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Los Muñequitos de Matanzas celebrate 55 years of rumba tradition

When the musicians who were to found the legendary Cuban rumba band Los Muñequitos gathered for the first time in 1952 in the La Marina neighbourhood of Matanzas, they came together as bearers of the inheritance of the cimarron culture of rebel African slaves passed down through generations.

The group was first called Guaguancó Matancero and was made up of percussionists Florencio Calle, Esteban Bacallao, Angel Pellado, Ernesto Torriente, Juan Mesa and Goyito Diaz, whose ancestors had taught them the power of the drums and the claves. Above their rhythms rose the rebel voices of Esteban Lantri and Hortensio Alfonso, Saldiguera and Virulilla.

After a song written by Saldiguera called Los muñequitos became a hit in the late 1950s, the band was re-baptized as Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

Fifty-five years of drumming, singing and passing down the rumba sceptre to the ensuing generations of rumberos has made Los Muñequitos de Matanzas one of the most ferocious rumba bands in Cuba and one of the highest exponents of Cuban music.

This long and profound contribution to Cuban music and culture was celebrated Monday in Matanzas with a gala event sponsored by the Artex and Bis Music record labels. On behalf of local authorities, Armando Sanabria expressed the pride of Matanzas residents for what constitutes a symbol of Cuban culture and, at the same time, universal music.

Amid the drumming of celebration and joy, the groups current director, Diosdado Ramos, told the story of how he became a rumbero. "Lifes journey turned me into a Matanzas resident. One night in the 1960s, while I was carrying out my military service, I went to go dancing with Los Muñequitos. I was from the Marianao municipality of Havana and was training to become a boxer. My dream was to become a featherweight champion. Los Muñequitos were looking to incorporate into the group, for the first time, a dancer. I became that dancer. My children were born here and play in the group. And those coming up after them are already rising to become our successors."

The youngest group of musicians makes up Tumba Timba, a band that is essentially Los Muñequitos farm team. Two of its soloists, Jose Andro Mella Bosch and Reyniel Lopez Gonzalez, have already been recruited from its ranks and are currently playing with Los Muñequitos, bringing great intonation and energy.

"You have to see the kids. They begin dancing at a very young age and grow up knowing that rumba is one of the most representative expressions of our raison dêtre," says Diosdado.

The recent success of the group, at Cubadisco and the Grammies, to a large extent are thanks to the care and wisdom of musicologist Cary Diez, whom the musicians consider an inseparable part of their group.

Once again, Los Muñequitos have been nominated for a Latin Grammy, this time for the album Tambor de Fuego (Bis Music). Unfortunately, the band will not be able to attend the November 8 award ceremonies due to the USs obstinate anti-Cuban policy.

"No matter how many Grammies we win, the most cherished award we have received is from our homeland. We have shown Cuba to the world; but our roots are here, along with a Revolution that has made us who we are," said Diosdado at the celebration.

Source: By Pedro de la Hoz, Granma

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