Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ROENA, Roberto

(b Roberto Roena Vázquez, 16 Jan. '40, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico) Bongo player, bandleader, producer, dancer. A prominent salsa bandleader since the late 1960s, also one of the genre's premier bongoseros; started as a dancer, later dubbed 'El Gran Bailarín' ('The Great Dancer'). Played with Rafael Cortijo y su Combo '57-62, El Gran Combo '62-9; made LP Se Pone Bueno/It Gets Better '66 on Alegre with his Megatones in Puerto Rico; left Gran Combo August '69, formed Apollo Sound with two or three trumpets, trombone, tenor sax/flute, rhythm section (bongo, conga, timbales, bass, piano), two or three vocalists, chorus, evolving a unique and innovative style. Ten vols of Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound c'69-78 on Fania International and International, the first inclluding major hit 'Tu Loco Loco, y Yo Tranquilo', by the LP's music director Catalino 'Tite' Curet Alonso. Lucky 7 '76 included the big hit 'Mi Desengaño', arranged and co-written by virtuoso trombonist Julio 'Gunda' Merced, a member '73-8 (he left with five others including lead vocalist Papo Sánchez to form Salsa Fever, which made LPs on Top Hits and Tony Moreno's Musical Productions [MP]; became staff producer and music director for latter label late '80s). Pa' Fuera '74 was a hits compilation; Vol. 10 El Progreso '78 was one of Apollo Sound's best. Arrangers, composers etc contributing to the Apollo Sound LPs incl. Bobby Valentín, trumpeters Elias Lopés and Mario Ortiz, Luis 'Perico' Ortiz, Papo Lucca, Rubén Blades; vocalists incl. Piro Mantilla, Tito Cruz, Sammy González, Papo Sánchez, Mario Cora, Carlos Santos. Que Suerte He Tenido De Nacer (with Roena lead vocal on one track), Looking Out For 'Numero Uno' and compilation Gold all came out on Fania '80; Fania finale Super Apollo 47:50 '82 with vocalist Adalberto Santiago.

Fania LPs were as Roberto Roena; he was using billing Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound again on Pa'lante label for Afuero y Contento '85 ('Out And Contented', with a sleeve depicting Roena in a prison suit: he had experienced serious legal problems in Puerto Rico); moved to Up label for Regreso '87 ('Return'), with Papo Sánchez returning on lead vocals; kicked off '90s with New Decade on Sonostar. Began sessioning with MP '88, working on albums by Salsa Fever, Pedro Arroyo, Roberto Lugo, Andy and Harold Montañez, Willie González, MP All Stars and Tito Allen. He celebrated his 25th anniversary as a bandleader '94 with sold-out concerts at Centro de Bellas Artes, San Juan, which reunited him with previous Apollo Sound vocalists and some original sidemen. First Apollo Sound outing for MP was El Pueblo Pide Que Toque '94, which reunited the band with award-winning producer 'Gunda' Merced and featuring new lead singer Héctor 'Tempo' Alomar (who'd sung with Libre, Nestor Torres, Charanga América, Johnny 'Dandy' Rodríguez and Grupo ABC) and various guests, including Andy Montañez, Pedro Brull, Tito Rojas, Tito Allen, Papo Lucca and Luis 'Perico' Ortiz; followed up with double CD live set En Vivo Desde Bellas Artes '95 on MP. Roena played on LPs by Fania All Stars '71-89 (also with FAS, he appeared in the movies Our Latin Thing '72, Live In Africa '74 and Salsa '76, made UK debut '76 and participated in reunion tour '94 on 30th anniversary of Fania label); Charlie Palmieri's Electro Duro '74, LPs by Cheo Feliciano '76-82. He participated in Cortijo reunion Juntos Otra Vez '74 on Coco (reissued '82 as Ismael Rivera Sonero No. 1) and appeared on El Combo Del Ayer '82 and Aquel Gran Encuentro '83, which both reunited some of original members that had left El Gran Combo. Roena: The Fania Legends Of Salsa Collection '94 is a two-CD greatest-hits package.