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Bandleader, pianist, composer and arranger Gilberto Cruz was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but by the early 1960s he was active in the New York area playing gigs with his uniquely configured charanga orchestra, Gilberto Y Su Charanga. At that time there were a lot of charanga orchestras in New York, and if a band wanted to compete they had to bring something special to the table; taking the vibraphone out of the Latin jazz context and inserting it into the “typical” Cuban orchestra was Gilberto Cruz’s gambit.

By the mid-1960s the pachanga fad had died and so Cruz decided to dissolve his charanga in favor of a much more manageable and hip sounding vibes and piano led sextet in the mode of the very popular Joe Cuba Sextet. Cruz retained most of his core members, including bassist Teodoro “Teddy” Vantapool and vibraphonist and percussionist Andrew “Andy” Vega. He also recruited the gruff-voiced Genaro “Heny” Álvarez as lead vocalist, sweetening things with the female backing voice of Rosa Angélica, Eddie Lois, from New York, on conga and Enrique “Henry” Dávila (aka “Kike” or Quique), from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, came in on trap drums and timbales.

-Pablo Yglesias

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