A Brief History of Conjunto Guantánamo
Influences In 1996, Buena Vista Social Club had taken this musical genre out of the cold storage imposed on it by the Cuban blockade and the passing decades and thoroughly dusted it off for us as they masterfully reminded the whole world of how truly compelling the genre of Afro-Cuban "son" music is.
”When Buena Vista came out,” says Ulises Beato, “it was such a stark contrast to the run-of-the-mill commercial salsa music that was around. Back then all you heard on the Latin scene was either, over-commercialized salsa romantica or the NYC style of salsa and Gloria Estefan which, for me, were all just watered-down albeit somewhat danceable imitations of the original authentic son sound. The "salsa" world was alive and well and its roots in Afro-Cuban son were widely acknowledged but everyone was playing their own versions as they went along and they were taking the music further and further away from its original essence.”
"When I heard Buena Vista I was reminded of this special feeling. Of the jam sessions that would sometimes break out in my parent's house after around 1980, when some of our family members arrived on the Mariel Boatlift, still fresh from that then-isolated city that had incubated its own inimitable culture and music. I remember how unique and different it all felt. It was like finding a prized possession you didn’t even know you had lost.”
“Nobody had that authentic traditional Cuban sound in NYC city or around Miami anymore like I had heard in my youth. Because of this, I set out to provide what was missing. A syncopated music with the energy, cadence, poise, elegance, wit and humorous innuendo that expressed a certain authentic Cuban aesthetic and sensibility I became familiar with as a kid. I wanted to play this more traditional music that had been largely shelved and forgotten.”
Formation of the Band In 2003, Ulises Beato founded Conjunto Guantánamo (CG) at the behest of friend and jazz trumpeter Jack Cassidy. In a late-night conversation after a jam session, Cassidy planted the seed with Ulises and even suggested “Why don't you call it Guantanamo?" To which Ulises immediately replied "conjunto" Guantánamo (Guantanamo Ensemble)! Since everyone familiar with the genre knows that the Southeastern province of Guantánamo in Cuba, is the original birthplace of son montuno, this made perfect sense to Ulises and Conjunto Guantánamo was born. Shortly after this, CG played its first few gigs in the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO which at the time had, arguably the largest enclave of bohemians, artists and musicians in the North East US. It was in that crucible of DUMBO where the band formed, that it solidified and eventually gelled into what it is today.
The Ambassadors of Cuban Folklore After gigging around New York City for a couple of years the band solidified as the ambassadors of Cuban folklore, with a freshly interpreted, classic Afro-Cuban sound like Son Montuno, Cha-Cha-Cha, Mambo and Rumba with contemporary energy, their performances sometimes transition into extended experimental descargas -- a type of Afro-Cuban improvisational jam session -- using musical motifs straight from the streets of Havana and Matanzas, combined with the very spirit of New York City.
A Solidified Sound In 2006, CG started to solidify its sound while around NYC at the many residencies they had at the time. “in those years we were gigging a lot and had weekly and monthly residencies at the places like the notorious Socialista club on Jane Street, Sasha Petrovsky’s Little Branch bar downtown, Gonzales and Gonzales, Barbes, etc.
It was then that Conjunto Guantánamo was able to capture the precision and telltale cadence of authentic traditional Afro-Cuban music that give it its unique hypnotic and driving sound. Lively percussion, pounding syncopated bass lines, brazenly exotic trumpet melodies, uninhibited improvisation.
Current Lineup CG initially evolved several times, in terms of personnel, until around 2009 when Jose Pepito Gomez joined the band to fill in during a local gig. Pepito who had recently arrived in NYC from Cuba was a well known exponent of the Timba world and was lead singer in a handful of some of the most prominent bands in Cuba at the time, predominantly Pupi Y Los Que Son Son. It was back then that Ulises and Pepito agreed to work together and Pepito became the official lead singer of CG. A bit later after some further turnover in the roster, CG were joined by percussionist Hector Torres on bongó, bassist Carlos Mena and trumpeter Oscar Oñoz all of whom have been with the band ever since. In 2016 the ensemble was also joined by Ittetsu Nasuda on the Piano. Along with Ulises' vision of having an authentic Afro-Cuban son ensemble in NYC, the sextet had matured into what has become a real international tour de force in the genre of traditional Afro-Cuban "son" music.
Performances of note:
-- What a Wonderfull World 50th Anniversary Festival in conjunction with Louis Armstrong House Museum, 2018 - Lincoln Center’s Boro-Linc: La Casita, 2017 - The Gantries summer series, 2017 - Sunday Concerts series at Queens Central Library, 2017 - Performance at Langston Hughes Auditorium, 2017 - Outdoor concert series with Kupferberg Center for the Arts and the NYC Parks Department, 2017
- The Schomberg Center, First Fridays - Afro Cuban edition, 2016
- Lowell Folk Festival, 2014 - APAP showcase 2012 - Steiner Studio at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, 2011 - Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, 2011 - 620 Loft at Rockefeller Center, 2011 - Shanghai Mermaid, appearing regularly since 2011 - Waldorf Astoria Main Ballroom, 2010 - Museum of Modern Art, 2010 - Rose Live Music, Brooklyn, residency 2009-10 - WFMU FM Radio, Transpacific Sound Paradise Show, 2009 - The Campbell Apartment, 2009 - St. Joseph's College, 2009 - Fashion Institute of Technology, annually 2007-11 - Socialista Lounge, Manhattan, residency 2006-07 - Dancewave’s Kids Cafe Festival, Kumble Theater at Long Island University, 2007 - SOHO House, Manhattan - Barbes, Brooklyn - DUMBO Arts Festival annually from 2003-2014 - First gigs at Pedro’s Bar, Superfine, DUMBO, Brooklyn, 2003
Private Clients of note:
- Creative Edge Parties - Fifth Avenue Committee - The Ad Council - Ikea Brooklyn - People Magazine - Dr. Daniel C. Baker, M.D.
• Oye Como Suenan (2011), Nganga Records
Recorded at Soundworks Recording Studios in Queens, NY and engineered by Kamilo Kract. Produced by Pablo Moya (formerly of Los Karachis) CG released their debut EP that included four cuts:
1) Y Yo Gangá (Rudy Calzado) 2) Sujetate la Lengua (Eloy Oliva) 3) Vivir del Tumbao (Joseito Fernandez) 4) La Rosa Oriental (Ramon Espigul).
The recording includes Pepito Gomez on lead vocals, Oscar Oñoz on trumpet, Mauricio Herrera on bongó, Ulises Beato on conga, Sebastian Natal on piano and Pedro Cruz on Bass. the backup vocals on those tracks included Papote Jimenez and Noslen Diaz.
The cover art showed a photo of a scene in Havana. The trunk of a shark-tailed vintage American car in the foreground as some Havanese load up into a bus in the out-of-focus background.
• ¡Las Navidades con el Conjunto Guantánamo! (2015), Nganga Records
Recorded at Nganga Recording Studios in Brooklyn, NY and engineered by Pepito Gomez and Ulises Beato collectively. It was produced by the two as well and the music was arranged by Angel Diaz. The tracks were mixed and mastered by Kamilo Kract at Soundworks Recording Studios in Queens, NY. This was released as a double single and included:
1) Santa Claus Llego a la Ciudad (F. Coots, H Gillespie) 2) Navidad, Navidad (A. Diaz, J. Gomez)
The personnel on the two tracks are Pepito Gomez on lead vocals, Kali Rodriguez Peña on trumpet, Mauricio Herrera on bongó, Ulises Beato on conga, Angel Diaz on piano and Carlos Mena on Bass. The backup vocals on those tracks were by Carlos Mena, Ulises Beato and Angel Diaz.
• Upcoming double single release (2018), Nganga Records
Recorded at Nganga Recording Studios in Brooklyn, NY and engineered by Pepito Gomez and Ulises Beato collectively. It was produced by the two as well and this time the music was arranged by Carlos Mena. The tracks were mixed and mastered by Kamilo Kract at Soundworks Recording Studios in Queens, NY. This was also released as a double single and included:
1) Cuchillo Para la Piña Cubana (F. Chapottín) 2) Mamaita no Quiere (F. Chapottín)
The personnel on the two tracks are Pepito Gomez on lead vocals, Kali Rodriguez Peña on trumpet, Mauricio Herrera on bongó, Ulises Beato on conga, Ittetsu Nasuda on piano and Carlos Mena on Bass. The backup vocals on those tracks were by Carlos Mena, Ulises Beato and Argelio Nodal.
Upcoming CD release (2018), Nganga Records
Recorded at Nganga Recording Studios in Brooklyn, NY and engineered by Pepito Gomez and Ulises Beato collectively. It was produced by the two as well and this time the music was arranged by Carlos Mena. The tracks were mixed and mastered by Kamilo Kract at Soundworks Recording Studios in Queens, NY
The personnel on the CD are Pepito Gomez on lead vocals, Kali Rodriguez Peña and Oscar Oñoz on trumpet, Mauricio Herrera on bongó, Ulises Beato on conga, Ittetsu Nasuda on piano and Carlos Mena on Bass. The backup vocals on those tracks were by Carlos Mena, Ulises Beato and Argelio Nodal.
Official Home Page: http://www.ConjuntoGuantanamo.com