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Cuba's foremost folkloric rumba band.

Profile: Los Muñequitos De Matanzas

by Armando Valladares Pombo, Artistic Director of the Group

In the first days of October 1952 a group of young rumberos found themselves after work enjoying their evening's rest in the bar "El Gallo" on the corner of Matanzas and Daoiz Streets in the Barrio of La Marina in the city of Matanzas. Over drinks, they heard the chords of a son by Arsenio Rodriguez on the bar's Victrola.

Inspired by the rhythm and the contagious melody, they began to play percussion on the counter, on the glasses and on the bottles, accompanying Arsenio and his group. The bar's other customers, as well as passers-by, stopped to listen and to the astonishment of the young men they received their first applause —— applause that 40 years later they continue to receive.

In the rush of enthusiasm someone said: Why don't we form a musical group to entertain on Sundays and holidays at fiestas and barrio dances? Someone else knew a musician-composer-arranger who would have the experience to pull the group together: Florencio Calle Peraza (Catalino), who lived in a solar on Salamanca Street between Matanzas and Jovellanos in that same barrio of La Marina.

They marched over to Catalino's place. They stated their business to Catalino, who made an appointment with them for the following day, to discuss details and plan the new group.

At that meeting the following day they discussed what each person would do, how the group would be composed and the genre they would interpret, as well as the name they would give the group: Guaguancó Matancero. The agreed that each member would find a way to get instruments made according to their respective means. They would interpret the guaguancó, the contemporary rumba of urban origin that came from Matanzas and Havana. The group would be composed of:

Florencio Calle — director and guagua
Gregorio Diaz — conga
Angel Pelladito — cajón and quinto
Juan Mesa — clave and improvising singer
Hortensio Alfonso — third voice and maracas
Esteban Lantri — soloist
Pablo Mesa — tumba 6x8 (salidor)

Once the group was together with the necessary instruments they began performing in the barrios of Simpson and La Marina, and subsequently in all of Matanzas Province, and then in the city of Havana.

They included in their repertoire the yambú, an older style of rumba of urban origin (known as box rumba), and later the columbia, of rural origin, a field rumba danced only by men.

In 1953 they were invited to perform in fiestas in the barrios of Old Havana and Central Havana. They performed on radio and television, and recorded for the Puchito label their first 78 rpm record, with Los Beodos on one side and Los Muñequitos on the other. The lyrics of the latter number told of the vicissitudes of characters in the comic strips that appeared in the saturday and Sunday newspaper editions.

Los Muñequitos was such a hit that the public of Havana and Matanzas stopped calling the group Guaguancó Matancero. From then on they were known as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, the name by which they are now known throughout the world.

The group became a dance group with the entry of dancer Diosdado Ramos (today the group's director). In addition, there are now also two female and two male dancers: Ana Pérez, Vivian Ramos, Bárbaro Ramos and Facundo Pelladito.

Today their repertoire contains not only the three varieties of rumba, but also rituals of the Yoruba, Bríkamo and Abakuá with their respective original instruments (batá and ekones), with the presentation of the Orishas of the Yoruba pantheon and the famous Abakuá Diablitos.

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