He is catalogued as one of the most important soneros that Venezuela has given to the world and considered a living legend of Afro-Caribbean music for his extensive, successful and extraordinary career during many years; for “International Salsa Magazine”, it is a great honor to have as a special guest on this occasion Orlando José Castillo “Watussi”, born in Marín, Yaracuy state, on March 23, 1949, who, since he was a child, moved with his parents to live in the parish of La Pastora in the city of Caracas.
Welcome Master Watussi and we hope that all salsa lovers through International Salsa Magazine, www.salsamundi.com, will know part of his life.
Thanks to all the staff for giving me the opportunity to read your magazine, which is already observed in Latin America, USA and Europe.
And well, I am currently living in the city of Milan, Italy and let me tell you that I have beautiful and unforgettable memories of Barquisimeto, so for me it is a pleasure and an honor at the same time, to be sharing with all those people and my country.
To begin with, Maestro Watussi, which were the first groups and orchestras you were part of? Let me tell you that I started with Los Satélites, Federico y su Combo Latino, Porfi Jiménez, Príncipe y su Sexteto and that was super important, since they were the Venezuelan orchestras with which I began to form my career, especially with Los Satélites, Porfi, Federico; I sincerely owe the present of my life to all of them and that is why I do not want to leave them out of the picture.
Very good teacher, we would like to talk about your career in Puerto Rico and in the United States, with the various groups with which you were part. Well, I tell you that I left Venezuela in 1979 definitely because I traveled for the first time in 1971, musically speaking, and it was my first international tour to the island of Santo Domingo with Los Satélites and then we returned in 72 and in 1974 we were the first Venezuelan orchestra to set foot on American soil in New York City, being on the most important stage in the world at that time as it was Madison Square Garden and the importance of imposing a hit of musical salsa in the Big Apple, with a song I recorded called “Traicionera”, by the master Carlos Guerra and recorded with “Los Satélites”, after that experience I was founder of the “Renovación”, from there I went to be part of “Federico y su Combo Latino”; Then I worked with Rafael Cortijo and his Combo in Puerto Rico in 1977; Later, in 1979, I went to the island of Borinquén, Cortijo was already traveling to New York and because I could not accompany him, I was lucky enough to be asked by the maestro Bobby Valentín to be part of his band. I stayed with him for three months and at one point I went to New York, The strike of Puerto Rican musicians, as many Dominican musicians were entering the island, led to Bobby being criticized for having a Venezuelan singer instead of a Puerto Rican one.
Later, in New York, I joined Cortijo and Kako Bastar again, who was another teacher in my career and with him I learned to know that great city and at that time almost all the singers of the orquestas bravas, were beginning to do their own work as soloists and I began to work with Joe Cuba and his Sextet, Eddie Palmieri, Larry Harlow, La Típica 73, until I arrived at the “Conjunto Libre”, I was there for about a year and a half, I recorded with them “El changó de María”, after I had signed with the Fania label, which was a mistake I made, because Cortijo and Kako were telling me not to do it, since I had Fania in my brain, I rushed and was with them for a year practically inactive in the discography and that cost me not to have recorded the last album with Rafael Cortijo and others.
I recorded with Fania “Mi rumba y yo” and told them to leave me alone, they let me go and I joined the orchestra of “Bobby Rodríguez y su Compañía” for three years, I recorded a very good album, including the songs “María Cristina”, “El Pintor”, “Homenaje a Cortijo”.
In fact Carlos, then I continued with Palmieri in 1987, when I had already recorded the album “Las Calaveras” with José Mangual Jr. and there I began my career as a soloist.
Later on I set up my orchestra in New York, but unfortunately work began to decline due to the closure of venues such as El Corso, Casablanca, Copacabana, El Palladium and that brought as a consequence much less work, but thank God, in 1988 I had the opportunity to go to Paris, invited by my compadre Alfredo Cutuflá, in the place of Cheo Feliciano, to do the dance of December 31st at the New Morning.
Excellent, master Watussi, and it must have been a great commitment to replace Cheo at that time, tell us about this experience. Yes, I was fortunate to take his place because he did not travel at that time without his orchestra and Alfredito Cutuflá told me to get Cheo, I had his telephone number, I gave it to him and he told me that if Cheo did not go, I would go, and well it was a tremendous success with Cutuflá and that opened the doors for me in Europe and specifically in Italy, where my friend Carlos Ugueto was based, who brought salsa to that country.
Ugueto played the first album of this genre on his radio program, in his club and after he found out that I was in France, he sent for me and facilitated a tour in Milan in 1990, since in 1989 I was in Panama, singing to my compadre’s daughter Roberto “Mano ‘e Piedra” Durán, his 15 year old party, together with Camilo Azuquita, exactly on December 16, 1989, but on December 19 the invasion of Panama began and I had to stay there until January 5 and well Carlos, I go to Europe and start my tour in Holland, then London, where I did a show with the master Tito Puente, on December 30, 1990, there I was 2 months in the old continent; I returned to New York, where I was residing, and in 1991 I returned to Europe and that’s when I stayed here for good with my family in Milan.
Orlando, when you come to Venezuela, we imagine you will feel very well because you are visiting your homeland? Of course I do, professor, when I go to my country I recharge my batteries, because there is no place like Venezuela, no matter what happens and I tell you honestly, I hope one day to be able to be in Barquisimeto with you, especially to personally show my appreciation for this gesture of having given my name to that “Peña Salsera Orlando Watussi”, in the middle of 2019, being the first time in Venezuela, to give me an honor of that size; especially my thanks to Dany Castillo and my family there, precursors of that idea, and to all the musicians of the musical capital to whom I send a cordial greeting.
Master Watussi, I am remembering that you were integrating the “Clan of Salsa” here in our city, do you remember that too? Obviously, my friend Carlos, I was there with one of the bravest singers that Venezuela has given, my little brother Willy Rodriguez, who unfortunately is no longer with us. Willy “El Guaro”, took care of me in his house for a few days, until I got my house in Barquisimeto; I am going to take advantage of this interview professor, to thank the family of Aldemar Barrera, the family of Honorio, tremendous bass player, Coromoto, who was the engine of that movement; greetings equally to Egidio and to all those panas. Carlos, I want to greet especially the people of the Orquesta Malecón, I hope that one day we can meet on a stage and make a little effort, or perhaps in the Peña itself.
Orlando, what can you tell us about Maestro Baquedano? Santiago Baquedano is one of the best musicians Venezuela has ever given and with him I worked on Margarita Island for a few months and from there I went to “La Salsa Mayor” and then I went to Puerto Rico, but I feel proud to have shared with so many valuable people from my country in my 50 year artistic career.
And let me tell you Carlos, just to finish, I reiterate my congratulations and good wishes for you to continue always with the work you do with this salsa column and your radio program, which aims to support and encourage musical talent in salsa.
Thank you Carlos and God bless you, take care all of you in my country and don’t leave the house! Cool…!.