Arsenio Rodríguez


1. Preludio a Catalina (Performed by CHUCHO VALDES)
2. Dile a Catalina (Performed by IRAKERE)
3. Buenavista en guaguancó (ANTILLA CD-586)
4. Fiesta en el solar (Primitivo)
5. Juventud Amaliana TCD031
6. Recuerda bien (ANTILLA CD-586)
7. De una manera espantosa (Performed by IRAKERE)
8. Frutas del caney (Ansonia HGCD1337)
9. Blanca paloma (ANTILLA CD-586)
10. Que feliz yo fuera (ANTILLA CD-586)
11. Besame aqui (ANTILLA CD-586)
12. Mami me gusto (ANTILLA CD-586)
13. Hachero pa' un palo (Performed by MANGARE)
Label: Discmedi Records/ ARTEX Canada CD-066 1993
Notes: good notes in Spanish by Zola Gomez García
Sound: Mostly good
The extraneous material, particularly by Irakere, is unnecessary but helps demonstrate the breadth of Arsenio's influence.
Arsenio Rodríguez was born Ignacio Loyola Rodríguez Scull on 31 August 1913 in the village of Güira de Macurijes in Matanzas (Some sources say 30 August 1911 but he himself had written to the registrar to correct his birth certificate). His family was of Congolese descent, his grandfather having been brought to Cuba as a slave. He was the fourth of 17 kids in a poor family who worked the sugarcane fields. Arsenio studied traditional drumming and percussion. At age 7 he was kicked in the head by a horse which caused the loss of his eyesight. He started writing songs in 1928; in the 30s he moved to Havana to seek work as a musician. In 1937 Casino de la Playa's singer Miguelito Valdés recorded two of his songs: "Bruca manigüá," (TCD003) and "Ben acá tomá." Casino de la Playa recorded four more Arsenio compositions in 1938: "Yo son macuá," [MLN55004] "Fufuñando," [MLN55004] "Yo soy gangá," and "Se va el caramelero." [MLN55004] This last track is also collected on TCD037, and Rodríguez can be heard for the first time on record, playing tres as guest soloist. Valdés and his pianist Anselmo Sacasas moved to the USA in 1940 and were hugely influential, perhaps most notably on Desi Arnaz who modeled his style on Valdés, even adapting his trademark song "Babalu."

From his guest spot with this big band, Rodríguez had the idea of turning the typical sextet into a conjunto by adding a second trumpet and a piano. Later he added a third trumpet and a tumbadora (a big conga drum). In 1940 he made his first recordings under his own name: "El pirulero no vuelve mas," (referring back to his hit "Se va el caramelero") and "Yo 'tá enamorá." This number is described as an afro: an early example of the roots-based music Arsenio introduced to Cuban music from his deep love and study of his Congolese heritage. In 1942 he had a massive hit with "Como traiga la yuca" which the public rebaptised "Dile a Catalina" from the first line.

Arsenio moved to Miami but (not surprisingly) didn't like it; then to New York where he was more at home, and he continued to record sporadically though his groups lacked the cohesion of his conjunto in Havana. The original band broke into two with Chappotín leading one group and the rhythm section regrouping as Conjunto Modelo [TCD-059]. Arsenio was never to return home, and died in obscurity on 30 December 1970 of pneumonia, in Los Angeles, California.

There are out of print albums and many 78s not included in this list, but my aim is to help buyers avoid duplicating material in their collection, so I have focussed on CD reissues. The essential discs are the Tumbao Classics series for the Cuban material. The New York period is well served and some of the TICO reissues (those that are not plagued with bad sound) are also crucial. P-VINE in Japan does a great job of remastering many of the originals.

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