Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



The name for both a kind of Cuban music and the bands that play it: a light, elegant, sprightly music; at its most lush and string-laden verging towards kitsch MOR, at its most commercial a medium for pop covers and at its hardest a virtuosic interplay among overblown flutes, searing strings and percussion. The bands developed out of charangas francesas (19th--century 'French orchestras') and are characterized by flute lead, legato strings (violins and cello), rhythm section (crisp timbales, conga, g]auu[iro, bass, piano) and unison male voices; they were identified with the danzon, regarded as Cuba's national dance, hence the bands were also known as danzoneras, from the early '50s playing cha cha ch  and other Cuban rhythms. By the time of Orquesta Sublime's '59 recording of 'La Pachanga' by composer Eduardo Davidson (b Cuba; d 10 June '94, NYC) introduced the pachanga rhythm, bands were simply called charangas (some credit Jos‚ Fajardo's charanga as the first to perform the pachanga). The danzon stemmed from 19th--century Cuban contradanza, itself originating from the French contredanse introduced to Cuba by French exiles fleeing the Haitian slave revolt of 1791. The first danzon may have been 'Las Alturas de Simpson' first performed in 1879 by black composer/cornettist/bandleader Miguel Failde P‚rez (1852--1921; led own band 1871--1920). The Afro-Cuban composer/clarinettist/bandleader Jos‚ Urf‚ (1879--1957) is credited with first inserting rhythmic elements derived from the son into the danzon with his 'El Bombin de Barreto' in 1910, adding more swing and a broader appeal beyond white elite circles. Pianist, composer and bandleader Antonio Maria Romeu (1876--1955; a white Cuban of French descent) is credited with introducing the piano into the danzonera lineup of flute, violin, double bass, timbales and g]auu[iro while a member of the Leopoldo Cervantes group; infl. by Arsenio Rodriguez's conjunto, Antonio Arca¤o (1929--1994) became the first to add the conga to the danzonera c'40. See also entries for cha cha ch  and mambo.

Among the many popular charangas formed over the years, Orquesta Sensacion was founded '53 by percussionist Rolando Vald‚s; he persuaded legendary sonero Abelardo Barroso (1905-- 72) to come out of retirement to perform and record with the band in the second half of the '50s; of the various reissues of Barroso with Sensacion Tiene Sabor '92 on EGREM is recommended (Vald‚s relocated to NYC, organized a new Sensacion and made two LPs on Ansonia '77--9). Following successful late '50s tours by Jos‚ Fajardo and Orquesta Aragon (formed '39), NYC's charanga heyday (dominated by the pachanga craze) began '60, led by Charlie Palmieri's Charanga 'La Duboney' (initially with Johnny Pacheco on flute) with four violins, infl. by Aragon; Pacheco y su Charanga, Mongo Santamaria's jazz-oriented charanga, Ray Barretto's Charanga Moderna, Pupi Legarreta y su Charanga, and Fajardo, who settled in the USA '61. The charanga boom abated in NYC in the mid-'60s, most bandleaders eventually swapping strings for brass, but Orquesta Broadway has kept going as a popular dance band for over 30 years; Orquesta Novel (previously called Orquesta Tipica Novel) continued recording until '89. Ironically, on the evidence of Far ndula NYC charts for '60, it was a brass-and-sax-led big-band cover of Davidson's 'La Pachanga' by the Afro-Cuban singer Rolando La Serie backed by Bebo Vald‚s's orch. (incl. on the LP Sabor A Mi on Gema) that originally held the no. 1 slot for several months, rather than a charanga version; however a flood of pachanga numbers performed by charangas followed during the next few years. Other significant NYC-based charanga names that emerged during '60s incl. flautist, composer, arr., prod. Lou P‚rez; Alfredito Vald‚s y su Charanga Popular (Vald‚s b '08, Havana; to NYC '56, d '88, NYC: George Goldner produced Viva Valdez '63 on Tico, reissued '95; more '60s material compiled on Fais n '95).

The band of vocalist, percussionist, composer and label boss Joe Quijano was not a strict charanga, but a lineup of two trumpets, flute, unison voices and a rhythm section playing with a charanga feel. Charanga came back mid-'70s during the brass-led NYC salsa boom; new bands were Tipica Ideal, Super Tipica de Estrellas (led by veteran flautist Don Gonzalo Fern ndez), Charanga 76 (led by Cuban g]auu[iro player Filipe Martinez, playing a smooth pop style with singers Hansel Martinez and Ra£l Alfonso, later successful as Hansel and Ra£l), Charanga Sublime, Charanga Casino (formed '78 as a slick commercial band led by g]auu[iro player and composer Filipe Javier Ramos; singers Miguel Martin and Oscar Diaz went on to make duet LPs), Charanga America and Gene Hern ndez y Novedades. A fusion with typical frontline of conjunto trumpets and tres with Colombian vallenata accordion style, a 'charanga vallenata' hybrid, was played '80s by Roberto Torres (some credit flautist Nestor Torres with having devised it). A low- key mid- to late '80s NYC revival of charanga incl. LPs by Fania All Stars, Rudy Calzado, Charanga Cal‚, Orquesta Son Primero, Charanga De La 4, Broadway, Novel, America. In the late '80s--'90s Los Angeles-based Bongo-Logic (organized '87 by timbalero, percussionist, producer and composer Brett Gollin, b 27 May '52 in LA) made interesting use of the charanga format in in the Latin-jazz idiom. A charanga lineup augmented by tres, trumpets, trombone and saxes was employed on the notable Senegal meets New York salsa Africando releases: Vol. 1 -- Trovador, Vol. 2 -- Tierra Tradicional and Gombo Salsa '93--6 on Stern's. Also noteworthy are the Bronx-based Charanson led by pianist H‚ctor Serrano; their 'Descarga (Around Midnight)' '87 is a highlight of The Montuno Sessions -- Live From Studio 'A' '95 on the UK's Mr Bongo label, which also incl. a track by Charanga Cal‚. Evolucionando '96 on RMM by Los Jovenes del Barrio caused a sensation, experimenting with various Afro- Cuban styles, jazz and R&B, prod. by the charanga's experienced leader Johnny Almendra (b Andreu, '53, Brooklyn; worked with Tito Puente, Willie Colon, many others), incl. crossover R&B/son fusion hit 'Telephone' sung in English and Spanish by Almendra's wife Jillian.