Benny More (Courtesy of the Museum of Latin American Art)
One of the most recognizable recordings by the late iconic Cuban singer Benny More is the song “Castellano que bueno baila used” (Castellano, how good you dance) which he dedicated to the trombone player of his big band Generoso Jimenez. Other lines from this song include “Generoso, how good you play” and “Generoso, how good you sing”. Since he never learned to write music, More would hum tunes to Jimenez who would then write them in a musical format.
On Sunday, September 8th at the beautiful sculpture garden of the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA), the last of the Afro-Cuban Music Concert series produced by Peruvian-born Guido Herrera (Yambu Productions) was dedicated to the music of More who was also known as “El Beny” (The Beny) or “El Barbaro del Ritmo” (The amazing one of Rhythm). Like the lines of his song, it was an afternoon of great dancing, playing and singing.
Benny Moré (Bartolomé Maximiliano Moré Gutiérrez, August 24 1919 – February 19, 1963), is probably the most recognized and revered popular music artist that has ever come out of Cuba. He mastered most genres of Cuban music and fused them into a big band sound with his Moré’s Banda Gigante in the early 1950’s after appearing as lead singer with other famous Cuban groups such as Trio Matamoros, Perez Prado and Orquesta Aragon amongst others.
The orchestra for Sunday evening was headed by Cal State LA professor Paul De Castro and featured Dutch percussionist Lucas van Merwijk, Cuban-born musician Calixto Oviedo and the CSULA Afro-Latin Ensemble big band made up of 2/3 of current and former music students with the rest local professionals. Joining them on vocals were Cuban-born singers Iris Cepeda, George Balmaseda and Lilly Centeno. Big Kudos to professor Paul De Castro for including a female bongo player who was in fine form and a role model for other young female musicians.
The two set program was a mix of music by More along with songs made famous by others big band artists including Cuban mambo pioneer Machito and Antonio Machin amongst others. The beautiful and statuesque Lilly Centero, who is a mix of Celia Cruz and Whitney Houston belted out a great rendition o “Yiri-bon” while the well rehearsed orchestra balanced the jazz influence with the Afro-Cuban roots. A veteran musician, George Balmaseda who possesses the style, range and detail of a great “sonero” (master singer) got dancers on the floor in all of his numbers.
One of the highlights of the second set was when percussionist Lucas van Merwijk, and Calixto Oviedo began a “conversation” between the congas and drums which was improvised and shear magic. Later these masters were joined by an ex-member of the Cuban fusion group Arte Mixto, Iris Cepeda who delighted the audience with her powerful voice and renditions of songs made famous by More such as “Mata Siguaraya” (Siguaraya bush) and the previously mentioned “Castellano que bueno baila usted”!
The capacity crowd at the MoLAA courtyard enjoyed not just the music but celebrated Hispanic Heritage month (September 15 to October 15) along with producer and radio personality Guido Herrera who closed a very successful 3-concert series. Hopefully Yambu Productions and MoLAA will continue the tradition next summer with more great singing, great playing and great dancing!