Santiago de Cuba and the surrounding area in Oriente (the eastern part of Cuba) has been the cradle of Cuban song for more than a century. Two of Cuba’s most famous groups originate from there, namely Miguel Matamoros’ “Trío Matamoros,” and Ñico Saquito’s “Los Guaracheros De Oriente.” Although not as well known, Maximilano “Bimbi” Sánchez (Caobitas, Cuba, 1908 – Florida, US, 1991) is surely another worthy son of Oriente who deserves our praise, if not for his excellent and long-lived group, Bimbi y su Trío Oriental, then at least for his famous tune “La Frutabomba.”
Maximilano “Bimbi” Sánchez, whose nickname came from a tongue-twister nursery song his elder sister used to sing him as a child, grew up in the small rural town of Caobitas. He was poor but surrounded by song and rum. Determined to make his way as a musician, he founded his trio in 1935 in the larger city of Santiago de Cuba with his friends Pedro Filiú, singer and maraquero (maracas player), and Luis Bosch, guitarist and tres player. It was always said of Maximilano Sánchez (even when he was a bandleader of the Trío Oriental in the years of highest popularity) that his easy-going and ebullient personality, and propensity for laughter and jokes, never matched his imperious first name, so he adopted the far lighter nickname “Bimbi,” which is how students of Latin music history will always remember him.
While in New York, Bimbi formed a new trio with Cuso Mendoza (conga, vocals, 1951-1954) whom he had met in Cuba, and Neftalí Piñeiro (guitar, 1951-1954). Together, they recorded a series of 78 singles for various labels, as well as for Bimbi’s own label, Titan Records. In addition to his work with his trio, Bimbi performed and recorded merengues with an accordionist, as well as a set of “campesino” music featuring Cuban sonero Pio Leyva and a saxophonist, and some porros with two clarinetists accompanying the Colombian songstress Esther Forero (more on that later).