The Natural

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Cuban lute player Barbarito Torres is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost exponents of musica guajira, the blues music of the Cuban countryside.  He was one of the musicians featured on the album “Buena Vista Social Club,” which is credited with single-handedly changing the history of Cuban music.  He is currently on tour to promote his latest, self-titled CD and can be seen at two shows this Sunday evening at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.

Torres was born Barbaro Alberto Torres Delgado in Matanzas, Cuba.  At age 10, he picked up his father’s lute.  “My father was a guajiro de ceiba mocha, a poet and lute player,” recalled Torres.  “He was really bad, I’m sorry to say, but he played the lute. A week after I started playing I played better than him. He never took it up again.”   Instead, recognizing his son’s talent, Torres’ father encouraged him by changing the strings on the instrument and making picks for his son, who began playing music with his older sister.   In 1970, he began his career as a professional musician, joining Serenata Yumurina, a band led by Higino Mullens.

Torres’ music career was interrupted in 1973, when he joined the Army to do his military service.  There, however, he joined the marching band and jazz orchestra, where he met Jose Luis Cortez, director of NG La Banda, a famous band in Cuba.  “I was with him a long time in the Army band,” said Torres, “and he taught me music that was more modern.”  Torres learned to play the traditional Cuban son, combined with a more modern harmony.  After his discharge from the Army in 1976, Torres joined Siembra Cultural (later renamed Grupo Yarabi) and traveled all over Cuba before settling in Havana.  By this time, he had gained a reputation as one of the best lute players in the country.  He was in high demand as a recording artist, and appeared on albums by some of the top names in popular Cuban music.

In Havana, Torres became musical director of Grupo Campoalegre, featuring Celina Gonzalez, the “legendary queen of musica guajira.”  He toured with Gonzalez in Latin America and Europe until 1995, as well as playing with Grupo Manguare and his own band Piquete Cubano.  In 1998, he was featured in the recordings of the Afro Cuban All-Stars.

The music of Barbarito Torres is an exciting mix of the traditional and contemporary in Cuban music.  Hi band features the traditional instruments such as the lute, the tres, the guitar and bass, plus percussion and trumpet to give “a more urban sound.”  Torres is extremely proud of his band, of which he said, “The best thing that has happened to me, after the Grammy, is to have met these folks, who are excellent musicians, and as people are like my brothers and sisters.”  If you are feeling sleepy on Sunday after your Thanksgiving celebrations, an evening at the Kuumbwa with Barbarito Torres might be just what you need to pep you up again.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, November 27, 2003

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