Orquesta Aragon Biography

Formed on 30 September 1939 in Cinefuegos, Cuba, by bass player Orestes Aragón Cantero, the group’s first name was Ritmica Del 39, which then became Ritmica Aragón. After about a year, the name was changed again, this time to Orquesta Aragón. Although Aragón was the prime mover, the band was a collective and soon became a leading charanga band, using a front line of flute and violin and a lively rhythm section of piano and percussion. They were especially adept exponents of danzón, danzonette and mambo. An early member of the band was violinist Rafael Lay who at the age of 20 in 1948, took over leadership from the ailing Aragón. Lay decided to take the band to Havana where they soon capitalized on the growing popularity of the cha-cha.

In the early 50s, Orquesta Aragón was signed to RCA - Victor Records and began attracting international attention owing to records and tours of South America and the USA. Among important band members were timbalero Orestes Varona, there from the start, and flautist Richard Egües, who joined in the early 50s, and was the composer of several of the band’s hits. Following the revolution in Cuba, the band’s international profile was diminished for a while although they continued to work, now as official state employees, performing in factories and schools as much as in dancehalls.

In the mid-60s, the band’s international fame was expanded owing to a visit to France as part of the Cuban Music Hall tour, and in the early 70s they toured Africa. In 1982, Lay was killed in a car accident and Varona and others retired, while Egües moved on. The 80s proved to be a rocky time but by the 90s, and now under the leadership of Rafael Lay Jnr., the Orquesta Aragón was as active and popular as ever. The band made several well-received albums in the late 90s and early 00s, among which were the Grammy nominated La Charanga Eterna and En Route. A tour of the USA in 2001 was a great success and the band was highly praised by critics and audiences. Newer members of Orquesta Aragón included Eduardo Rubio (flute), Lázaro González Siboré (percussion/violin), Guillermo Garcia (percussion) and Orlando Pérez (piano).

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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