“An Arsenio Rodríguez Tribute” – A Magical Evening of Cuban Music Under the Stars

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Photo by Rafael Orellana

(Rafael Orellana/Living Out Loud LA)

There is a an old Cuban song titled “El Son Es Lo Mas Sublime” (the “son” a genre of Cuban music is so sublime) which was written by the late great composer Ignacio Pineiro, which talks about how “The son is the most sublime for the soul to enjoy, a balm and an antidote. A music that one can dance, hear and gives you joy.”

Saturday at the beautiful sculpture garden of the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA) the audience was treated to two sublime sets featuring the music of the iconic Afro-Cuban composer, musician and band leader Arsenio Rodriguez.

Born in Cuba on August 31, 1911, Ignacio Arsenio Travieso Scull died in Los Angeles December 31, 1970 and is buried in New York City where just until recently a grave marker was installed of this icon of Cuban music, funded by a group of fans and musicians.

Blinded as a young boy by a mule or horse’s kick, Arsenio became a famous musician and band leader in the island and was known as El Ciego Maravilloso (The Marvelous Blind Man). His music was revolutionary in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s for its use of Afro-Cuban rhythm with the melodic lead by the “tres”, a three-course, six-string string instrument that he played masterfully.

One of Arsenio Rodriguez chief innovations was his interpretation of the “son montuno” Cuban music genre who took center stage at the evening’s concert.

The outdoor sculpture at MoLAA was filled to capacity to hear an All-Star orchestra “The Arsenio Rodriguez Project” made up of musicians from New York and Los Angeles. The line up included the legendary Afro-Cuban trumpet player Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros who played in Arsenio’s band, Tres Master-Nelson Gonzalez (Grupo Folklórico Y Experimental Nuevayorquino), Jose Mangual Jr. (Spanish Harlem Orchestra) who were accompanied by local master José Caridad Perico Hernández with Iris Cepeda on vocals and local musicians Jorge Pérez, Alberto Salas, Alberto Tamayo, Santiago Santioste and Luis Alberto Ortega.

It took the orchestra a couple of songs to get warmed up and feel out each other’s timing, but once done it was an avalanche of sound that buried the nearby dance floor and those seated behind for two packed sets. Since Arsenio Rodriguez was a tres player, it is no coincidence that this Cuban instrument was highlighted in several numbers with the virtuosity of Nelson Gonzalez on “Sueltala” & “Mami me gustó”. Other songs included in the sets were “Fuego en el 23″ and the iconic bolero “La Vida es un Sueño”. Several celebrities were spotted enjoying the evening, including Buena Vista’s Ry Cooder and actor Jimmy Smits.

The Arsenio Rodriguez Project is the brainchild of Guido Herrera, an Angelino via Peru who has been a Latin music promoter and DJ at the KXLU 89.9FM show “Alma Del Barrio” for many years. We must thank Guido for this magical evening of Cuban music under the stars in Long Beach, California.

Humberto Capiro is a Contributing Writer for Living Out Loud - LA, covering lifestyle and entertainment. Follow him on Twitter: @HumbertoCapiro
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