on RMM by Los Jovenes del Barrio, which experiments with various Afro-Cuban styles, jazz and R&B, caused a sensation in '96; prod. by the charanga's leader Johnny Almendra (b Johnny Andreu, '53, Brooklyn, NYC; percussionist, principally timbales/ composer/ arr.; alumnus of Bobby Matos, Orchestra Dicupé, Johnny Colón, Tambo, Tito Puente, Charanga 76, Willie Colón, Mongo Santamaría, many others), the CD spawned the major crossover R&B/son fusion hit 'Telephone' sung in English and Spanish by Almendra's wife Jillian.

-This is one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child ( for The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 2nd Edition, edit. Donald Clarke; Penguin Books; 1998; 1524 pages; US$22.95, UKú16.99.

They are published on the Descarga website by kind permission of Mr. Donald Clarke.

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