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03/29/99

A discographic profile of the popular Venezuelan Sonero.


Profile: Oscar D'Leon

by John Child (John_Child@descarga.com)



D'LEON, Oscar

(b Oscar Emilio León Samoza, 11 July 1943, Antímano, Caracas, Venezuela) Sonero (extemporising salsa singer), bassist, bandleader, composer, arranger; exceptional live performer with an incredible command of his audiences. 'He transcends and transforms his influences (classic '40s and '50s Cuban music and late' 60s/ early '70s NYC salsa) through the force of his sonerismo and irrepressible personality,' wrote George De Stefano (Descarga Newsletter , '94). A master of dynamics, D'León achieves an exquisite interplay between his lithe, lusty tenor and his trademark, typically Cuban, voz de vieja (old woman's voice) nasal chorus (supplied by Humberto 'Tigre' Becerra and Victor Mendoza on most of his albums between '78 to '91), directly paralleling the vivaciously harmonic trombone rich horn arrangements; 'the prime source, the pulse, the ultimate instrument is the voice of Oscar D'León. No one can pronounce or articulate multi-syllabic phrases like Oscar D'. No one!!' wrote Rafael Charres about D'León's '94 album (in New York Latino , summer '94), though the comment generally applies to D'León's recorded and live work.

The son of a music loving bricklayer, he taught himself bass and played clubs at night whilst driving a school bus and taxi by day; he was a founder member of Venezuela's top salsa band Dimensión Latina, a trombone-led outfit whose mus. dir. was trombonist/ arr./ composer/ coro (chorus) singer César Monge 'Albóndiga' (Meatball); also incl. vocalist Wladimir Lozano (b 2 Mar. '50, Venezuela; sang with them '74 to '78, briefly led his own band La Constelación '79 and recorded with La Crítica '80, returned mid-'80s). Made six albums with Dimensión Latina c '72 to '76 on Top Hits (later TH-Rodven, D'León's label until '91), hits compiled on Una Dimensión de Exitos and Inolvidable '94. (A lucrative contract enticed Puerto Rican vocalist Andy Montañez away from El Gran Combo to join Dimensión Latina '77, sang co-lead vocals with Lozano and ex-Los Satélites member Rodrigo Mendoza; Mendoza and pianist Jesús 'Chuíto' Narváez departed to co-lead La Amistad, made two albums with them on Velvet '79 and '80, later sang with La Gran Banda De Venezuela, incl. LP Sabrosito '84 on Faisán; returned to regrouped Dimensión Latina late '80s; shared lead vocals on Tu Amor Como El Agua '96 by El Klan de la Salsa.)

D'León formed own band Salsa Mayor '76 with two trombones (incl. William Puchi), two trumpets (incl. Cesar Pinto) and notable pianist/ arr. Enrique 'Culebra' Iriarte (formerly a member of pioneering Venezuelan salsa group Federico y su Combo Latino); first LP by Oscar D'León y su Salsa Mayor was Con Bajo Y Todo '76, with additional arr. by Colombian pianist Samuel Del Real (who had relocated to Venezuela '75; later joined Dimensión Latina '79 to '81; played on noteworthy Salsa '84 by singer Joe Ruiz: b 19 July '48, Pariaguán, Venezuela; Del Real made two albums with his own band in Venezuela mid-'80s, then moved to USA, organised another band there and released albums '87 and '93). Alfredo Padilla on timbales and vocalist Leo Pacheco joined Salsa Mayor for live album 2 Sets con Oscar '77; El 'Oscar' de la Salsa '77 incl. revitalised versions of Cuban classics written by Ignacio Piñeiro (led Septeto Nacional) and Miguel Matamoros (Trio Matamoros). D'León parted with Salsa Mayor '78, releasing 2-disc set Oscar D'León y su Salsa Mayor con Wladimir , adding a third trumpet; reunion with Lozano incl. only Pinto and Culebra from original Salsa Mayor line-up which continued with Padilla leading, Puchi as co-dir. (and playing violin, tres as well as trombone), and Pacheco with ex-El Gran Combo member Pellín Rodríguez and Panamanian Carlos 'El Grande' Ferrer sharing lead vocals ( ... De Frente y Luchando ... ! La Salsa Mayor 'Nuestra Orquesta' '78 and La Salsa Mayor '79 on Velvet, with Freddy Nieto replacing Rodríguez on the latter); Puchi later played violin and trombone with the Venezuelan septet Grupo Lacalle on their eponymous '85 album on Sonotone, they possessed a smooth vibes dominated sound and received considerable airplay on the US public FM salsa circuit.

D'León started working with the trumpet-led La Crítica, he acted as co-artistic and mus. dir. on their first LP Oscar D'León presenta ... La Crítica '78, and provided lead vocals to four out of five of the group's subsequent albums '78-'85; Teo Hernández, formerly of the gritty Los Dementes (led by pianist, arranger and composer Ray Pérez: b 25 Dec. '38, Barcelona, Venezuela), was the principal lead vocalist on La Crítica's '78 to '80 albums.
Meanwhile D'León's new band had three trumpets (incl. Pinto) and two trombones, incl. Culebra, vocalist Edgar 'El Abuelo' Rodríguez; LPs incl. El Mas Grande! and ... Llegó ... Actuo ... Y ... Triunfó ..! '79 (latter made in NYC), Al Frente De Todos '80. Live album Dos Colosos En Concierto '81 was from a reunion concert between D'León and Dimensión Latina at the Poliedro stadium in Caracas on 11 Nov. '80. A Mí Sí Me Gusta Así! '81 was made in Puerto Rico with an extra trumpet, trombone and an unprecedented saxophone; D'León became sole lead singer, Pinto was gone and first trumpet was Alfredo 'Pollo' Gil; Culebra (who'd departed after the'80 album to undertake an unexceptional solo career) still shared arranging, joined by arr./pianists Enrico Enriquez (who played on the LP) and José 'Flaco' Bermúdez (had worked with La Crítica and La Amistad). Bermúdez and Gil shared arranging on El Discóbola '82; ... Con Dulzura '83 featured a synthesiser; next three LPs '84-5 were arranged by Bermúdez: El Sabor de Oscar had Daniel Silva (La Crítica's bassist '78-'81) sharing bass chores as D'León concentrated more on singing; Silva took over bass on Con Cariño and Yo Soy ; each album incl. a song by young Cuban pianist/ leader Adalberto lvarez.

D'León prod. La Crítica's '85 LP En Nueva Dimensión , this time with trombone front line, as co-mus. dir. with César Monge (who played 'bone and arr.), sang with 'El Abuelo' Rodríguez; Gustavo Carmona replaced Silva on bass. For the 10th anniversary of his departure from Dimensión Latina, he stripped his own horns back to trombones for Oscar '86 , arr. and co-prod. by Monge, Riquiti ..! '87, a return to 'bones and trumpets, by Monge and José 'Flaco' Bermúdez, followed by more fresh material in the Grammy nominated La Salsa Soy Yo '87. Monge started freelancing on the Colombian salsa scene late 80s with the likes of Grupo Niche, Los Niches, La Identidad and Kike Harvey, and made the solo album César 'Albóndiga' Monge y La Pandilla '90. D'León made UK debut June '88 at London's Hackney Empire; Oscar D'León Live '89 on IVA was the first salsa video to be issued in the UK. TH-Rodven dispatched him off to Puerto Rico to make the salsa romántica sets De Aquí Pa'lla '88 and en Puerto Rico '90 with the label's hit-making arrangers and session musicians; it was back to business for his final album for the company: Autentico '91 with a Beny Moré trilogy incl. 'Que Bueno Baila Usted', a big hit in Spain; the album's line-up incl. saxes and Silva back on bass.

Oscar D'León con Los Blanco '91 on Sonotone was made with popular Venezuelan group Los Blanco (incl. brothers Bernardo, Ricardo, Cecilio and Leopoldo Blanco) whom he first met in '72 whilst with Dimensión Latina. After debuting on his new label, Ralph Mercado's RMM Records, on Tito Puente's The Mambo King: 100th LP , he continued in robust form on the RMM subsidiary Sonero Records with El Rey de los Soneros '92 and Toitico Y Tuyo '94. CD single Salsa Brasilera '94 was recorded in Brazil incl. Jorge Ben penned 'Que Pena (Ella Ya No Me Quiere Mas)', featuring a duet with Brazilian Elba Ramalho, and 'Soy Loco Por Ti America' co-written by Gilberto Gil. Made Grammy nom. El Sonero Del Mundo '96 on RMM in Miami prod. by Willie Chirino. Participated in all-star RMM sets Combinación Perfecta '93, RMM's European Salsa Explosion '95 and RMM Tropical Tribute to the Beatles '96. Young D'León chorus vocalist Jorge Luis made solo debut with Una Tercera Persona '96 on Copa/Sony. Made En Nueva York '97 on RMM in the Big Apple with mus. dir., co-prod., co-arr. and keyboard chores all performed by Isidro Infante; incl. duet 'Hazme El Amor' with guest La India.

Related articles:
Profile: Oscar Emilio Leon Somoza: The Lion Of Salsa
by George De Stefano 05/01/94



-This is one of over 130 Latin music entries written by John Child (John_Child@descarga.com) 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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