Orquesta Aragón. Foto: Tomada de las redes sociales de la agrupación.
Orquesta Aragón. Foto: Tomada de las redes sociales de la agrupación.

Icono/ Orquesta Aragón

5 minutes / Adriana Orejuela Martínez

18.11.2020 / Reviews

Yolanda tell me that she inaugurates the Icon phonogram (Puntilla Music, 2020), with which the Orquesta Aragón celebrates its 80th birthday. This tremendous son montuno by Beningno Echemendía was popularized in the early '60s by the Estrellas de Chocolate Ensemble and transcended outside of Cuba, especially in the salsa versions of the Tommy Olivencia and Broadway orchestras - the latter of the charanguera stock -, although in the '80s it was included in an Alfredo Chocolate Armenteros album for the Sar label.

Although from this shore it is not easy to discover which of the recordings reached Africa (I suspect that it was the Broadway one), the truth is that over the years the regular public of the Aragones in that continent advocated the inclusion of the subject in the orchestra's catalog, to which its director, Rafaelito Lay, agreed. His retribution to the unswerving loyalty of the Africans towards the Cuban group served as a step to continue the sustained work with the son in the context of the charanga, a trait that has been one of the indelible marks of the group. Yolanda tell me that it does join the line of El trago, Chaleco, El son del pariente, El cerquillo and many other Aragonese sones "thrown back" ("males", say the dancers), who today only know how to play some groups Brave Cubans… and Aragon.

Look to see who it is, Quiéreme siempre and Juego de qué, recorded in 1958, 1960 and 1977 respectively, are the three pieces of the orchestra's classical repertoire chosen to make up this 2020 album. In all of them subtle modifications to the arrangement are noticed original: a more “forward” tempo in Quiéreme siempre or changes in the final part of Game of what, where a tenuous timbera atmosphere, in complicity with the guidelines of El Indio, replaces the flute discharge of the first version, three minutes longer. Although I personally would have liked Aragón to include the higher caliber artillery that rests in its bulky catalog, if the purpose was to show that the orchestra - even its younger members - knows how to sound in the key of the '50s or' 60s, the goal was met.

Portada del álbum Icono. Tomada de las redes sociales de la agrupación.

Cover of the album Básico, No Básico y Dirigido Icono. Tomada de las redes sociales de la agrupación.

And with regard to the forms that the different eras bring with them —in addition to the sound Cuando yo pase— Aquella chica, fourth theme of Ícono, is a timba from top to bottom; a concept that, despite not being so recent, has not ceased to be a synonym of contemporaneity for Cuban dance music groups of the last three decades, at least until further notice. By the way, this number by the violinist Dagoberto González Sibore has slipped into the top places of the hit parade of several Colombian radio stations for weeks, an Aragonese public par excellence, but also extremely orthodox when it comes to traditional orchestras, while in Cuba it is not only He also listens on the radio, but the dancers attending the Prado and Neptuno monthly appointment did not stop claiming it.

And with regard to the forms that the different eras bring with them —in addition to the sound When I Pass— That Girl, Icon's fourth theme, is a timba from top to bottom; a concept that, despite not being so recent, has not ceased to be a synonym of contemporaneity for Cuban dance music groups of the last three decades, at least until further notice. By the way, this number by the violinist Dagoberto González Sibore has slipped for weeks in the first places of the hit parade of several Colombian radio stations, Aragonese public par excellence, but also extremely orthodox when it comes to traditional orchestras, while in Cuba it is not only He also listens on the radio, but the dancers attending the Prado and Neptuno monthly appointment did not stop claiming it.

Perhaps the secret of the Aragoneses when it comes to tackling new styles such as timba, present with greater or lesser emphasis on the topics already mentioned and on others such as 80 and Let me take this off, lies in not losing sight of the ingredients that have allowed identify the orchestra with a closed eye in all eras: choirs in unison in perfect tuning, solid impasto of the violin trio, flute solos to respect, or sections of instruments that do not bump into each other (which the dancer is grateful for). With these elements plays Sixto Llorente, El Indio, sonero and timbero de cepa, who introduces a different nuance by expanding the space for improvisation that soloists in the orchestra have usually had, while fitting the numbers sung without the slightest effort chorus, like the arrangement of Contigo, by Joaquín Sabina, a bolero-cha that puts the romantic note on the album.

Thus, in a very clean and subtle way, Aragón, which in the imagination of many may seem an immutable group, has updated its sound over eight decades and is still capable of imposing hits, a fact that is also another of its labels. indelible and, if not, let's remember Bajo con tumbao, in the '80s, or Temba, in the' 90s, to just mention two examples.

The production of this album, recently nominated for the Latin Grammys, was carried out by Rafaelito Lay and his son, also violinist Rafael Lay Sánchez, author of 80 —composition celebrating this anniversary— and largely responsible for the launch of the phonogram on important digital platforms at the end of May, without there being a distribution agreement for Cuba so far.

In Icon there are no special guests. The Aragón Orchestra plays here, impeccable as it has always been, the one that sounds live the same as on the phonograms; genius and figure.

Adriana Orejuela Martínez

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