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. 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).
The instrumental set-up is interesting, because they use some of the original instruments of the son: the botija 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).
The group's recordings in New York 1925–31 are available on LP and CD. 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. 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.
- Giro, Radames 2007. Diccionario enciclopédico de la música en Cuba. La Habana. vol 2, p230.
- Blanco, Jesús 1992. 80 años del son y soneros en el Caribe. Caracas. p14 et seq.
- 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.
- Sublette, Ned 2004. Cuba and its music: from the first drums to the mambo. Chicago. p336
- Orovio, Helio 1981. Diccionario de la música cubana. p58
- Arhoolie/Folklyric LP 9054. La historia de son cubano: Sexteto Habanero: the roots of salsa, volume II contains 16 numbers from 1926 to 1931.
- 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).
- John Santos in liner notes to Folklyric LP 9054.