Adalberto Alvarez dead at 72: Cuba’s Gentleman of ‘Son’

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Rebecca Bodenheimer (Billboard) reports on the trajectory and recent death of Cuban composer Adalberto Álvarez.

Adalberto Álvarez never shied from controversy. The prolific Cuban composer, arranger and bandleader was among the first to publicly acknowledge his practice of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria; he was wittily subversive in his socially conscious lyrics; and he was a forward-thinking musician who nevertheless embraced tradition.

No wonder Álvarez — who died of complications from COVID-19 Sept. 1 at the age of 72 — was honored last year in a tribute concert by Cuban and international artists. El caballero del son (“the gentleman of son,” the traditional Cuban music genre that had its heyday from the 1920s through the 1950s), as Álvarez was known in Cuba, endured for over four decades thanks to timeless compositions with arrangements that incorporated the traditional Cuban tres into the contemporary timba style of Cuban dance music.

A prolific composer, Álvarez contributed countless hits to the Cuban popular music canon. His last album with Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, the group he created in 1984, was released in 2018. The group performed up until the onset of the pandemic last year.

Álvarez was born on Nov. 22, 1948 in Havana “by accident” — his parents were visiting the capital from Camagüey, a province in central Cuba, and returned there shortly after his birth. As a teen, he began his musical career as a singer but was admitted to Cuba’s then recently established national music conservatory, the National School of Arts, for bassoon study. Nonetheless, Álvarez’s exceptional compositional and arranging skills became apparent quickly and his first recorded composition was “Con un besito mi amor,” by Conjunto Rumbavana in 1972.

In 1978 Álvarez helped form a new group, Son 14, and achieved his first hit song, “A Bayamo en Coche,” which begins with an a cappella section in rumba guaguancó style. He left Son 14 in late 1983 to form his own group, Adalberto Álvarez y su Son, which released its first album in 1985. The following year saw the release of one of Álvarez’s most enduring classics, “El Regreso de Maria.”

One of the things that distinguished Álvarez’s sound from that of other major Cuban dance bands of the 1970s and ’80s — like supergroup Los Van Van — was his use of the Cuban tres, a variant of the guitar intimately associated with son music. Through his use of the tres, Álvarez was able to maintain an element of traditional Cuban dance music within a contemporary and highly polyrhythmic style.

Álvarez was among the first bandleaders to openly acknowledge his practice of the Afro-Cuban religion Santería, with the 1991 hit “Y que tu quieres que te den.” [. . .]

For full article, see

[Photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns: “Adalberto Alvarez performs with his orchestra at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Aug. 14, 1994.”]

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