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Dominican musician, bandleader, and composer Manolín “Manny” González got his start studying music as a child with his father. He continued his education with Rafael Ignacio, a renowned Dominican composer. Furthering his musical knowledge, González attended various universities and conservatories where he mastered orchestral arranging and composition. Additionally, he honed his skills playing the flute, saxophone, clarinet, and Dominican percussion. González became a road-tested professional musician with his debut in Johnny Ventura’s Combo Show. In 1962, he traveled to New York for the first time. While in New York, he left Ventura for the orchestras of Jesús “Chuito” Vélez, Machito, Charlie Palmieri, Primitivo Santos, and Rafael Cortijo’s Nuevo Combo. However, his most fruitful period was as a sideman in Ismael Rivera’s Cachimbos, where his saxophone played an integral role in Maelo’s sound. Reflecting on those formative years in the heart of salsa’s capital, he once noted in an interview, “everything I learned was with Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera.” In addition to his proficiency with various wind and percussion instruments, González evolved into a composer, singer, and record producer during the 1970s and 1980s. He led Orquesta Tambora, named after the principal drum in merengue. But before his relative success in the 1980s, during the late 1960s and early 1970s he briefly joined his brother Jorge “George” González’s orchestra, recording an obscure 45. He later formed his own outfit, Manolín González Y Sus Merengueros, which had a short-lived run.

The group’s name was changed to Manolín González y su Tribu for a self-titled LP, recorded in 1970 and released the following year on Ansonia. Their only recorded album, Manolín González y su Tribu / Manolin Gonzalez And His Tribe remains largely undiscovered, though it’s known to dedicated salsa collectors. It features a saxophone-led sound that presaged that of Ismael Rivera’s Cachimbos (both groups shared Cuban pianist Javier Vázquez) and spanned the genre gamut from cumbia to bolero, instrumental rock to Latin Soul (with no merengues, surprisingly). But it’s the guaguancó and descarga tunes on the record that drive the salsa collectors wild. “Canción De La Serranía,” a guaguancó sung by Vitín López with coro by Willie Torres (of the Joe Cuba Sextet), is arguably the hottest banger of the bunch. The nostalgic lyrics, written by Roberto Cole, describe the simple beauty of the Puerto Rican landscape, with its beautiful night sky, colorful sunsets, and rustic jibaro peasant farmers riding their oxen-drawn carts into the distance. López tells of his longing for the far-away mountains of his rural childhood home where his first love shines bright as a star, with an emotional refrain proclaiming: “I want to live in Puerto Rico!” And yet the music itself is not typical Puerto Rican folk music from the countryside; rather, it’s thoroughly urban and gritty, multicultural, and aggressive in that inimitable “street” way of 1970s New York salsa, a genre that has captured the hearts and animated the feet of so many fans over the decades.


-Pablo E. Yglesias 

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