NYT: Manuel Galban, Guitar Virtuoso With Cuban Bands, Dies at 80
- THE NEW YORK TIMES
July 11, 2011
Manuel Galbán, Guitar Virtuoso With Cuban Bands, Dies at 80
By PETER KEEPNEWS
Manuel Galbán, a Cuban guitarist best known for his work with the all-star ensemble Buena Vista Social Club and its various offshoots, died on Thursday in Havana. He was 80.
The cause was cardiac arrest, said World Circuit Records, the British label for which he most recently recorded.
Mr. Galbán was not on the 1997 album "Buena Vista Social Club," produced by the American guitarist Ry Cooder, which created an international sensation by showcasing a number of veteran musicians who were virtually unknown outside Cuba. But he quickly became part of the extended Buena Vista Social Club family after Mr. Cooder tracked him down in 1999 to play on an album by Ibrahim Ferrer, one of the Buena Vista singers.
He went on to work with Mr. Cooder on the album "Mambo Sinuendo," which won a Grammy as best pop instrumental album in 2004, and to record with other Buena Vista musicians.
Mr. Galbán made his initial splash in the 1960s as the guitarist with the vocal group Los Zafiros, which mixed traditional Cuban music with calypso, rhythm and blues and other styles. During his decade-long tenure, Los Zafiros was among the most popular groups in Cuba and developed an international following.
"Mr. Galbán was one of the wonders of Cuban music in the 1960s," Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote in 2003. "His playing pulled together two almost contradictory approaches: the floating reverb of surf guitar and the percussive, snapping sound of the tres, the small guitar that's a fulcrum between rhythm and melody in Cuban son groups."
In an interview published this year in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma and reprinted in English on its Web site, Mr. Galbán explained his approach: "I combine fast passages with arpeggios, while making appropriate use of the bass strings. In that way I give the sensation that more than one musician is playing." It was this unusual approach that led Mr. Cooder, who played a crucial role in the later phase of Mr. Galbán's career, to call him a "guitar wizard."
Buena Vista Social Club, an ensemble organized by Mr. Cooder that took its name from a membership club where many of its musicians had performed in pre-Castro Cuba, was the subject of a celebrated 1999 documentary directed by Wim Wenders.
Born in 1931 in the small fishing town of Gibara, Cuba, Mr. Galbán began his professional career playing piano and drums as well as guitar with the Villa Blanca Orchestra in 1944. He moved to Havana in 1956 and joined Los Zafiros in 1963. After leaving Los Zafiros in 1972 (it disbanded shortly afterward), he worked with Cuba's national music ensemble and toured for more than two decades with Grupo Batey.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.