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03/21/04

John Child talks with the accomplished percussionist, solo artist, producer and musical director.



José Mangual Jr.
Living By The Creed of Rhythm

A conversation with John Child



John Child talks to José Mangual Jr. about his major new project, Dancing With The Gods / Bailando Con Los Santos (Chola Musical Productions Inc. CMP-155). But before that, José speaks in detail with John about his accomplished career as a solo artist, producer and musical director over the last 26 years. His fascinating story is studded with such key names as Junior González, Melcochita, Isidro Infante, Sarabanda, Rey Reyes, Cuco Valoy, Mario Bauzá, Jimmy Sabater and Son Boricua.




John Ian Child (JIC): David Carp's 1998 interview with you for Descarga.com, called A Family Affair, did a marvelous job of covering the distinguished Mangual dynasty and your period with the bands of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe. So I intend to focus on your solo, producing and directing career, recent work and new album, Dancing With The Gods / Bailando Con Los Santos (Chola Musical Productions Inc. CMP-155). Let's jump in and begin by talking about your recording debut as a lead vocalist on one cut of La Protesta, (1970 on Rico) the first album by Tony Pabón's band of the same name. You sang "San Miguel," which you co-wrote with the band's pianist Kent Gómez. Please, could you take up the story from there?

José Mangual Jr. (JMJ): In 1970 I was playing with the Willie Colón orchestra, and there was a band called the Pete Rodríguez Band. The members of the Pete Rodríguez Band decided to form a new band, which they called La Protesta. These guys asked me to join them since they needed a corista. I worked with them for a couple of weeks, but they actually fired me for being a bit of a wild 22 year-old. Drinking too much, stuff like that. So, I went back to Willie Colón's band, but I kept recording with La Protesta. There was a song I wrote with Kent Gómez called "San Miguel." Mr. Ralph Cartagena, who was the president of the Rico Records label, originally wanted Nestor Sánchez to sing it, God rest his soul. But Nestor wasn't really "getting it" the way that I wanted. Ralphie said to me: "Why are you talking about it? Why don't you go out there and do it?" I said: "OK," and I sang it.

JIC: Kenny Gómez also played on Pabón's previous album Tony Pabón and his All-Stars (c 1969) on Alegre, performed with Willie Colón and recorded as a leader with Fonseca and Mio. Please could you tell me more about Kenny?

JMJ: Kenny Gómez went to Miami while playing with La Protesta in the mid-1970s . The band was scheduled to perform at a place called Salón Español, where normally you were scheduled to work four nights out of the week. Usually that meant playing Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Well, during this trip, Kenny fell in love with Florida. He told Tony Pabón: "I'm staying here." He went back to New York with the band, packed his stuff, drove down to Florida, and has been there ever since.*

(*In Florida, Kenny Gómez worked on the local recording scene. For example, his name appears on Te Tengo Pisao! '80 on Teca by Conjunto Impacto, Asi Soy Yo '83 on Funny by Emigdio Ortiz y su Charanga Vallenata, Paso la vida pensando: "En ti" '84 on Kanayón by Ñico Rojas y su Orquesta and Miguel, Oscar y La Fantasia '85 on Suntan by Miguel Martín and Oscar Díaz, featuring the hit "Good Lovin'.")

JIC: Incidentally, the title track of Kenny's Mio album My Ghetto is included on Aaron Luis Levinson's new compilation Lost Classics of Salsa Vol. I on Libertad. While still co-leading Héctor Lavoe's band, you made your recording debut as a leader on the classic Tribute To Chano Pozo (1977) on your own True Ventures label. The landmark track "Campanero," with an incredible campana solo by your good self, was a major hit in Cali, Colombia, and is credited with triggering the Caleño tradition of the campanero. These are guys who come along to gigs with their cowbell and play-along with the band. You also see this among Colombian audiences in the UK. Please tell me about this phenomenon and how it has impacted on your status and career in the Colombian salsa scene?



JMJ: The success, the impact of "Campanero", especially hearing the number in a stadium, was a big surprise for me. You see, in the discotheques and nightclubs throughout Colombia, there are actual percussion instruments that anyone can pick up and play along with the song that is playing. I mean, this is a place that you go to dance, and if you have a little familiarity with the instrument (or perhaps you don't) you can pick it up, and play along with the record. This is very popular in Colombia. I guess that the cowbell, la campana, was a very popular instrument. It is easy to transport; just a stick and a cowbell. Well, when I performed "Campanero" in a stadium for the first time, A STADIUM! I heard and saw the crowd, but I mean a large number of people, playing their cowbells (and bongos) right along with me. I didn't realize the impact this song had on the people of Colombia! I mean, mothers, fathers, children, boys and girls were playing with me, hit for hit. In Venezuela...other places...they like the cowbell too, but they play it the way rock 'n' roll fans play air guitar. In Colombia, the people bring their real instruments and play! It was overwhelming to see.

JIC: Was this stadium gig at the Cali Feria in 1982?

JMJ: Yes, that was where I played "Campanero" in the stadium with the cowbells. It was the fulfillment of the dream of a young kid from Harlem, to play like my dad. It was great to actually sing a number about an instrument that I played. Me, a Percussionist! What is funny is that the album "Campanero" is from, Tribute to Chano Pozo Volume I , was intended to be an instructional album. It went a commercial way instead.

JIC: It appears from the album credits that the late José Febles was a significant collaborator on Tribute To Chano Pozo . Please could you comment on this and share some of your memories of Febles?

JMJ: It is such a great pleasure to hear you mention José Febles. We have a tendency of forgetting people who have been very important, and José Febles was important, not only to me, but to Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Johnny Pacheco, Héctor Lavoe, the Fania label, and many others. Unfortunately, he left us at much too young an age. José was a very, very talented and shy man. Yet at the same time, he was a giant in Latin music. Febles made a three piece brass section sound like a six piece brass section. He was outstanding because of the way he harmonized, the way he used a note, both as an arranger and musician. He was an outstanding trumpet player and guitarist. He was so advanced for his time! I had the pleasure of working with him in the Héctor Lavoe Orchestra, which he made sound like a big band. You see, originally Héctor's band was comprised of two trombones and a trumpet, with a conjunto rhythm section, comprised of Milton Cardona and myself. Our budget didn't really allow for timbales, so Héctor would play the maracas. Well, Héctor brings José Febles into the band as the second trumpet player, which I thought was great. This gave the band an orchestra type of sound, with that conjunto rhythm section. Incredible! In any band, the best times are when you have an arranger as a player in the band. It tightens things up and it gives an expertise to the band. There was no beating around the bush. When José Febles counted off those numbers, it was time to really play. He was a simple man, un Jibarito de Ponce, Puerto Rico , but a studied man, musically speaking. He studied in Ponce right along with Papo Lucca.

JIC: Between 1979 and 1982, you made Pa' Bailar y Gozar , Mangual '80 (reissued as Ritmo, Sabor y Clave ), Sonero Con Clase and Que Chevere for the Venezuelan Velvet label. How did this deal come about?

JMJ: A very good question. Ritmo, Sabor y Clave was produced by José Mangual Jr. for Velvet Records. Pa' Bailar y Gozar was another album produced by me. Que Chevere was produced by José Mangual, and it was sold to Velvet with the proviso of being exclusive to the territory of Venezuela. There seem to be big mix-ups when you do deals with certain foreign labels. These labels in turn do their own deals and sales with other labels, and after a while, it appears that a product is owned by a label you may or may not have ever heard of. Some of these products were owned by Campanero Productions, as it says on the original credits. For example, I remember touring in Colombia with Héctor Lavoe, and "Mil Amores" was playing everywhere. Well, I had not released the song in Colombia. Velvet sold it to someone in Colombia. All things considered though, it was a good relationship between myself and Velvet, with Mr. Luis Francisco Mendoza, who was the executive of A&R for Velvet Records. We did well together, touring throughout Venezuela.

JIC: Carlos "El Grande" received top billing on the original issue of Sonero con Clase . Please could you tell me about him and this project?

JMJ: This is a record that I produced for Velvet records in New York City, and Carlos "El Grande" came to New York from Venezuela to sing it. Funny, though, I had never met Carlos, and when they told me Carlos "El Grande", I'm expecting to see this big guy. Well he gets to New York and knocks on my door in Flushing, Queens...I'll never forget this...and in walks this guy smaller than me! (Laughs) So I ask him: "Why do they call you El Grande?" He just shrugged and said: "That's what they call me." I remember touring in Venezuela after the release of Sonero con Clase . We had four hits playing on the radio in Venezuela constantly.

JIC: Carlos "El Grande" provides lead vocals to the current Faisan Records release, Al Natural , the belated band-leading debut of Papo Pepin. Meanwhile, in 1980, you set up Campanero Productions Inc., for which you made Time Will Tell / Que Lo Diga El Tiempo . The album contains one of my all time favorites: "Mil Amores", which was arranged by José Madera, who also contributed to your Velvet and other productions. Please could you tell me about Madera and your association with him?

JMJ: José Madera was another young, talented musician from El Barrio, the Spanish quarter of Manhattan, New York City. We grew up together, because both of our fathers played with Machito and his Afro-Cubans. His father was the great "Pín" Madera, first tenor sax of the orchestra. My dad was the great José "Buyú" Mangual, bongo player. In that golden age of the Machito Orchestra, Madera and Mangual were there. José would become a fine writer and arranger. So one day I said to him: "Come on aboard and be my musical director." I really wasn't sure of which way I was going at the time. I wore many hats. I figured that Madera could write and produce, and at the same time Louie Ramírez (the great Louie Ramírez) could do some things, and maybe Ray Santos could do something. I wanted several different people to arrange for me on that record, yet I wanted a musical director to take care of the music. That job went to José Madera. He arranged a lot of hits for me: "Mil Amores", "Campana Mayoral"

JIC: Velvet and Campanero productions from José Mangual Jr. seem to dry up after 1982. Why was this?



JMJ: Salsa romántica came on the scene. People wanted to hear the romantic salsa, old ballads made into a softer salsa. That was not my school. My school wasn't to play plastic style. Like the old maestro Mario Bauzá said: "When you go to play, you play the right way. And if you're not sure that you're playing it the right way, play it loud, because there is a tendency of people to play softly when they are unsure." The new era came about, in the form of the skinny, nice-looking boy up front, singing salsa ballads to make the ladies melt in his hands. The old salsa, la salsa dura, went out the door at this time.

JIC: Where you gigging with your own band during this period? And if so, what was the instrumentation and personnel?

JMJ: By this time, I was doing small tours throughout Latin America. Thank God, this music endures in places like Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru. I was playing my gigs, sometimes with a band from New York, and sometimes as a soloist, where I would go and rehearse a band from those places and perform with them. During that era, recordings went down, and Miami and Puerto Rico became the places where salsa floja was coming out of. Musically, New York City was no longer was the center of it all. Up until that time, New York was the barometer of salsa. After this, companies started going under, singers were dying. We lost a lot of the good music.

JIC: Then in 1983, you produced Junior González's Gracias on the obscure 7th Galaxy label. This was the first in a series of albums you produced for González. Others include Sabor y Sentimiento '86 on Caballo, Mas Romántico Que Nadie '89 on Mercury, En Su Tiempo Siempre '92 on Sony, Lo Pasado, Pasado '93 on EMI / Capitol and Tribute To Héctor Lavoe '00 on Ecuajey / Walboomers. Presumably Junior had just emerged from completing his Fania contract at the time you made Gracias ?

JMJ: Yes, he had just come out of the Fania contract, and we both hooked up with 7th Galaxy. I wanted to produce Junior, and there wasn't much happening in New York at the time, so we did it. I believe that I can get everything out of a singer, and I was able to do that with Junior.

JIC: Gracias contained a wonderful version of "Hechando Pa'Lante", which was later compiled on Mascara Salsera Vol. 4 '96 on Asefra. I'd be interested in your recollections about this album?

JMJ: I remember that we had a great budget to work with. If I needed live violins, I got them. Nowadays, you have to settle for synthesizers. 7th Galaxy was a company that was very interested in the music; whatever I needed for Gracias , I was given. And Junior wanted to get down. He sang great!

JIC: In 1984 you made Al Fin y Al Cabo for 7th Galaxy. This was to be your last solo project for quite a while, because it would be another 11 years before you released another solo album but more of that later. What were the reasons for this?

JMJ: The reason for the lack of a solo project for so long was the lack of money to do a production. Being that I was not approached by a company that wanted to do a production during this time, I had to build my own revenues. It took 11 years. Meanwhile, I was a player.

JIC: Please could you tell me more about 7th Galaxy?

JMJ: 7th Galaxy was a label that just came and went. They started out OK. I took care of the music, and I don't know what they did with the business end, but something was lacking there.

JIC: In 1986 and 1987 you produced and performed on a trio of albums for the Caballo label. We've already mentioned Sabor y Sentimiento by Junior González. In fact, at the time of its release, I saw Junior González perform at a Colombian community gig in London at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square. Jazz trombonist Annie Whitehead was in the horn section of the pick-up band. Anyway, please tell me about Caballo?

JMJ: Caballo was a company owned by a young Colombian named Caballo, who had the idea of making his own label. One night, this young man approached me at Juan Pachanga's nightclub in New York City. He asked me if I would meet with him and discuss a deal where I would produce three albums for him. I met him a few days after, and we decided to do the first production.

JIC: Your second production for Caballo was Con Sabor a Pueblo '86 by Melcochita. You'd previously accompanied Melcochita and his sister Lita Branda on Con Sabor '80 (reissued as Hermanos de la Salsa on En Clave); and went on to produce his El Muerto Se Fué De Rumba '87 on Tibiri, perform on Libertad '93 and Mi Son Sabroson '96 on Levesque, and co-produce, co-direct and perform on Tributo Al Jefe Daniel Santos '98 on Levesque. Please could you share your recollections of these productions and about your longstanding association with Melcochita?

JMJ: Con Sabor a Pueblo turned out to be a classic among Colombians. Driving home one day on the Long Island Expressway, we wrote a song as a gift to Mr. Caballo, and that number turned out to be a hit! That song was "Caballo, Caballito". What a band we had accompanying Melcochita! Isidro Infante on piano, Papo Pepin on conga, Leopoldo Pineda as first trombonist, Marino Solano on bass, Pablo Rosario on bongo. I mean we had a heavy, classic band, and we traveled all over the world with Melcochita. It was great!

JIC: Which album did "Caballo, Caballito" appear on and was Mr. Caballo the guy credited as the executive producer: Efrain Duarte?

JMJ: Yes, Efrain Duarte is indeed Mr. Caballo. OK, the actual name of the "Caballo" song is "Pegaso", and it appears on the album Con Sabor a Pueblo featuring Melcochita.

JIC: In fact, the first time I saw you perform live was in Paris in September 1988, accompanying Melcochita. You, Isidro Infante and Leopoldo Pineda played alongside French-based musicians in the back-up band. Melcochita's current release at the time was El Muerto Se Fué De Rumba . Back to the questions: Your final production was the 1987 debut by Sarabanda, co-produced and directed by Isidro Infante. You returned to lead vocals, and sang three tracks, including the big hit "Barranquillero Arrebatao". I've always been intrigued by this album, because it is credited as having been recorded in Houston, Texas. Please tell me the story behind Sarabanda?

JMJ: The album was produced by me. Isidro was the musical director. We needed a good musical director because the band was from Texas, and maybe not so polished. So Isidro went down to Texas, and tightened up the band. There was one number that Isidro had to arrange on the spot, and that was "Barranquillero Arrebatao" by Victor Raúl Sánchez "Patillas". I sang the lyrics to help the singer; I wasn't going to sing that. This was 1987, and my mom was dying in New York City at the time. I stayed in Texas and immersed myself in work, to distract myself from what I had to face when I returned home. It was actually much easier for me to make the album in Houston. I gave the singer an idea of how to sing it, hoping that he could emulate my phrasing and accents. I made a cassette of myself singing for him. Supposedly, that was it as far as my contribution to the production. Three weeks later, Mr. Eliecer Tenorio, who was the owner and leader of Sarabanda, came to New York with the master tapes to do a mixing. At the mixing, we get to "Barranquillero" and he says: "We like your version." I told him that it really wasn't done in my correct key, but he wanted my version. Amazing! It turned out to be a hit! No payola or anything like that. Years later, I was honored by Grupo Niche when they did a coro in their version of the song that said: Barranquillero que baila arrebatao, Mangual lo pego, Mangual lo pego or words to that effect. Many people never even realized that I sang the number.

JIC: Victor Raúl Sánchez "Patillas" composed the all-star album Valdésa Records Presenta Vol. 1: Salsa Sudada '90 (reissued on Osagaji) featuring Melcochita, Papaíto, Adalbero Santiago, Herman Olivera, Yayo El Indio and Isidro Infante.

JMJ: Victor, to my knowledge, is living in Colombia.

JIC: Did Sarabanda exist as a working band?

JMJ: Yes, it did, for about one year. But remember, the musicians lived in Houston, I lived in New York. I made a few trips with the band. We went to Chicago, Los Angeles, Colombia, but it was costly.

JIC: You've produced and performed on a further two Sarabanda albums to date, A Golpe de Marea '91 on Kañaveral and No Se Tu '94 on Platano. Interestingly, current Eddie Palmieri sideman, Conrad Herwig, played trombone on A Golpe de Marea.

JMJ: Right. "No Se Tu" was a hit for us.

JIC: No Se Tu appears to be your earliest recording date with Lucho Cueto, whose name keeps cropping-up on New York salsa titles these days. Please tell me about him?

JMJ: Lucho Cueto is a still young Pianist from Peru. When I say "Pianist", that's exactly what I mean. He is a tremendous student and master of the instrument. In salsa, jazz, whatever, Lucho Cueto is a busy man these days and, because of his talent, very rightfully so.

JIC: Is there likely to be another Sarabanda CD?

JMJ: Maybe. Perhaps Chola Musical Productions will give me the opportunity?

JIC: Also in 1987, you produced and played on La Musiquita on Kanoa by Colombian singer and composer Arabella. Please could you share your memories of this album and the personnel involved?

JMJ: Those were the good old days! The personnel involved were Isidro Infante, Louie Ramírez, all my buddies. It was a good time.

JIC: In 1987 and 1988 you produced and performed on recordings for Diego Flóres' Tibiri label. We've already mentioned Melcochita's El Muerto Se Fué De Rumba . The others were Orlando Watusi's Echale Watusi! '87 and the all-star Salsa Ritmo Caliente '88. Tracks from these productions (as well as from Salsa Ritmo Caliente Vol. 2 '91 on Kañaveral / Tibiri) are compiled on the CD Tibiri Salsa Ritmo Caliente '95 on Tibiri Musika Publishing, including Watusi's Colombian anthem "Las Calaveras". You produced another Salsa Ritmo Caliente album on Tibiri, called La Mechita , with Flóres providing all the lead vocals. I would love to hear your comments about these albums?

JMJ: These were good albums, considering they were made with low budgets. Diego Flóres was a young man who wanted to be a singer. I acknowledged that and worked with him.

JIC: In the early '90s you worked with another couple of Colombian favourites, Rey Reyes and Cuco Valoy, for the J&N label. You produced and performed on Reyes' La Libertad c '91 and Valoy's El Que Sabe! '92. Please tell me about your experience of working with these artists?

JMJ: I had never worked with Rey. I liked his style of singing. I was at J&N at the right time. I had some tremendous arrangers in the persons of Isidro Infante and José Madera. We did a very nice recording. Working with Cuco Valoy was amazing! He is a composer, arranger, and a vocalist. He has his own style and is fiercely protective of his good image. As a producer, I just let him do his own thing. He didn't really need me because he is so, so good.

JIC: Deviating from my main focus for a moment, in 1993 you sessioned on the last two albums by Mario Bauzá, My Time Is Now '93 and the posthumously released 944 Columbus '94, both on Messidor. Bearing in mind your father's longstanding membership in the Machito orchestra, which Bauzá directed from 1941 to 1975, that must have been a particularly poignant experience for you?

JMJ: Not many people get to sit and work in the chair their father sat in. Just to see Mario direct the band, well, I used to watch him as a kid in studios all those years ago, and now he's telling me: "Play it this way." (Laughter) Mario was a man of discipline when it came to making music. There were sessions that started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m. One thing that I distinctly remember about those recordings was that there were problems with the musicians' headphones. Mario was taking a break sipping a Budweiser and finally said: "OK, enough with the damned headphones! We're wasting too much time! Everybody , take off the headphones! When I play, you play. Listen to your leader and play!" In the old days, musicians would record entire albums in one session. No nonsense. Mario told the engineer: "You fix the headphones when I leave. If tomorrow they're not right, then we'll do it without headphones again!" Mario Bauzá has always and will always be my mentor.

JIC: In 1993 you co-produced the notable debut album De Que Me Vale '93 on Sonero / RMM by Miles Peña. I've said elsewhere that I regard him as one of the best of the new generation of salsa singers, but major success has eluded him. I'd welcome your comments?

JMJ: I am a producer for singers. I was so impressed by Miles Peña when I met him and his manager, Lucia Kim. She worried that he sounded "too Cuban". I produced two numbers for him, Ralph Mercado picked him up, and Sergio George did a great job finishing the album. I think success has eluded him because, first of all, not everyone at any given time on a label can be a star. They may think that, but that is not the case. You can't have one artist with five or six hits playing on the radio at the same time. Competition is intense, and many good artists become lost, falling through the cracks. Miles is one of them. As an artist, his handlers pointed him in the direction of what is selling, and that's it. This is why many of the singers today simply just sound the same.

JIC: Then in 1995, nearly 20 years after the first volume, and 11 years after your previous solo outing, you hit us with the outstanding Tribute To Chano Pozo Vol. II on MC. And Mr. Cueto played a major part in the project. What was your thinking behind this sequel and the timing of its release?

JMJ: The price of producing the record was a big influence. By 1995, salsa was changing again. Salsa dura was slowly but surely coming back. So I decided to save some money up, and do Chano II.

JIC: Did Tribute To Chano Pozo Vol. II enable the José Mangual Jr. orchestra to go back on the road again?

JMJ: No, it did not.

JIC: In 1996 you reprised "Mil Amores", re-arranged by Cueto, for Gozando! on Asefra by Mascara Salsera's Gold Stars, featuring lead vocalists Ray de la Paz, Pete "El Conde" Rodríguez, Junior González, Melcochita, and Carlos Santos. Ray de la Paz (in the Descarga.com interview A Luminous Ray From Spanish Harlem ) told me that this album was a significant success and helped generate live work. How was it for you?

JMJ: Ray is absolutely right. It generated live work for me, too. This CD was really highlighted, because there is a great number on it that Junior González sings, "Esa Mujer, Me Mata". People became aware that artists like myself, Junior, and Ray are still around, and wanted us to perform.

JIC: In 1998, you began directing the award winning Son Boricua, and have clocked-up four albums with them to date: Son Boricua '98 on Caimán, and Musical A Cortijo - Rivera '00, Mo '02 (showcasing Jimmy Sabater) and Mi Salsa Tiene SandungaClásicos 60s '03, all on Cobo. Please tell me the story behind Son Boricua's conception and formation?

JMJ: It was a rainy afternoon, and I received a call from Mr. Humberto Corredor, then president of Caimán Records, and now president of Cobo Records. He asked me if I was interested in doing a production that he had a concept of. I asked him what the concept was, and he told me: "Vibes"; a Cal Tjader, Joe Cuba, George Shearing thing. I figured that we can't make something that sounds like Tjader, or Louie Ramírez. We would have to find our own sound. So, I told Humberto that I wasn't interested. To me the thing was two trumpets, two trombones, a full rhythm section. What am I going to do with some vibes? After thinking it over, I started remembering a gig in the mid 1960s that my dad played at in the Riverside Plaza, 73rd Street and Broadway in New York City. My father called my brother and me, teenagers at the time, and told us to meet him at the gig. Because it was the Riverside Plaza, we got dressed ...I mean sharp! Well, when we get there, we see who are the bands playing. Dad was playing with Tito Rodríguez's Orchestra. The lineup included Vicentico Valdés and his Orchestra, Orlando Marín with Chivirico Dávila singing, and The Joe Cuba Sextet. The dance starts, Tito's orchestra plays. Outtasight! I'm watching the bands, learning techniques, studying. That was my thing. It was even then my dream to be a musician. Well, all these bands played. Big Bands! Tito had four trumpets, three saxophones, full rhythm section. Great show. Orlando Marín, full rhythm section. Vicentico Valdés comes with three saxes, two trumpets, singing everything in his repertoire, including ballads. Outstanding! Then comes this little band with six, just six guys - The Joe Cuba Sextet. They proceeded to play their asses off and bring down the house! They were awesome! They had an incredible swing. That reminded me of what my dad always told me: "Rhythm makes the people move," which is the creed of the Mangual family. It doesn't matter how big your band is; if the rhythm isn't happening, then you ain't into nothing. This memory convinced me that maybe, just maybe, we could do it with Son Boricua.

JIC: Please tell me about Son Boricua's eminent personnel, some of whom appear on your new solo release?

JMJ: Well, of course, the legendary Mr. Jimmy Sabater on timbales and lead vocals; Hiram "J.R." DeJesús, who is the arranger and pianist; Bert Castro on bass; A.J. Mantas on vibes; Walter Reyes on conga, myself on bongo and as a lead vocalist. Jimmy brings that old school tradition and flare to the group. Jimmy is like the group's sergeant. He knows that style, he helped to create it. His vocal style is perfect for the group. This gives us a flexibility where we are able to perform on any size stage, yet still have a big sound.

JIC: In tune with the current climate, Son Boricua's albums revive classic tracks. How is the material chosen?

JMJ: The material is chosen by Mr. Humberto Corredor.

JIC: Son Boricua have toured widely, including a UK appearance at London's Latin Splash festival in June 2003.

JMJ: It was great to be in London with Son Boricua. It was a concert that also featured La India, and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. What a show!

JIC: I'm intrigued to hear about the concept behind Dancing With The Gods / Bailando Con Los Santos .

JMJ: The idea came to me in Caracas, Venezuela, when I visited that country in 2001 after not having been there in many years. I saw many people who are believers and practitioners of Santería. It fascinated me because I thought that if you can do a recording of traditional religious music in a salsa format, then a lot of people who believe would dance to it. I also thought that if it is well made with that heavy duty, New York swing, yet still not too folkloric, that anyone would have the urge to dance to it anywhere . There really is nothing like this out there now. This kind of a recording cannot be too culturally or religiously heavy. It cannot sound "old", but it cannot sound too "new". It also has to be reverent to our religious traditions, and teach people about those traditions. So, as the coro says in "A la Reina del Mar": O mi Yemaya, quitame lo malo, quitame lo malo, echalo en el mar . So someone who has no idea about who Yemayá is can read the educational booklet in the CD and find out about Yemayá, the Goddess of the Oceans.

JIC: You've opted for a típico conjunto format and sound, evoking Pacheco's exhilarating Nuevo Tumbao and La Sonora Matancera. Bearing in mind that you've used various horn combinations in the past, why did you choose just two trumpets for Dancing With The Gods ?

JMJ: Believe it or not, two trumpets is against my initial belief. But the budget said two trumpets, not three or four. I believe the Santos wanted it that way. Those two trumpets sound so big! The conjunto format is because the more natural conjunto feeling is closer to the root of our message. In the old days, it was done with two trumpets, and this orchestration fits the idea.

JIC: You've composed three original tunes for the album, "Babalawo", "Ritmo con Aché" and "Canto a la Caridad", the latter with music by the veteran composer / percussionist Justi Barreto. Please tell me about these songs?

JMJ: I was very impressed with the song "Ay Dios, Amparame!" by Los Van Van, where they sing a song of praise for Orunla, the Lucumi God of Divination. There were some things missing in my opinion. I decided to write a song about the Babalawos, our religion's priests and diviners of Orunla. The name "Babalawo" means "Father of the mysteries of life".

"Ritmo con Aché" was written by me as a jingle for a radio show in New York with the same name. I liked it, came up with lyrics, and did it. To me, it captures the relationship between rhythm (Ritmo ) and the power of the natural universe, what we call Aché .

"Canto a la Caridad" is a song that I had a hit with years ago with Carlos "El Grande" (from Sonero Con Clase '82 on Velvet). I went to a tambor and Chango revealed to me that I should sing to Ochún. We recorded Carlos singing the original song by Justi Barreto, which was a song to Chango: Vamos a casa de Nina, vamos a casa de Nina, que hoy es un tambor. Para Chango son los cueros, hay que poner el caldero, harina con quimbombo OK, so what happens? I'm driving home from Manhattan to Queens, New York. I put on the radio, and I hear Cheo Feliciano singing the hell out of the same song with the Fania All Stars. So I figure that no way is this song going to make it, trying to compete with Cheo's version. That's when I went to work. I figured that if Chango wants me to sing to Ochún, I would. So I wrote lyrics for the same score, but this time the lyrics were a song of praise to Ochún.

JIC: "Babalawo" is arranged by pianist Hiram "J.R." DeJesús, but the arrangements of "Ritmo con Aché" and "Canto a la Caridad" are credited to Chola Musical Productions, which is your relatively new label. Please tell me more about the company?

JMJ: Chola Musical Productions is the culmination and rebirth of my experiences and accomplishments throughout the years with my own Tumbao Publishing, Campanero Productions, and True Ventures labels.

JIC: You selected three classic songs, "A Santa Barbara", "Maria de la Luz" and "A la Reina del Mar", by Celina y Reutílio y su Conjunto Típico from their first LP, A Santa Barbara , on the Suaritos label. And of course, "A Santa Barbara" also became associated with Celia Cruz (which she sang on La Exitante Celia Cruz! c '68 on Tico). You commissioned Lucho Cueto to arrange "A Santa Barbara" and "Maria de la Luz", and Alfredo Valdés Jr. to write the chart for "A la Reina del Mar". Can you give me some insight into how you achieved the renaissance of these archetypal numbers?



JMJ: I grew up listening to these songs, and I know that this number "A Santa Barbara" is a classic. I listened to Celina y Reutílio all the time when I was a kid because my grandmother listened to them. I knew that this would be a hit. This started with César Rivera playing some of these songs on guitar, and then I tabbed Lucho Cueto to do the arrangement for "A Santa Barbara". I really say that this CD has been directed by the Santos, because it has evolved throughout the production."

JIC: What was the thinking behind employing Ada Chabrier to sing lead vocals on "A Santa Barbara" and "Maria de la Luz" rather than yourself?

JMJ: Celina sang the song, and I too wanted a female vocalist with a powerful voice to sing it. That voice is the voice of Ada Chabrier.

JIC: Ada Chabrier's name has cropped-up on many recordings over the years, and I recall her singing lead vocals with the all-women salsa band Latin Fever on Larry Harlow Presents Latin Fever (1978 on Fania). Please tell me more about her?

JMJ: Ada Chabrier is a beautiful, tremendous vocalist. She is a born singer.

JIC: I think Alfredo's arrangement gives "A la Reina del Mar" a particularly Matancera-ish sound. Talking of Matancera, you set Hiram "J.R." DeJesús the task of reworking the Celia Cruz and La Sonora Matancera classic "Saludo a Elegguá", which appeared on Su Favorita Celia Cruz , one of their earliest 1950s Seeco albums. Please tell me the story behind this track?

JMJ: That's exactly what I wanted, and Alfredo delivered that. As far as "Saludo a Elegguá" goes, nothing in Ocha begins or ends without the permission of Elegguá. To keep with ritual tradition, it was only natural to do this number. Hiram "J.R." DeJesús did a masterful job with his interpretation and arrangement.

JIC: Tell me about "Siete Potencias"? Another Hiram "J.R." DeJesús arrangement on the album. I recall Celia recorded a version of the song with Pacheco on the Grammy nominated De Nuevo (1985 on Vaya), which featured your brother Luis on bongo, and note that "Las 7 Potencias" appears on Fiesta Santera on Suaritos by Celina y Reutílio with Gina Martin, though I haven't heard this.

JMJ: That's news to me about the Gina Martin thing. "Siete Potencias" is a message and a warning to my brothers and sisters in Ocha to not take the Orishas lightly. I thought this would be the perfect message for this CD, the flagship CD of Chola Musical Productions.

JIC: Talking of Luis, you guest on his wonderful new CD, Mueve La Cintura on Buyu Lujoso, featuring another of my all-time faves, singer Julian Llanos. Please tell me about this production?

JMJ: It was a pleasure doing this recording with my brother. He arranged it, he produced it, and Julian did a great job on it. Ada Chabrier and myself did coro work. I did a solo number as well. Héctor Casanova sang a number on it too. It was really good.

JIC: Dancing With The Gods marks the reunion of "The Dynamic Duo" on coro. Please tell me how you and Milton Cardona came to acquire this title?

JMJ: Well Milton and I were blessed to sing background vocals for Héctor Lavoe. Héctor loved our coros because they were a solid base for him to sing on top of. Bottom line, if your coros ain't happening, your singer ain't happening, either. I don't give a damn how good the singer is, bad coros, bad sound. Milton and I not only had to sing coros, but we had to know each and every break, and play hard to keep the rhythm section tight. Also, we often times did not have a timbalero. So you had to do a lot. Coros, güiro, campana, and play as one. That's why the people named us "The Dynamic Duo".

JIC: Please tell me about the other personnel on the CD we haven't mentioned so far: Ray Martínez, Papo Pepin, Roberto Quintero, Piro Rodríguez, Raul Agráz, Bert Castro, Luis Aroná, Mario "Pipo" Díaz and John "Obataye" McKoy.

JMJ: They're all great guys and great players. John "Obataye" McKoy and Mario "Pipo" Díaz are also known in our religious community, and give reverence to our traditional beliefs with their strong invocations on the record.

JIC: Will we see the José Mangual Jr. band back on the road performing songs from Dancing With The Gods and your back catalogue?

JMJ: Con Dios y los Santos, YES!

JIC: My usual question: What else do you have in the pipeline you'd like to tell me about?

JMJ: We are presently preparing new material for release as well as revisiting some of the old stuff. I think we'll produce some very pleasant surprises in the very near future.

JIC: What does 2004 hold for José Mangual Jr.?

JMJ: Hopefully good things: sweetness, Ritmo, and Aché.

JIC: Before we close, is there anything else you would like to share or feel we missed out?

JMJ: I believe you are "super thorough", Mr. Child! (Laughs and smiles) Thank You Sir! I would also really like to thank all of the fans of my music throughout the world, and I wish all Amor, Progreso, y Tranquilidad




John Child Co-host of the the totallyradio show Viva Latina
Contributor to the Descarga.com Latin music website
MusicWeb Encyclopedia of Popular Music, and Penguin and Guinness Encyclopedias of Popular Music





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