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Maracaibo Oriental Maracaibo Oriental

Maracaibo Oriental He just can’t stop: even in ripe old age, José Artemio Castañeda, aka Maracaibo, just keeps on going. Although he is now about eighty years old (his precise date of birth is unknown), this famous tres player [...]

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Maracaibo Oriental Maracaibo Oriental


Maracaibo Oriental He just can’t stop: even in ripe old age, José Artemio Castañeda, aka Maracaibo, just keeps on going. Although he is now about eighty years old (his precise date of birth is unknown), this famous tres player could now just retire and enjoy the Cuban sun from his deck chair, but nothing could be further from his mind and his fingers keep twitching. With unceasing energy he still jets around the world to play at concerts or festivals, and in between he goes into a recording studio to help ensure that his homeland’s cultural heritage is not forgotten. "Maracaibo Oriental" is another album on which he acts as preserver of national cultural treasures. This album offers the quintessence of Cuban music, whether in cheerful sing-along numbers ("Estoy como yo queria") or in dance tracks, backed by wind instruments ("Como mi son", "Quiereme amor", "Si al besarte"), romantic ballads ("No tuve la culpa", "Como te extrano") and irresistible catchy tunes ("Yamile").

Together with musicians who give excellent performances of his compositions, Maracaibo shows his talent here as a virtuoso tres player; despite his old age his agile fingers glide easily over the tres fretboard. With his skilful playing he carries on the great tradition of Cuban treseros (Nené Manfugás, Arsenio Rodriguez, Isaac Oviedo, Nino Rivera, Jorge Cabrera) with remarkable serenity.  The tres is an instrument somewhat like a guitar, with three double strings (six altogether), which played a crucial role in the development of son cubano. Musicologists presume that this smaller sibling of the Spanish guitar originated among the peasant folk of the province of Oriente (now Santiago de Cuba).

José Artemio Castañeda too was born and raised there. He learned to play the tres at the age of eight. His father was a bongocero, and from very early on they would jam regularly together. The young José began his professional career with Arquimides Soto and Jorge Montero in Trio Juvenil and later worked with Roberto Duanes, Carlos Delgado, Los Pachucos, Quiniquini and the Estrellas Cubanos. He met Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo (now famous through the Buena Vista Social Club) and the Soneros de Verdad, to mention but some of the highlights of his vita. He also did a lot of very creative work with Caridad Hierrezuelo, one of Cuba’s most significant voices. The musical partnership with her has now lasted more than fifty years (and can be heard on the album "Con sabor").

Beny Moré met José Artemio Castañeda for the first time at a radio station in Santiago de Cuba, and it is thanks to him that Castañeda took the stage name of Maracaibo. This hale and hearty musical veteran still likes to tell the tale of how it came about. The story goes like this: Some time in the 1950s José Artemio Castañeda was performing with his band of the time in Jutinicú, a rural area, and encouraging the audience to dance. In the middle of the show, a drunken guajiro (as the peasants and tobacco planters are called in Cuba) came up to him babbling: "Mulatto, play the Maracaibo!". Maracaibo is not only the name of the second-largest city in Venezuela but also a musical rhythm from the country. The songs Castañeda and his fellow band members liked best were by Celia Cruz, Sonora Matancera and Conjunto Casino, songs all popular at the time, and they did not want to stray from their usual repertoire just to please a drunken peasant lad. And yet the experience inspired the tres player to compose "Maracaibo Oriental". After José Artemio Castañeda had moved from Santiago to Havana, he took the score of the song to Beny Moré in his house in the La Cumbre district. Beny soon recorded the number in his studio and landed a top hit. After that, whenever asked who had written his hit number, he would reply: "José Maracaibo."  It was first intended as a joke, but soon everyone around José was calling him Maracaibo. Initially he was offended and he complained to Beny Moré, who explained that it wasn’t a derogatory term, but that he had given him, the author of  "Maracaibo Oriental", a distinctive stage name.

Gradually José Artemio Castañeda came to like his new name, and now, of course, half a century later, he bears it with pride. All the world now calls him Maracaibo and is delighted that the musician with the unusual pseudonym still gives live appearances, such as with the tour event "The Bar At Buena Vista". As a member of the celebrated musical review, in the last three years Maracaibo has travelled right round the globe in the company of the equally aged legends Guillermo "Rubalcaba" Gonzáles and Reynaldo Creagh. Everywhere they went the grandfathers of the Cuban music scene were received with open arms. Evening after evening "The Bar At Buena Vista" enchanted their audience with traditional son music, while the skirts of pretty young dancers whirled, ice cubes tinkled in cocktail glasses and clouds of smoke rose from fat cigars in Havana of the 1950s.

But what most fascinated the 300,000 or so people who came to see the show was the  remarkable vitality of these ripe legends of Cuban music. And it is this vitality which makes the album "Maracaibo Oriental" such an unforgettable event. The son music of his homeland still pulses unmistakably through Maracaibo‘s veins and his tres solos are breathtaking as ever. He just sparkles with life. Old age or not – there’s no stopping this man!

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