Francisco Zamora Chirino, one of Cuba’s greatest rumberos, died from kidney failure in Matanzas, Cuba, on Thursday morning. He was 79.
Founder and leader of the group Afrocuba, Mininí, as everyone called him, was born in Pueblo Nuevo, one of the most important spaces for the dissemination of Cuba’s African heritage. There, and in other yumurina communities, he learned the secrets of African-derived persussion, from the tambores Yoruba to those of the Bantu tradition, and the ritual songs of cultures deeply rooted in Cuban identity.
In Matanzas, a center of rumba creativity, he also became one of the islands principal rumberos.
In 1957, Mininí formed the Guaguancó Neopoblano group, which was the basis of Afrocuba, conceived by him as a music/dance folk collective. It was initially an amateur movement, fostered by early Cuban revolutionary cultural policy, and afterwards recognized as a professional group that over the years consolidated its place as one of the best of its kind in Cuba. The group recovered a lost bríkamo carabalí and gangá musical repertory and introduced the innovative batarrumba, a fusion of the sound of the batá drums with the rumba’s characteristic instrumentation.
Afrocuba has performed in the United States, Latin AMericain and Europe, and recorded several albums, among the Árboles (1985), Raíces Africanas (2005) and Moquekeré Okagua: Atención Cubanos (2015).
Upon hearing of Mininí’s death, Ulieses Mora, director of the Timbalaye project, said: “Mininí was not only a masterful performer, but a man of great generosity of spirit who trasmitted his wisdom to new generations.”
Poet Miguel Barnet, president of UNEAC, recalled the artist and the human being: “He was a good man, very ethical. He was like a prince invested with the dignity of his people’s culture. I shared with him unforgettable performances inside and outside Cuba. Mininí will never be forgotten.”