Sexteto Habanero

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Sexteto Habanero 1920

The Sexteto Habanero was a famous Cuban musical group which was founded in 1920.[1] It played an important part in the early history of the son.[2]

In 1917 four musicians from Oriente, calling themselves Cuarteto Oriental, recorded four numbers for Columbia Records in Havana. The numbers are listed in a Columbia catalog for 1921, but are probably lost. However, the same group expanded to a sextet in 1918, and were recorded by Victor Records in a field recording at the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana.[3] At least one of these records has survived, giving two numbers, which are probably the first surviving songs. The new grouping called itself Sexteto Habanero in 1920.

Its line-up (below) was: back, L>R: Guillermo Castillo (guitar and director), Carlos Godínez (tres), Gerardo Martínez (voz prima y claves); front, L>R: Antonio Bacallao (botija), Oscar Sotolongo (square bongó) and Felipe Nerí Cabrera (maracas).[4]

The instrumental set-up is interesting, because they use some of the original instruments of the son: the botija[5] and a unique square bongó. Soon this (and other) groups appreciated that the double bass was a musically more suitable instrument: they never went back to the botija. Five years later, the group had new members and a different look. L>R below: Agustín Gutiérrez (bongó), Abelardo Barroso (sonero, claves), Felipe Nerí Cabrera (maracas, vocals); Gerardo Martínez (double bass, vocals, leader); Guillermo Castillo (guitar, vocals), Carlos Godínez (tres, vocals).[6]

Sexteto Habanero 1925
(the bongosero's tuning lamp is circled)

The group's recordings in New York 1925–31 are available on LP and CD.[6][7] The music is of high quality, considering the technical limitations of the time; the group won first prize in the Concurso de Sones in 1925 and 1926.[8] When the group added a cornet, soon replaced by a trumpet, namely Félix Chappottín, it became the Septeto Habanero. This latter line-up lasted until the late 1930s, when sextetos were ousted by conjuntos and big bands. The leader, Gerardo Martínez then formed a new group, Conjunto Típico Habanero.[8]


  1. ^ Giro, Radames 2007. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. La Habana. vol 2, p230.
  2. ^ Blanco, Jesús 1992. 80 años del son y soneros en el Caribe. Caracas. p14 et seq.
  3. ^ details in Díaz Ayala, Cristóbal 1994. Cuba canta y baila: discografía de la música cubana 1898–1925. Fundación Musicalia, San Juan P.R. p319 et seq.
  4. ^ Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. p336
  5. ^ Orovio, Helio 1981. Diccionario de la música cubana. p58
  6. ^ a b Arhoolie/Folklyric LP 9054. La historia de son cubano: Sexteto Habanero: the roots of salsa, volume II contains 16 numbers from 1926 to 1931.
  7. ^ Tumbao TCD 001 Sexteto Habanero: Son cubano 1924–1927 and TCD 009 Sexteto Habanero: las raices del son (the latter contains 24 numbers, from 1925 to 1931).
  8. ^ a b John Santos in liner notes to Folklyric LP 9054.