Every year I look forward to building my altar for Dia De Los Muertos. It’s become more important to me than Christmas or New Year's, and most certainly more than Thanksgiving. It's time for me to take time out and think of those who have left this world and look forward to their spiritual return via memories, stories and offerings. Besides images of family and friends that have passed on, I like to include musicians and artists who have inspired me in some way. This year, many great musicians from Latin America and Spain have passed. So this is my ofrenda to them. Pan De Muerto, Chocolate and Tequila for all spirits who visit. I hope you can include the souls listed below in your altar or in your thoughts today.
Mercedes Sosa (Argentina)
Argentine folk sing and outspoken activist. Along with Silvio Rodriguez, Victor Jara, Violeta Parra and many others, was part of the Nueva Canción movement. Nueva Cancion was the mixture of Latin American folk music and rock with progressive and politicized lyrics. Mercedes Sosa is not only respected in her native country, but around the world. Her most recent album, Cantora, contains collaborations with the likes of Shakira, Caetano Veloso and Luis Alberto Spinetta.
Jorge Reyes (Mexico)
Jorge Reyes started one of Mexico’s first progressive rock bands, Choc Mool, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. He played both guitar and flute while incorporating many indigenous instruments of Mexico. In 1985, Jorge went solo and released a series of new age albums based upon indigenous Mexican culture. He performed legendary concerts at famous Mexican archeological sites such Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza and his music was used for movies and television shows around the world. Coincidentally, he had an annual Dia De Los Muertos show at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City that was widely popular.
Joe Cuba (Puerto Rico)
His real name was Gilberto Miguel Calderón, and he was from Puerto Rico, not Cuba. He was known as the "Father of Latin Boogaloo," the marriage between Soul and Latin music. His many hits include “Sock It To Me Baby” “Bang Bang” and “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back To Georgia)." As a bandleader, he helped start up the careers of such future legends of Salsa as Cheo Feliciano, Ruben Blades, Charlie Palmeri and Jimmy Sabater.
Manny Oquendo (USA)
Manny was a self-taught percussionist that went on to play with some of the biggest names in Latin Music. He played with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmeri, Johnny Pacheco and Tito Rodriguez, among many others. Manny was instrumental in bringing the complicated Cuban rhythm Mozambique to Latin Jazz and Salsa. He, along with Bassist Andy Gonzalez, formed Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino and recorded the classic Concepts In Unity, which is a must hear for any percussionist. Soon after, Manny and Andy formed Libre, a group that Manny played with until January of 2009.
Maria Trinidad Perez de Miravete Mille aka Mari Trini (Spain)
As a child, Mari Trini suffered from various kidney ailments. She was told that her condition was incurable, so instead of dwelling on it, she became of Spain’s most popular singers. She first went to France and recorded an album in French before returning to Spain in the late 60’s. While in France, she was influenced by Jaques Brel and Juliette Greco, and even went as far as saying that she wanted to become the “Spanish Juliette Greco.” The fiercely independent Trini found herself at odds the oppressive Franco –era conservatism and she was exactly what Spain needed. Her songs became feminist anthems and her attire (wearing pants rather than dresses) influenced women in Spain to do the same. Mari became popular for her romantic songs although she was quiet about her own romantic life. She hid the fact that she was a lesbian for many years, often having to answer questions why she didn’t have a boyfriend. Her popularity waned over the years but many of her songs are considered classics, such as “Acércate,” “Un Hombre Marchó,” “Yo No Soy Esa” and Una Estrella En Mi Jardín.” In 2001, she recorded a comeback album with Los Panchos, re-recording her greatest hits "Trios" style.
Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez (Cuba)
Mainstream audiences knew Chachaito as the bassist for The Buena Vista Social Club. However, like the other musicians involved with BVSC, he had a long career before that. He came from a musical family. His father was Cuban composer Orestes Lopez and his uncle was the legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. As a teenager he started to play in many of Cuba’s big bands. At seventeen, he replaced his uncle in the group Arcana y sus Maravillas and soon after started playing with Orchestra Riverside. He played classical music during the day and with Cuban dance bands at night. At one point, he was part of the Cuban experimental group Irakere along with Chucho Valdés, Arturo Sandoval, and Paquito D'Rivera. His only solo album, the excellent Cachaito, came out in 2001. It is a blend of Cuban Music with Dub Reggae, Jazz and African music. Unfortunately, due to the Buena Vista Social Club hype, the album got lost in the shuffle. Revisiting it recently, it was years ahead of its time.
Ralph Mercado (Puerto Rico)-Salsa promoter and once head of RMM Records.
Quintin Cabrera (Uruguay)-Nueva Cancionero, wrote “Senor Presidente.”
Suma Paz (Argentina)-Folk singer who introduced the compositions of fellow Argentine Atahualpa Yupanqui to the rest of the world.
Ramón Piñon (Tejano)- He was the leader of his own conjunto for many years and is known for helping give Freddy Fender his start in the music business.
Edgardo Miranda (Puerto Rico) guitarist, played with Tito Puente and Cortijo.
Ricardo Abreu (Cuba) one of the infamous members of Los Papines, known as “the Harlem Globetrotters of Cuban percussion.”
Antonio Vega (Spain) Former lead singer of Nacha Pop, wrote the Spanish Rock anthem “La Chica De Ayer.”
Rafael Escalona (Colombia)- Vallenato songwriter, co-founder of the Vallenato Legend Festival.
Jesus Alfonso Miro (Cuba)- Musical director of Los Muñequitos De Mantanza.
Otilio Galíndez (Venezuela) - A songwriter and composer who wrote many Christmas related songs. His songs were covered by the likes of Mercedes Sosa, Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez.