Magazine AM:PM
Articles José Luis Cortés at the Salsa Festival 2019, Parque Metropolitano de La Habana. Photo: NATHADREAD PICTURES. José Luis Cortés at the Salsa Festival 2019, Parque Metropolitano de La Habana. Photo: NATHADREAD PICTURES.

José Luis Cortés: these are very sad days this April

A mantle threatens to turn off what has been the soundtrack of a country. If during the 90s of the last century, a whole corpus of compositions based on dance made our lives more bearable, and in the midst of darkness the academy blossomed into the street and vice versa, continuity dressed as a rupture, and they are and rumba played at being confused like never before, today fate seems to play one of its macabre cards and bets on a closure of the cycle. It's hard not to be pessimistic. José Luis Cortés has joined that procession of our musicians who, due to the laws of biology and chance, have departed unexpectedly, in another period no less harsh and controversial. 

If all roads lead to Rome, all Cuban music, at some point, passes through NG La Banda, the quintessential vehicle of genius that is now abandoning us. Perhaps there has not been in Cuba a group with such a nodal character as the all-star group that José Luis absorbed in his best moment. Practically from its appearance, NG imposed an orchestral format for many groups that followed it; he made mambos more complex to paroxysm, in a display of talent bordering on extravagance, but filtered, by osmosis, to all subsequent and contemporary groups; he put the neighborhood in his texts with a crudeness not suitable for occasional pacatos, between countless technical contributions and millimetric precision in the arrangements —in the style of the most superb Irakere that became an unattainable reference (until today?). All this based on a planned and conscious conception of its director.

NG La Banda, at its peak, became freedom par excellence, the ideal place for talent to run wild without rules or restrictions. It could not be otherwise a group that brings together pieces like Feliciano Arango, Peruchin or Calixto Oviedo at the base. José Luis made his musicians freer, allowing them an amazing creative autonomy that translated into more freedom for himself, which is why the growth in his compositions, in the first seven years of NG (1988-1995), can be said to have It was the fastest in his career. The celebration and the overflow of pour lemon, possibly the most representative and symphonic piece of Cuban timba, marks not only the climax of José Luis and NG, but also the peak of the entire movement that was crowned in that decade of the 90s. 

For this reason, most Cuban musicians agree in attributing the paternity of the movement to him, as they also agree in placing him in the top place of the Cuban flute, along with Richard Egoris, Antonio Arcaño and Orlando Valle Maraca. The countless interpretations that he left recorded testify to this and were already projected as a source of studies.

Kelvis Ochoa used to say that “El Tosco” was like a rock'n roll star, and he's right. Natural hoarder of all kinds of attention, between followers and detractors, overflowing talent, scenic by nature, José Luis Cortés, in his peculiar way of projecting his rebellion, planted his battle against the most sordid censorship of NG La Banda in the media Cubans, as it also took other efforts to vindicate a repertoire that is still today rejected by certain circles, as empowered as they are timid. Because his stardom was always accompanied by controversies and contradictions, until his last days, as denoted by the accusations of violence he received from the singer Dianelys Alfonso, known as "The Goddess". 

Some public discussion agendas, also controversial and highly complex, as legal, necessary and impossible to avoid today's sun, emerge at this moment. While the consensus is woven, whatever its balance, today or tomorrow, Cuban music loses everywhere. These are very sad days this April.

Avatar photo Rafael Valdivia Wandering vinyl collector in the skein of Cuban discography. Engineer ever. The great soneros of yesteryear are never missing from his playlist. More posts

Leave a comment

View published comments
  1. Juan de Marcos says:

    Excellent Valdivia.

View published comments

We also suggest