El Gran Combo – 60th Anniversary Tour

El Gran Combo – 60th Anniversary Tour

El Gran Combo – 60th Anniversary Tour

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$60.00, $80.00, $100.00 and $130.00 + Fees
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Artist Info

Few musical groups have lasted half a century maintaining their rhythmic identity unchanged, overcoming the pressures of the record industry and resisting the vicissitudes of consumer culture as El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico has done.

Different from other salsa orchestras, particularly those that emerged in New York since the end of the 1960s, our so-called “Mulatos del Sabor” have always protected their musical timbre from innovations and complex experiments, safeguarding their own simple, rhythmic sound. has characterized since its foundation, on May 26, 1962.

It does not mean that throughout 54 years of history they have evaded the significance of the new harmonic techniques and trends arrived by new times and new generations. On the contrary, they study and enjoy them, but in general, they keep them at a cautious distance to avoid spreading the identity traits of their sound.

Thanks to this creative circumspection, the group, commanded by Rafael Ithier Nadal, has managed to establish a rubric like very few other Afro-Caribbean groups. The sample is in his musical catalog, so it is enough to listen, for example, to the harmonization of “Acángana”, a song produced on his third album, at the end of 1963, and continue a journey through his history through melodies like “ Chinese eyes”, “Something is wrong with you”, “The white sheets” or “There is no paradise without sauce” to confirm the thesis.

Its validity also responds to the synchrony between artistic creation, which adds music and talent, and collective brotherhood, mended in a singular work ethic that is sustained by the philosophy of cooperativism. But beyond the sound and rhythm of their songs, if we weigh other creative and sociological elements, we conclude that El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is the group that best defines what we call salsa and, without fear of being wrong, no one in the Latin American environment and Caribbean, inside or outside the United States, has managed to equal its distinction and its historical pre-eminence.

Part of the recipe for the success of this famous group is to make everyday songs with simple, rhythmic and intelligible arrangements; a good rhythmic section and a lot of key, always thinking about the taste of the public without departing –and this is important– from the roots of Puerto Rican popular music. Rafael Ithier himself explains it candidly in an interview that is part of the draft of his memoirs:

“Not having a formal education in music, I can’t think of the works of Beethoven or Bach, but I can think of Chuíto (Jesús Sánchez Eraso) and Ramito (Flor Morales Ramos) when composing my arrangements”.

sound of modernity

Since its foundation, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico has cultivated an important space in our Puerto Rican and Antillean songbook, standing out as one of the few musical institutions that assume the social and historical representation of the development of our melodic modernity, moving vigorously through the interpretation of rhythms like bomba, guaracha, merengue, boogaloo, jala-jala, bolero, tango and, of course, salsa.

It is, without a doubt, a sign of the national and Afro-Caribbean identity that is nourished by the rich cultural tradition that emerged and was consolidated in the last half of the 20th century and that remains strengthened to the present. His artistic proposal nuances a new era. Tanned in the shadow of veteran percussionist Rafael Cortijo Verdejo, the musicians who originated El Gran Combo in 1962 managed to impose a rhythmic sound that immediately captivated the national audience and, in a short time, during its first decade, began to take root on stages around the United States, Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. The breadth of its repertoire, the sparkle of its choreographies, the charisma of its members and the wisdom of incorporating playful melodies and everyday stories into its songbook fueled the key to success.

In this way, the group founded by Rafael Ithier, Quito Vélez, Martín Quiñones, Miguel Cruz, Héctor Santos and Eddie Pérez together with Milton Correa, Daniel “Maninín” Vázquez, Micky Duchesne, Chiqui Rivera and Pellín Rodríguez stood out for their ability to entertain. and provoke the dance among lovers of good music. Shortly after its creation, and after Roberto Roena and Andrés “Andy” Montañez joined the group, the work of El Gran Combo shone on television, becoming the first musical group in the country to fully dominate that mass medium. Communication.

Their public presence was impressive: for seven consecutive years they maintained a daily participation on the radio waves and twelve television programs a week, becoming the country’s great musical sensation.

They also determined the guidelines for the development of national popular music just at the time when the great socioeconomic transformation of Puerto Rican society was taking place.

During its first seven years, the art of El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico was consigned in the productions “Menéame los mangoes” (1962), “El Gran de siempre” (1963), Acangana (1963), “Ojos Chinos-Jala jala ” (1964), “The ball horse” (1964), “The swing of the Great Combo” (1965), “At Christmas” (1966), “Maldito callo” (1967), “Those black eyes” (1967) “ Romantic boleros” (1967), “Party with El Gran Combo” (1967), “Boogaloo con El Gran Combo” (1967), “You wanted boogaloo” (1967), “Pata pata, jala jala Boogaloo” (1967), “Tangos por El Gran Combo” (1968), “Merengues” (1968), “Los nenes sicodélicos” (1968) “Bombas” (1968), “Guarachas” (1968), “Latin power” (1968), “Smile” (1968) and “This is what it is” (1969).

At the same time, the power of the group was felt in the main musical stages of New York City, where a powerful colony of Puerto Ricans settled.

However, the glory achieved by El Gran Combo in its early years began to crumble in 1969. That year all of its appearances on radio and television were cancelled, its record company, Gemma Records, terminated its contract, undermined its public contracts and produced the first important resignations of the group with the departure of Roberto Roena and Elías Lopés, who immediately put together the group Apollo Sound. At the same time, the music market became more competitive. Also advancing was the appearance of new orchestras with an Afro-Caribbean sound that, from New York, determined a new course for popular dance music. The novel salsa movement, articulated under the Fania company, imposed new challenges for the orchestras that, like El Gran Combo, had already established their dominion.

Combo Entrepreneurship

The “Universidad de la Salsa”, commanded by the ingenuity of Rafael Ithier, survived the inclemency of this new era. The vacancy of Roberto Roena was filled with the famous dancer Mike Ramos, who will bring new choreographies to the collective. As a palliative to the crisis, they also ventured to create their own record label, EGC Records, to produce their musical works and not disappear from the artistic scene. Under that stamp appeared the album “We are first” (1970), followed by “De punta a punta” (1971), a work in which the sound of the trombone in the orchestra was explored for the first time, and “Boleros romanticos” (1972). Despite their quality, these productions did not penetrate the market with the strength that was expected, although they contributed to the survival of the group. But it was the release of the album “Por el libro” (1972), followed by “En Acción” (1973) and “Número 5” (1973) that returned El Gran Combo to its peak, thanks to the popularity achieved by the songs “White Sheets”, “El barbero loco”, “Guaguancó de El Gran Combo”, “Julia” and, especially, “Manacho’s shoes”.

The success that the group began to enjoy in that period suffered a bitter pill when the singer Pellín Rodríguez left, who in 1973 chose to promote his career as a soloist. The veteran singer, architect of the hit “Amor por ti”, was initially replaced by Marcos Montañez, Andy’s younger brother, although his formal substitution took place with the recruitment of vocalist and sonero Charlie Aponte, a young man with a splendid, enthusiastic and disciplined voice. which represented a great success for the group.

With new energy, El Gran Combo began to shine as one of the most important salsa institutions inside and outside of Puerto Rico, recording its strength on the albums “Enjoy it to the end” (1974), “Number 7″ (1975), ” Los sorullos” (1975) and “Better than ever” (1976). It was then that the group, just when it regained its seat, suffered the departure of the singer Andy Montañez, in 1977. The remembered “Niño de Trastalleres” accepted a seductive artistic offer to record as a soloist and integrate, in turn, the staff of the Venezuelan orchestra Dimension Latina.

Andy Montañez’s decision affected the spirits of most of the members of the group because, for a moment, his absence was inconceivable, especially when he was considered the “eldest son” of Rafael Ithier. The discomfort caused by his departure was transformed into encouragement, perseverance and will to continue a musical project that has always been above any of its members.

Andy Montañez’s void was filled by singer Jerry Rivas, who had to take on a great challenge. However, the melodic force that characterized this young vocalist, who began in the orchestra on April 19, 1977, began to seduce the group’s lovers, who were persuaded by the interpretations “Looking for atmosphere”, appearing on the album ” International” (1977), and “The key and the

bongó”, included in the production “En Las Vegas” (1978), the last album made for the EGC label.

The 1980s marked several important routes in the history of El Gran Combo. This period began with the release on the market, in 1979, of the album “Aquí no se puede puede”, the most brilliant production in the group’s musical career and the one that sealed the closure of operations of the production company EGC, owned by the group. to start a new business relationship with the company Combo Records.

The value of “Nobody sits here” is inscribed in the force that this production generated in the market, to the point of bringing down the New York salsa invasion, imported from the family, which until then dominated the radio waves and the country’s record business. .

As historical data, this is the first work of El Gran Combo in which all their songs were overwhelming successes: “Uglier than me”, “That’s how they are”, “Celos de mi Compay”, “Adela”, “Nido de amor”. ”, “Witchcraft”, “Oprobio” and “Puerto Rican Woman”.

Thus, the impact derived from this production reverted to an intense agenda of presentations inside and outside of Puerto Rico that raised the insignia of “Los Mulatos del Sabor” to a new place. The transit of the 80s continued with the release of the productions “Unity” (1980) and “Happy Days” (1981), marking the step with hits such as “Compañera mía”, “Te regalo el corazón”, “Pico pico”, “To the queen”, “The menu” and “Timbalero”.​

Until then, the history of glory traced by the group landed in the celebration of its first 25 years of musical career, for which the compilation album “Our Anniversary” (1981) was produced, which included the most relevant songs cultivated by the group. in that period revamped with fresh and rejuvenated arrangements in the voices of Charlie Aponte and Jerry Rivas. The 1980s continued with the release of “La Universidad de Salsa” (1983), remembered, among others, for the melodies “Mujercelosa”, “Pordiosero”, “Y no más na’”, “Las Hojas Blancas ” and “Puerto Rico Bomb”. With the same strength and impetus, in 1984 they released the production “Breaking the Ice”, which is well remembered for the hit “Carbonerito”, performed by chorus girl and dancer Luis “Papo” Rosario, who joined the group at the beginning from the 1980s replacing dancer Mike Ramos. In the mid-1980s, the album “Innovations” (1985) was released, which produced, among others, the hits “Juan Cabeza Dura”, “Camino de poppies” and “La loma del tamarindo”.

Before the end of that year, El Gran Combo surprised its followers with the release of the album “Nuestra musica” (1985), a project that rescued the collective’s Christmas spirit by consigning melodies with festive airs in a production that became the musical songbook. of that celebration. “Pilito’s party”, “There is no bed for so many people”, “The little tree”, “Draw out”, “The ready jíbaro”, “The soul of the party”, “Christmas assault” and “Things from the countryside” were the melodies of this spectacular musical work.

In 1986 the production “El Gran Combo y su pueblo” (1986) hit the market, remembered for the songs “Lírica Borinqueña”, “Guarantee” and “Le dice papa”. Then an album appeared in celebration of the group’s 25 years, “25th Anniversary” (1987).

At that time, the salsa record industry began to undergo alterations. Modifications in the scales of production, new technological advances and, most importantly, the dominance of female consumption and the “new” rhythmic preferences that were imposed on the market inevitably altered the harmonious conceptions of salsa.

Those were the years of the arrival of the romantic and erotic salsa movement that, for a moment, dominated the genre and displaced the “old” salsa exponents. Faced with this new scene, El Gran Combo chose to reinvent and “evolve” its sound, as can be seen on the album “Romantic and tasty” (1988).

That album, which included songs like “Quince Años”, “Potro Amarra’o” and “Cupido”, was measured against more stylized salsa formulas filled with softer arrangements and young performers who conveyed the image of a “rhythmic balladist” to the genre. refined”.

New market challenges

The new route that salsa was marking aroused some concern in the group’s leader, Rafael Ithier, who, in order to face the new challenges that were imposed on the market, chose to spice up the sound of his group with the technical skills of young arrangers such as Ernesto Sánchez, Louis Garcia, and Tommy Villariny.

So, Ithier thought that the “young blood” that was shining brightly in the salsa fights could contribute to reshaping the sound of El Gran Combo without altering its original formula. A first experiment in this direction produced the album “Ámame!” (1989), which permeated the “new” salsa taste thanks to the songs “Ámame” and “Aguacero”. However, the maintenance of a new melodic line, less cadence

Odd than the group’s original formula, it collided with the production of “Latin-up” (1990), an album that went down in history as the group’s greatest blunder.

From then on, the veteran musician decided never again to abandon the direction of the orchestra’s musical arrangements. Thus, and without departing from market trends and the taste of the new group of salsa consumers, he produced “Erupción” (1991), an album that rescued the power and rhythmic essence of El Gran Combo.

“Agua pasa”, “Gotitas” and “Trinchera”, the latter addressing the issue of the Puerto Rican soldiers who were taken to fight in the war that the United States waged against Iraq, were the group’s bet on the success of the 1990s.

Shortly after, the work “First Class International” (1993) appeared, an album that was preceded by “Gracias, 30 Años de Sabor”, a compilation album celebrating the three decades of the group, a project that was complemented by the release of three volumes of old hits in original format.

Consecutively, El Gran Combo released the albums “La ruta del gusto” (1994), “Para todos los gustos” (1995), “Juntos de nuevo con… Andy Montañez” (1995), “Por todo lo alto ” (1996) and “Musical Passport” (1998).

Although the rhythmic force of the group was maintained, and the acceptance of the salseros never undermined, the group’s presence on the radio waves and in festive public appearances began to diminish. The reason is attributed to market patterns, rather than the group’s banner.

As an example, in the four years that have elapsed, from 1994 to 1998, four albums were produced – in addition to the commemorative production “35th Anniversary: ​​35 Years Around The World” (1997) – plus the most memorable song in the Puerto Rican songbook, during that period, it is “That they give it to me in life”.

Those years served, meanwhile, for the group to consolidate other markets in Europe, Central and South America and the United States. In fact, it is the period of greatest international prominence, even though “La Universidad de la Salsa” always developed an intense work schedule outside the Island.

The members of the group arrived in the 2000s with the work “New millennium, same flavor” (2001), which preceded the special production “40 years live” (2002) in which the incidents of the great celebration with that the group’s four decades of history were commemorated in a great concert held at the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón.

After the event celebrating its 40 years, from which the album “Los 40 de El Gran Combo” (2003) was produced, the group takes a leap in its musical history by concluding its marriage with the firm Combo Records to join the record company Fonovisa, with which they recorded in 2003 the albums “Para todos los gustos” and “Por todo lo alto”.

Then came the signing with Sony Discos, the first time that the group sealed a commercial agreement with a large multinational company. In this new stage, the most important salsa group in the world produced the album “Here we are and really” (2004), remembered only for the hits “El matrimonial” and “Mi gorda bonita”.

It is in 2006 that Maestro Rafael Ithier decides to leave his instrument (the piano) that he played from the beginning of the group, to dedicate himself to directing the group from the front of the orchestra. It is here that they recruit the pianist Willie Sotelo, who was musical director and arranger for various orchestras such as Frankie Ruiz, Luis Enrique, Roberto Roena and others. Sotelo came in to replace Maestro Ithier on a trip to Canada and New York on April 26, 2006, to which Don Rafael Ithier could not go due to health reasons. Ithier was very pleased with Sotelo’s performance, so much so that since that date Maestro Ithier has dedicated himself to directing the group from the front of the orchestra, although from time to time he sits down and plays the piano.

It was not until the release of “Arroz con habichuelas” (2006) that El Gran Combo, having completed 45 years of experience, marked a new milestone in the history of salsa by becoming the most revered group in the genre, above all the orchestras of all time, achieving the feat of turning all the themes of that production into great commercial successes. “If you see her out there”, “I see you, baby”, “There is no way”, “Rice with beans”, “That woman”, “How the soul trembles”, “I do not beg for love”, “Think about it”, “Don’t stop to think” and “I don’t know what”. The result of this work led, among other things, to several important distinctions, including two “Grammy” award statuettes and a “Premio Lo Nuestro” award.

With “Arroz con habichuelas”, maestro Rafael Ithier endorsed that sauce marks its success in the flavor of the harmonic essence that is distilled in the key. There is the winning formula of this sound expression, the rhythmic message that distinguishes it and, of course, the indiscreet personality.

usable from El Gran Combo. The success of “Arroz con habichuelas” was followed by the production “Sin salsa no hay paradise” (2010), a rhythmic work, with simple and danceable arrangements that reaffirms the traditional sound of the group with songs like “Sin salsa no hay paradise” , “The problem is in the coconut”, “It is the woman”, “Achilipú”, “Colombia dear land”, “I like my town”, “The foam and the wave”, “The termite”, “The recipe for love” and “Someone take your love away from me”.

All these songs move between varied melodies with nuances of jocularity, social reflection and others inscribed in the sweet dilemma of love.

A well-deserved tribute produced by Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, the special “Salsa” launched in December 2010, closed the first decade of the new millennium with a flourish. That project was a resounding success in the market and won the group several important awards in the music industry.

Today, with more than half a century of history, El Gran Combo remains current and vigorous, marking the rhythmic tempo of salsa with a distinctive melodic line and a unique flavor that highlights the best of our Antillean heritage. It is in the year 2012 that they celebrated their 50th anniversary with a world tour that toured 5 continents. Countries as far away as Russia, China, Australia, Japan, Africa, all of North, Central and South America, Europe, Canada, celebrated his music and packed the performances of this musical institution.

A collector’s version double album titled “El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico 50 Aniversario Vol I” went on sale and broke records in all places and record stores. This album came out on CD and in vinyl format with gold-colored cover and double cover. His print run sold out in less than a month.

The year 2014 marks the end of Charlie Aponte’s participation as the group’s vocalist and the young Anthony García enters the Great Combo. The acceptance of him was impressive and the young man adapted to the group quickly. “Anthony has brought to the group an injection of energy and youth that we needed,” says Jerry Rivas.

In 2016 they launched their production “Alunizador” where they were repeatedly heard on the radio “Yo soy tu amigo”, “There must be tó”, “Take off my shoe”, “My Island”, “Arepa with codfish”, “Seguirá ”. Aluniendo has been cataloged as an emblematic album for 2016 and reached the Billboard list with the song “Mi Isla”, a composition by Willie Sotelo, the group’s pianist.

Already in 2017, it was the year of the celebration of his 55 years of experience with a very special concert, “THIS IS IT” at the José M Agrelót Coliseum in PR. In that concert the founder of him celebrated the 91 years of his life. We asked him what the secret is for a group to last so many years and he replied: “We survive because we represent the music of a nation that is rich in its cultural heritage. That’s why salsa is and will always be Afro-Caribbean music, because this is derived from Africa, that’s where it all started, that’s where our roots are. We inherited this because it comes from there, we cannot take away the merit that a German or Swiss orchestra may have but they cannot produce more than us because they do not have our cultural richness”. Words with light by Rafael Ithier.

At the end of 2017, after the scourge of Hurricane María, the Gran Combo continued its tour of activities outside of Puerto Rico, in 2018 they performed at the prestigious Radio City Music Hall before a full house, which they repeated in 2019 and recently in February 2020.

At the moment they are recording a new album that is expected to be released in the summer of 2020, if it is not delayed due to the pandemic that is affecting the entire world.

Long live The Great Combo of Puerto Rico!



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