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Profile of the legendary violinist/songwriter.

ENRIQUE JORRIN & His Orchestra: Creator of The Cha cha chá

by Luis de Quesada (

Violinist/songwriter Enrique Jorrin, creator of the cha cha cha, was born in 1926 in the town of Candelaria, Pinar del Rio province, in Cuba. At age 12 Enrique Jorrin started showing an interest in music and chose to learn the violin. After he graduated from music school at the Municipal Conservatory of the City of Havana, Jorrin joined several musical groups as a violinist, including a famed charanga group named Hermanos Contreras. Around 1943, Jorrin joined Antonio Arcaño & his Orchestra. Arcaño was expanding his already famous orchestra which he re-named La Radiofonica de Arcaño. The Radiofonica made daily presentations at the Mil Diez, a radio station run by Cuba's Communist Party, aka Partido Socialista Popular. Jorrin's tenure with Arcaño's group was fruitful as he created many compositions while with them. It is also where, I believe, the idea of creating a new rhythm derived from the danzones, mambos and montunos played by Arcaño's and other charanga groups first crossed his mind. He would later name his creation cha cha cha.

During the late forties, Jorrin left Arcaño and joined the expanding Orquesta America de Ninon Mondejar, which was already gaining fame and a foothold in Havana's dancing clubs, nightclubs and radio stations. In 1951, already as a member of Orquesta America, Jorrin introduced the cha cha cha rhythms to the demanding and savvy Cuban dancing audiences, who were immediately delighted with Jorrin's new rhythmical and contagious musical product. In March of 1953 his first cha cha chas, "La Engañadora" and "Silver Star," became instant recorded hits and unseated Perez Prado's mambo from the top of Cuba's musical charts. Other outstanding hits composed by Jorrin, while with Orquesta America included: "El Alardoso," "Nada Para Ti," "El Tunel," with lyrics written by comedy writer Arturo Liendo, "Me Muero," "Central Constancia," "Cogele Bien El Compas," "Osiris," "Alegre Navidad" and others. In Cuba, Jorrin quickly became the man to consult in charanga and cha cha cha matters and many groups came to him for help and musical arrangements and compositions. One such group was Rafael Lay's Orquesta Aragon de Cienfuegos, whose musical theme was composed by Jorrin. Later on Aragon would add a number of Jorrin's compositions to its successful repertoire.

Following the tremendous success and revenues brought by his compositions, Ninon Mondejar named Enrique Jorrin as the orchestra's musical director. Everything seemed to be going their way when in 1954 a disagreement between Jorrin and Mondejar as to whom was to receive credit (they were also probably discussing royalties) for the creation and introduction of the cha cha cha escalated into an intense disagreement between the two. Unfortunately, the stress between them apparently grew worse and, around August of that year, Jorrin departed. He created his own group with singers Jesus Jorrin (his brother) and Yeyo Estrada; Orquesta Almendra's master flute player and songwriter, Miguel O'Farrill; Orlando Mantecon on piano; Mario Papaito Muñoz on congas and others and then left for Mexico. In Mexico, he was signed to a recording contract with the legendary RCA Victor Mexicana, then under its equally legendary A&R man, Mariano Rivera Conde. From then on Jorrin would shuttle back and forth from Mexico City to Havana and in 1955 he came back to restructure and expand his orchestra, adding to it an unprecedented trumpet duo. He also enhanced the string session by adding viola players and a cello. He recruited singer/songwriter Rudy Calzado, then lead singer with Fajardo y sus Estrellas and, also, Beny More's and Conjunto Casino's chorus and lead singer Fernando Alvarez for recordings only. With this refurbished and expanded orchestra, Jorrin again departed for Mexico, minus Fernando Alvarez. This time he was to stay for an indefinite period of time, which I think had been his longtime wish since his days with Orquesta America.

In Mexico, another addition was made as singer Elizardo Aroche, who was also a chorus singer with Orquesta America de Ninon Mondejar, joined the group. His stay in Mexico from 1954 to January of 1959 was a complete success. Many RCA recorded hits followed, like Rudy Calzado's "Ki Ki Ri Ki," "El Usurero Del Amor," "Dame Tu Cariño," "Chango," "Dos Amigos," "Imposible Volver Aprenda a Bailar El Cha Cha Cha," "La Blusa Azul," "Espiritu Burlon," "Union Cienfuguera," "Donde Esta Mi Negra," "Osiris," "Vamos Al Central," "Mexico Te Cantare," "Minuet Cha Cha Cha," "Ritmo Pa Mi," and an amazingly beautifully orchestrated and arranged bolero-cha "Vivir Asi," "El Campesino," etc. etc. While he was with RCA Victor Mexicana, Jorrin added yet another new rhythm to his list of creations which he named Ritmo Pa Mi and recorded it for RCA with his brother Miguel's "Espiritu Burlon" on its flip side.

Around 1958, Jorrin was signed in Mexico by Discos Orfeon and created yet more recorded hits, like "Barco Camaronero," "La Novia Fea," and a new version of "La Blusa Azul." He even ventured to record some of the old Orquesta America themes, like "Rival," "Nada Para Ti," "Miñoso Al Bate," "La Engañadora," "Cogele Bien El Compas." Also, "Los Santos Me Protejen," "El Papelero," "Amor De Mis Amores," "Sus Picaros Ojos," "En El Mar," "La Jaibera," "Como Usted," "Metete Tete" and Jorrin's version of Orquesta Aragon's 1955 hit "Nosotros," to name a few. For these legendary recordings for Mexico's Orfeon label a trombone was successfully added to enhance the trumpet and wind instrument sections. But all good things come to an end and in January of 1959 Enrique Jorrin returned to Cuba and, unfortunately, once there, in contrast with his 1955 departure for Mexico City, subtractions instead of additions to the orchestra were implemented. The trumpet section was done away with, leaving a void which affected the orchestra's already familiar sound. This was probably due to both budgetary reasons and listening to bad advice from charanga purists such as "who ever heard of a charanga with trumpets, people here don't go for that" and "this is Cuba, not Mexico etc." The addition of trumpets by Jorrin in 1955 to the traditional strings, flute and only charanga format, was both criticized and praised, but as time went by fans not only became used to it, they demanded it. When they heard it no more, the orchestra's popularity dwindled, until the group was no longer in high demand.

In spite of that, in 1959, Jorrin recorded a successful album for the Gema label entitled La Muerte Llego featuring singers Regino Tellechea (who substituted for Rudy Calzado) and Orlando Contreras, the latter featured only on a few of the album's tracks, all of which charted to the top. It must be said that at that time Orlando Contreras had already initiated a solo career, so he most likely didn't want to stay with Jorrin as he had already departed the Neno Gonzalez Orchestra for that purpose. But the following year,1960, was almost recordless except for a 45 rpm single whose production and manufacturing Jorrin financed himself. This single included Jorrin's "El Tiburon Del Malecon" and its flip side featured "Cha Cha Cha Ranchero," both new songs which were successful on the radio. This collector's item single, which I fear may be lost forever, appeared under Jorrin's own label, Pa Mi, and was manufactured by Panart Records, Jorrin s original recording label when he was with Orquesta America. Unfortunately, Jorrin's career as his own producer was short and unsuccessful. Later, in 1961, a breakthrough was made and the then new label Maype recorded Jorrin for an LP album which was successful for many years, but, unfortunately, has not been re-issued on CD format yet. In my opinion, Jorrin should have been recorded extensively during this period and probably would have been had it not been for his dismissal of the trumpet section. The trumpet section would have provided the innovative sound which people had heard on his Mexican recordings, but at the time there seemed to be no room for any other charanga than Orquesta Aragon.

The 1960s was a decade of relatively low musical profile for Jorrin. But the 1970s were another matter as in 1974 he organized a new charanga orchestra, with the former Arsenio Rodriguez, Orquesta Hermanos Castro ,Orquesta America del 55 and Cabaret Sans Souci pianist, Ruben Gonzalez (presently of Buena Vista Social Club fame). Jorrin reinstated the trumpet section which became an instant success. Also in 1974, Orquesta Riverside's longtime singer/sonero Tito Gomez left the legendary Cuban Jazz Band to join the re-created Enrique Jorrin Orchestra. This drove the orchestra to the top of Cuba's musical charts, leaving a series of golden hit recordings for EGREM for a period of more than 12 years.

Maestro Enrique Jorrin passed away on December of 1987, but his great musical legacy lives on. Also, the orchestra which carries his name is still active in Cuba's musical scene.

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