Biography of Sexteto Habanero

The Sexteto Habanero was a famous Cuban musical group which was founded in 1920. It played an important part in the early history of the son. In 1917 four musicians from Oriente, calling themselves Cuarteto Oriental, recorded four numbers for Columbia Records in Havana. The numbers are listed in a Columbia catalog for 1921, but are probably lost. However, the same group expanded to a sextet in 1918, and were recorded by Victor Records in a field recording at the Hotel Inglaterra in Havana. At least one of these records has survived, giving two numbers, which are probably the first surviving sones. The new grouping called itself Sexteto Habanero in 1920. Its line-up (below) was: back, L>R: Guillermo Castillo, Carlos Godínez (tres), Gerardo Martínez (voz prima y claves); front, L>R: Antonio Bacallao, Oscar Sotolongo and Felipe Nerí Cabrera. The instrumental set-up is interesting, because they use some of the original instruments of the son: the botija and a unique square bongó. Soon this (and other) groups appreciated that the double bass was a musically more suitable instrument: they never went back to the botija. Five years later, the group had new members and a different look. L>R below: Agustín Gutierrez (bongó), Abelardo Barroso (sonero, claves), Felipe Nerí Cabrera (maracas, vocals); Gerardo Martínez (double bass, vocals, leader); Guillermo Castillo (guitar, vocals), Carlos Godínez (tres, vocals). The group's recordings in New York 1925-26 are available on LP and CD. The music is of high quality, considering the technical limitations of the time; the group won first prize in the Concurso de Sones in 1925 and 1926. When the group added a cornet, soon replaced by a trumpet, it became the Septeto Habanero. This latter line-up lasted until the late 1930s, when sextetos were ousted by conjuntos and big bands. The leader, Gerardo Martínez then formed a new group, Conjunto Típico Habanero.

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