Five years had already passed since the death of Puerto Rico’s most important sonero, Ismael Rivera (aka Maelo), when Celia stepped up to do this tribute recording to the man known as the master singer or El Sonero Mayor. It didn’t surprise this writer that of all the Fania artists, it was Celia who showed face. ...MORE >
Five years had already passed since the death of Puerto Rico’s most important sonero, Ismael Rivera (aka Maelo), when Celia stepped up to do this tribute recording to the man known as the master singer or El Sonero Mayor. It didn’t surprise this writer that of all the Fania artists, it was Celia who showed face.
I was a young music writer/scholar when I met the great master singer. He was a neighbor, friend and mentor. We were going through some of his vintage photos one day when he pulled out an 8” x 10” photograph revealing a very young Celia and Maelo arm in arm in front of La Marginal, San Juan’s version of lover’s lane. Maelo, were you dating ‘La Guarachera’? I asked.
Cryptically, he responded: Celia was a serious girl and wanted marriage and well… you know I’m just a ‘titere,’ (a player).
That was 1978. Seventeen years later, while interviewing Celia for another project, I asked about that photo. She blushed, looked down and said: That was August, 1958. I was on tour in Puerto Rico. I really liked Maelo but I didn’t pay him much attention because he would look at every skirt that went by.
Good lookin’ out Celia, but the tone of her words, the precision of her memories and the passion in this CD, her last for the Fania label, tell another story.
Cuban artists and bandleaders shared music and memories with the fledging Boricua band back in the 1950s when Cortijo y su Combo were rockin’ the islands and hitting the charts. Celia personally gifted the band with tunes like Tuntuneco and Guliver. Sonora Matancera shared numbers like El Chivo with the Puerto Rican band leader, while Cortijo’s band backed Cuba’s Bárbaro del Ritmo Benny Moré (yes, there are two n’s in Benny, as spelled on original flyers and posters as well as on his tombstone) during his only tour on the Island in 1957.
On this CD, you’ll notice that the classic bomba number, “A Bailar Mi Bomba”, was written by Cuba’s tresero Arsenio Rodríguez mounted on a great arrangement by José Febles, punctuated by the distinguished bomba beats in Papo Pepin’s solo.
Musicianship was recognized and embraced among the Afro-Caribbean exponents of the African diaspora.
Maelo’s compay and Cortijo alum Sammy Ayala recalled Celia and Maelo’s romance, yet he never served as chaperone to them as some papers have erroneously stated. He was there at the moment just like he was there when Cuba’s Benny Moré casually referred to Maelo as master singer. The so-called controversy over this issue seems more a tempest in a teapot stirred by self-interested and self-proclaimed historians with hidden agendas than spurred by serious research or respect for those that lived through this period.
Celia could remember Maelo--El Sonero Mayor—from as far back as 1958. And it was a distraught Celia who walked miles from the San Juan airport to his childhood home in the ‘hood of Calle Calma (taxis would not stop there) to pay her respects to Maelo’s mother, Margot, after his death in 1987.
Knowing all of this made hearing Celia sing in duet with Maelo—ala Natalie and Nat King Cole in the opening number of Alonso’s “Las Caras Lindas”–all the more emotional. Although the arrangement by a young Ricky González is more reminiscent of El Gran Combo than Cortijo’s spicy style steam, the sentiment is heart wrenching, while Celia’s more melodic rendering is touching but tender.
With a musical production neatly tied together by maestro Louie Ramírez, Fania’s in-house producer, arranger, director, musician, bandleader and crazyassed genius, “Tributo A Ismael Rivera” brings together a dream team of arrangers including José Madera, Willie Rodríguez, Ricardo González, José Febles and Louie himself. The chorus is deftly handled by the trio of Tito Allen, Ray de la Paz and Adalberto Santiago. ¡Ecua jei!
From “Maquinolandera” to the boogalu “Arrecotín Arrecotán”, this CD is an historic gem and relic of love and tribute from one great superstar of Cuba to another in Puerto Rico.
Dame tortura China.
Ricky González – Piano
Jimmy Delgado – Timbales
Jose Madera – Bongos
Johnny Torres – Bass
Sam Curtis – Trombone
Tony Barrero – Trumpet
Roberto Rodríguez – Trumpet
Juan Colón – Alto Saxophone
Mitch Frohman – Alto Saxophone
Juan “Papo” Pepín – Conga
Jose Mangual – Percussion
Louie Ramírez – Celeste, Chimes
Vocals – Celia Cruz
Chorus – Tito Allen, Ray de la Paz, Adalberto Santiago
Producer – Jerry Masucci, Louie Ramírez
Executive Producer – Jerry Masucci
Recorded at Key Productions, New York
Recording Director – Louie Ramírez
Engineer – Irv Greenbaum
Arrangements – Louie Ramírez (“Arrecotín, Arrecotán”, “Perfume De Rosas”), José Febles (“A Bailar Mi Bomba”, “Maquinolandera”, “Quitate De La Vía Perico”), José Madera (“Yo No Quiero Piedras En Mi Camino”, “El Negro Bembón”), Ricardo González (“Seis De Borinquen”, “Las Caras Lindas”), Willie Rodríguez (“El Nazareno”)
Original Album Painting – Ricky Gaskins
Special thanks to Johnny Pacheco for his assistance on lead vocals.