14 February 1908 — ??? 1983
Today marks what would have been Alberto Zayas' 99th birthday. Undeservedly obscure, Zayas was leader of one of the first recorded rumba groups, "Lulu Yonkorí," also known simply as "Grupo Folklorico de Alberto Zayas." The group's first record, "El Vive Bien" was the first big rumba "hit," inspiring Puchito's owner to record Los Muñequitos, and making a star out of singer Roberto Maza, who became known as "El Vive Bien." (Unfortunately, Maza's promising career was cut short when he was killed in a pool hall in 1960, according to Jordi Pujol in the liner notes to the CD reissue on Tumbao.)
Alberto can also be seen narrarating Sara Gómez' documentary "...y tenemos sabor," a clip of which you can see here.
To celebrate we are posting this rare unavailable-on-CD disc, released in the US on Capitol as "Hi-Fi Cuban Drums." While not of quite the same historical importance as "Guaguanco Afro-cubano," it is still an interesting recording, including what must be among the earliest recordings of Abakuá.
The rather overheated liner notes begin:
THIS IS A MAD ALBUM. It Swings. It is all unrehearsed. And it offers the purest — the most authentic — sampling of Afro-Cuban drumming ever recorded.
A man named Ramón S. Sabat spent two days and three nights rounding up the top drummers in Cuba. He went into the hills far from Havana, persuading the favorite percussionists of the Island to return with him for a record date in Havana.
Ramón Sabat is the founder of the famous Panart records, which we can assume originally released this album as Afro-Frenetic Tambores de Cuba (Panart LP-3053), and attributed to "GRUPO AFRO-CUBANO dirigido por Alberto Zayas."
Beyond that there is not much in the way of facts on the liner notes. The album seems pitched to a suburban audience looking for exotic ways to show off their new Hi-Fi's and uninterested in things like personnel lists and recording dates.
ANGOA (Conga Amaliana)
CHA CHA CHA CUBANA
ACERE (Paso Nañigo)
BWANA TAMBOOLA (Ritmo Macuta)
CONGA (Conga de Carnaval)
YENGUELE MARIA (Montuno)
ORIZA (Bembé Lecumi) [sic]
Cristobal Diaz Ayala's discography lists some other Zayas recordings that have yet to be reissued, if anyone has them please let us know:
Two guaguancós on 78s from 1956:
El guaguancó de los países
En el Edén de los Roncos
And an LP called "El guaguansón: Alfredito Zayas y su grupo folklorico" (Panart LP 2088). [The interior labels get it right and use "Alberto Zayas."]
Download "Hi-Fi Cuban Drums" here.