Manuel Galbán

Manuel Galban, the late, was born in Gibara, Holguin Province in Cuba in 1931. He belonged to a musical family. His father, a three-string guitarist and his father were his two siblings. His mother sang while his mother played the guitar. He was an essentially self-taught musician, who started playing guitar at a young age. His father played the tres (three-string guitar), and his mother sang. Galban played the guitar and tres in several groups, and his professional debut was in 1944 with Villa Blanca Orchestra. Galban made his first move to Havana in 1956. He performed in bars and clubs for seven years, was a frequent guest on radio and appeared on several albums. Galban made a name for his self on the Cuban music scene, and this was an important stage of his career. Galban also created the sound for which he would be renowned. Galban was one of the first guitarists who used his right hand to muffle the sound of the strings. He also created metallic tones that resemble a percussion instrument. Galban’s interest in American music led him to look into sounds that were popular in surf music. These sounds would be incorporated into his own music. Galban joined Los Zafiros in 1963, seven years after he moved to Havana. This vocal group combined Cuban music with doo-wop and bossa nova sounds. The fusion made Los Zafiros one of the most popular Cuban bands of all time. They gained international fame and were invited to perform at many venues across Europe, including the Paris Olympia. Galban was not the first guitarist to perform with Los Zafiros. However, he remained with the group for a while and became one of their most important members. Galban was so crucial to the success of the group that Peruchin, a prominent pianist, once said about him: “You would need two guitarists for Galban to replace him.” Galban quit Los Zafiros in 1972 because of problems within the group. Galban formed Batey and remained there for 23 years, as a guitarist, pianist, and musical director. This territory was familiar to him from Los Zafiros. Galban was a key ambassador for Cuban music and traveled the globe with Batey. He also recorded a number of albums that documented popular Cuban music on the prestigious Cuban label Egrem. He also collaborated with Balkanton in Bulgaria. Galban joined Vieja Trova Santiaguera after his time with Batey. He then answered Ry Cooder’s request to participate in an Ibrahim Ferrer recording, and later joined Buena Vista Social Club. Galban’s music career experienced a revival, just like the others, Ruben Gonz, Compay Segundo Omara Portuondo, Compay Segundo and Compay Gonzalez. Buena Vista Social club quickly toured internationally and reached foreign audiences who had never heard of the musicians who helped to create their country’s popular music scene. Galban and the other musicians had returned to the same place that his career began. Galban soon returned to touring, much like his years with Los Zafiros or the group Batey. These older musicians performed with their peers at iconic venues such as the Sydney Opera House and London’s Albert Hall, as well as at Europe’s most prestigious festivals. Galban felt that he was once again what he wanted to be, a musician through-and-through. A whole generation of Cuban musicians had the opportunity to have a second chance at youth thanks to the Buena Vista social club series of albums and Wim Wim Wenders film. Galban’s recording career was also revived by the Buena Vista social club members Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and “Cachaito Lopez”. Also, the album Mambo Sinuendo, which he recorded in Havana with Ry Cooder (Nonesuch 2003) The acclaimed album was created as a one-on-1 production by Galban and two of America’s greatest guitar players. Cooder stated that Galban and himself felt there was a new sound. A Cuban band with an electronic guitar could once again capture the ’50s vibe in a simple, yet elegant way. The group includes two electric guitarists, two drummers and a conga player. This is a sextet that has the potential to sound big and reveal the secrets of classical melodies. The result is powerful, lyrical, and entertaining music.” Mambo Sinuendo won DownBeat’s award for best jazz performance in 2003 and was nominated to the Latin GRAMMY(r). The album was nominated for a GRAMMY(r), in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category. Galban continued his world tour and performed with the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club. After three years of hard work, he released Bluechacha in 2010. Galban recast some tracks from his early musical training on this CD/DVD, which was due to be released by Concord Picante (a division of Concord Music Group). He said that the initial plans for the album were more than a thousand in number. He was surrounded by his long-time colleagues Omara Portuondo and Rosa Passos who performed traditional Cuban music as well as new, unheard compositions. Trio Esperanca’s Eric Bibb and Marcelo Mercadante are among the impressive guests on Bluechacha. These arrangements are one-on-1 and have the goal of winning together, rather than competing for the spotlight. They also demonstrate how Galban’s unique sound still has its relevance and sensitivity. The album’s underlying concept is impressive, but he sought to create a work that would revive one of its most important components – the arrangements. He called upon Magda Rosa Galban and Juan Antonio Leyva for their help. Galban returned to Bluechacha with his signature sound of fusing guitars and percussion. This recording has an almost orchestral sound and is full of the energy only Galban could get from the guitar. Galban’s unique stylistic elegance made any song a treasure. He could adapt it to a language of his own, which he invented, in which the sounds of the instrument were as important as the dialogue. Galban was the foundation of the six-string instrument and it is hard to believe that he could do something like this. It takes only a few bars to identify his distinctive style. Manuel Galban died in his Havana, Cuba home on July 7, 2011. Bluechacha was his last gift to the world. Galban may have passed away, but his passion for life is still evident in the recordings that he left behind. bio by

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