“The Queen of Flavor and the Diva of Puerto Rico”
Virgen Milagros Orta Rodríguez is the first name of “La Reina Del Sabor”: CHOCO ORTA, as this Puerto Rican actress, percussionist and singer-songwriter is internationally known. She was born in Santurce, a traditional neighborhood in San Juan, the capital city of La Isla Del Encanto.
Choco is the only female daughter in a home formed by the brothers Tomás Jr., Jaime, Gilberto (her twin) and Ismael; fruits of the union of don Tomás Orta Abad and doña Andrea Rodríguez Rivera. By the way, the brothers are mostly percussionists, among amateurs and professionals.
The father, Don Tomás, is an excellent guitarist and Mrs. Andrea, the mother, has a privileged voice. We could say, then, that Choco Orta’s talents are “purebred”.
In Santurce, specifically in the area known as El Chícharo, Choco’s childhood, adolescence, and youth are present.
The blackness of this neighborhood cradled and nursed her, imprinting on her a deep imprint that she knew how to capitalize on and externalize in her artistic development.
Choco still remembers and celebrates the improvised musical meetings in her neighborhood with neighbors and friends, in which to the rhythm of percussion instruments they recreated the famous rumbas that blacks and blacks of the Caribbean turned into one of the most recognized standards of their culture.
This activity led her to become interested in her musical training, which she did in a self-taught manner first and then alongside renowned musicians from the patio such as Giovanni “Mañenguito” Hidalgo, Anthony Carrillo, and Angel “Cachete” Maldonado.
Recognized teachers of the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico offered him knowledge of Theory and Solfeggio, and great cultivators (men and women) of classical and popular dance also contributed to mold the artist that we know today.
In the academic field Choco Orta, she is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico.
She has a Bachelor of Arts degree after graduating with honors (Cum Laude) from the Theater Education Program of the Rio Piedras campus of this prestigious University.
Choco’s academic formation, oriented to the teaching of Theater in schools, was not capitalized as such; however, it allowed her to venture into the stage by staging diverse plays in Puerto Rico such as “La Verdadera Historia De Pedro Navaja”, “El Bombón De Elena”, etc.; she even mounted her own show: “Choco, Mambo Y Algo Más” (at the end of the ’80s), through which she musically recreated the golden ages of the ’40s and ’50s.
Television programs such as “La Tiendita De La Esquina” (comedy) and “Latino” (musical program), also record Choco’s talent. As if that weren’t enough, the seventh art: the cinema, also knew about the talent of this complete artist. “Bala Perdida”, “Dios Los Cria” and “Assassins 1995” are proof of Choco Orta’s talent and versatility.
Her entrance to the recording rooms is produced by the hand of the famous trombonist and conductor Julio “Gunda” Merced, who on one occasion enjoyed an improvised presentation of Choco with the Giants of the South.
That night, Gunda Merced made the approach to Choco, and some months later the musical production AND SOMETHING MORE! (Gunda Merced Y Su Salsa Fever) included the songs “Huracán” in Choco Orta’s voice and “El Baile Del Buey Cansao” (Choco Orta in duet with Raquel Velázquez). The year was 1987.
The first years of the 90’s present us with a multifaceted Choco Orta: always in music and accompanied by diverse formations: trios, quartets, etc.; also doing jingles and commercials for radio and television, but also internationalizing her work with various participations in the Club Hammou (southeast of France known as French Riviera or Costa Azul) and as it corresponds in an artist avid of knowledge: nourishing herself with the people and their culture.
By 1997 -always under the guidance of Julio “Gunda” Merced- with the support of the record label Musical Productions (MP) of the late but always remembered Tony Moreno, Choco Orta published his debut album. It was titled SENTIMIENTO Y SABOR (Feeling and Flavor) and presented us with 10 very well achieved cuts that quickly placed themselves at the top of the Latin music charts (Basta, Y Qué De MI, Yo Perdí El Corazón, El Hombre Que Yo Amo, etc.).
By the way, this production was presented at the MIDEM Convention for Latin America, which is why Choco Orta recorded an official video clip of the song “El Hombre Que Yo Amo”. MIDEM is the chapter for music professionals of Reed MIDEM: a professional market organizer founded back in 1963.
SENTIMIENTO Y SABOR was also featured in PULSE Magazine! (USA) and Choco would later be invested as Ambassador of Puerto Rican Culture in Tampa, Florida. He also obtained the Farándula Award (Puerto Rico) as best salsa singer and made an extensive and acclaimed tour in the Dominican Republic, performing in various Dominican stages including television sets.
She is remembered -also- until today, her ovation and applause with La Universidad De La Salsa, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, for the 16th edition of the National Salsa Day (1999) in the Juan Loubriel Stadium in Bayamón.
In 2001, Choco Orta received an invitation from Banco Popular de Puerto Rico to be part of their famous annual production entitled RAÍCES. Here Choco performs two songs with the accompaniment of two important musical institutions from the patio, the Orchestra of Maestro Lito Peña (Para Los Boricuas Ausentes) and the Orchestra of Maestro William Cepeda (Melitón Tombé).
That same year, it was part of the production of the Borinquen quartet player José Antonio Rivera Colón, better known as “Tony Mapeyé”, with the title VIEQUES, TIERRA PARA LA PAZ. Here he prints his vocal record in the songs Ni Bala Inerte Ni Viva and Plegaria Por Vieques.
Then to round off a great year, the release of his second production is made official: this one would be titled LA REINA DEL SABOR and from that record label, we continue enjoying the quality and flavor of songs like La Nueva Reina Del Sabor, Que Pague, Se Acabó Y Punto, etc. In this production, the tribute paid to “El Rey Del Timbal” stands out: Ernesto “Tito” Puente, who was the one who nicknamed Choco as “La Nueva Reina Del Sabor” (The New Queen of Flavor), a theme that is also Choco’s incursion into composing.
The repercussion of the song was such that Choco Orta briefly established himself in New York where he performed in renowned venues such as the Copacabana, to offer successful presentations, accompanied by orchestras such as that of the famous Dominican pianist and arranger Ricky González.
At this time of year, we also highlight her journey through various cities of the Major Island: Cuba, where she was loudly applauded during her participation in the Fifteenth International Festival of Golden Boleros and distinguished as the Favorite Daughter of Christ, a community near Santiago (Cuba).
The years between 2001 and 2009, allowed Choco to record in three recognized collaborations:
– HIJOS DE LA SALSA GORDA: published in 2004 under the concept of La Mundial De La Salsa with the direction of the pianist and arranger Willie Sotelo. Here Choco Orta performs the song “Me Saludas A La Tuya”.
– Cuando Hay Amor” is another of Choco’s well-achieved songs that includes his profuse record of collaborations. This number is part of the production EL CORTE PERFECTO (2004) with the Orquesta Sueño Del Caribe.
– In 2006, Mr. Afinque Willie Rosario publishes his production LA BANDA QUE DELEITA in which he invites Choco to bring to life with his voice the song “Lo Que Más Yo Quiero”, a song -by the way- that is a must in Choco’s personal presentations.
We arrive to the year 2009, musically speaking, and Choco Orta of the hand of “El Caballero De La Salsa” Gilberto Santa Rosa, as well as of Charlie Donato (both in the executive production and choirs) and Rei Peña (in the musical direction), publishes its third discographical plate. This one is entitled AHORA MISMO, a production of nine successful songs among which “Ahora Mismo”, “Por Accidente”, “Marido Majadero”, etc. stand out. We highlight in this production the duet with Moncho Rivera -his guest on the album- to evoke and pay tribute to the remembered union between Celia Cruz & Ismael Rivera for the song “Cúcala”.
In 2011, Choco delighted us with a new production entitled CHOCO SWING. This work was considered among the 20 Best Productions of 2011 by the National Foundation for Popular Culture. On this plate we find again Rei Peña as a musical producer, Choco’s pen stands out represented by the excellent theme Homenaje A Las Soneras, a tribute made a song with which Choco highlights the presence of women in the musical world; additionally, you can enjoy compositions of Gino Meléndez and Raúl Marrero, among others; having magnificent arrangements of musicians of the height of Ricky Zayas, Guillermo Calderón, Ernesto “Tito” Rivera, Carlos Torres, etc.
The next seven years (2011 – 2018) have been prolific in collaborations and here is a synthesis of these:
– Ralphy Santi y Su Conjunto (2012): The Puerto Rican musician (Ponce) invites Choco Orta to be part of his extensive discography. The musical production is entitled HOMAGE TO THE DANCER and there he performs the song “Sin Clave Y Bongó No Hay Son”.
– Orquesta Guayacan (2013): The popular Colombian group celebrated at that time its 25 years of institutional musical trajectory, for which they publish the production 25 YEARS, 25 SUCCESSES, 25 ARTISTS, in which Choco is responsible for the theme “Como Una Hoguera”.
– Kambalache Negro (2014): Group led by Peruvian percussionist Robert “El Chino” Bolaños, an “old” acquaintance of Choco as he integrated and is part of Choco’s musical staff for his presentations at the Iron Babel: New York. In this production titled POR FINAL EN LA CALLE, Choco performs the song “Añoranzas”.
– La Orquesta Del Solar (2017): Orchestra whose musical epicenter is the Spanish capital: Madrid and is composed of musicians of various nationalities (Peruvian, Colombian, Venezuelan, Spanish, etc.) and led by Ecuadorian Julio Mena. In this production entitled BACK TO MY ROOTS, several of the singers that the group usually accompanies when they perform in Spain are invited. Choco Orta is the voice of the song “No Insistas Más”.
– Medley Soledad Bravo” song that will be part of the production LEGACY OF WORLD SALSA of the outstanding Venezuelan musician and arranger Mauricio Silva. In this medley, Choco Orta participates with Marianella (Venezuela) and Mélida Trujillo (Panama). Choco interprets the song “Son Desangrado” by Silvio Rodríguez and his colleagues the song “Déjala Bailar” by Chico Buarque.
– Noel Quintana & The Latin Crew (2018): Recent musical work by percussionist Noel Quintana who has invited a series of renowned singers to this production. Choco Orta gives life to Pedro Jesús’ composition “Qué Viva La Salsa”, a tribute this time to the dancer, an important element of this artistic binomial: dance-music. The production is entitled NOEL QUINTANA & THE LATN CREW VOL. 1.
– Abran Paso Orchestra: The Abran Paso Orchestra is getting ready to launch its new musical production soon. For this musical work, Choco has been invited to interpret a theme of the French musician and composer Paul Mauriat that, for the Latin environment, decades ago La Lupe adapted and interpreted (in Spanish) for our enjoyment. Its title: “Si Vuelves Tu”.
We should also refer to some singles that were recorded by Choco Orta, as is the case here:
– Chico Is The Man (2010): Adaptation of the song that José Feliciano (Chico And The Man) popularized, aimed at celebrating the arrival of the young Mexican soccer player Javier Hernández Balcázar known as “Chicharito” to England when he was hired by the English soccer team Manchester United.
– Killing Me Softly (2013): Crossover of the theme “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, based on Lori Lieberman’s poem “Killing Me Softly With His Blues”. Lori was his first performer but became notorious in the early ’70s with Roberta Flack. Choco gives this song a characteristic feeling when performed in its original language.
– Bomba Lamento Para Oscar López Rivera (2015): Interpreted to the rhythm of bomba, this song by Choco Orta demanded the immediate release of the now free Oscar López Rivera: a Puerto Rican politician who defended the independence of the island and who served 35 years in prison in the United States.
– Tofu Sin Lechón (2016): This song is based on the lifestyle of its composer and performer who has had a vegan lifestyle for approximately 30 years.
We round up and finish the present semblance of this brilliant artistic career of Choco Orta with the celebration of her 30 years in music. An event also marked by the publication of the musical production entitled CHOCO ORTA: 30 AÑOS REPARTIENDO SABOR.
At the beginning of 2017, he published the song “Te Perdí La Fe” by the notable Elizabethan composer (Puerto Rico) Johnny Ortiz, with which he began the recordings of his fifth personal musical work. He then recorded in Colombia an inspiration of the late poet Petronio Álvarez, “Mi Buenaventura”.
It continues with a theme of the also disappeared composer Palenque, that made very popular Ismael Rivera with Cortijo y Su Combo: “Severa”, here Choco Orta correctly “improvises” vindicating in first person Severa as a black woman and although humble, beautiful and intellectual.
It was March of that year when Puerto Rico received waves of media and fans of the salsa movement and their representatives, who from different parts of the planet attended the “National Salsa Day” organized by the Z-93 radio company.
The festivities begin in the days before the central (usually the third Sunday of the month) and for the past year, Choco Orta took advantage of the occasion and captivated the attendance of the dance of its 30th Anniversary in The Latin Roots, a local located in El Viejo San Juan.
The presence in Puerto Rico of José Alberto “El Canario”, one of the guests of the National Day, made possible the recording in the studios of Maestro Ángel “Cucco” Peña of the song “Sé Que Tú”, an event to which a good part of the international press had access.
Lino Iglesias, Choco’s friend and ad honorem advisor, composed the song “Choco Orta: 30 Años De Sentimiento Y Sabor”, a musical portrait of The Queen of Flavor is recorded before her trip to Cuba with the purpose of recording the songs “Canta Choco Canta” by the Cuban singer-songwriter living in Puerto Rico Juan José “Juanchi” Hernández and the bolero “Miénteme” (“Chamaco” Domínguez) under the arrangements of the Cuban guitarist and composer Reinaldo “Rey” Montesinos Muñoz and a pleiad of musicians from La Isla Mayor.
He includes in this production a theme of his own authorship and that he interprets together with Ismael “Maelo” Ruiz; by the way, a theme of the daily life and of necessary listening and analysis. Finally, he closes his production with the invitation of his musical brother, the great Herman Olivera, with whom he performs the song “Otro Amor”.
The production, although it should have been published at the end of last year, only saw the light in March of this year due to the circumstances that were lived after the passage of the hurricanes Irma and Maria (of this last one especially), that paralyzed all type of activity in Puerto Rico.
Weeks prior to this natural phenomenon, Choco Orta performed under the concept of The Last Fania Legends, which brought together in a much-applauded concert the still existing and former members of the Fania Machinery with a group of renowned guest musicians and singers, a concert of approximately four hours made the Rubén Rodríguez Coliseum in Bayamón vibrate. For this show, Choco Orta paid a well-deserved tribute to Queen Rumba Celia Cruz, through three of her popular songs: Kimbara, Yerbero Moderno, and Bemba Colorá, whose performance brought the respectable audience to its feet.
To round out the faena, cutting “tail and ear”, Choco Orta joined the legendary duo Richie Ray & Bobby Cruz, interpreting with them in a majestic way the theme “Cuando Me Digas Si”.
We return then to the launch of their recent production, the same one that is of great acceptance in Puerto Rico; Colombia, Peru, New York, and other countries and cities that pride themselves in being salsa musicians. He has been positioning himself with several of the themes that integrate this production, especially “Choco Orta: 30 Años De Sentimiento Y Sabor”, “Te Perdí La Fe” and “Otro Amor”.
It is also necessary to highlight the facet of Choco Orta as a woman who fights for the interests of her country and for a greater presence of women in the music industry; this through panels and talks in academic spaces and by sponsoring and promoting attendance at vegetarian and vegan restaurants, as well as diverse businesses.
We celebrate the trajectory of this great representative of Puerto Rican culture and her musical trail, which has been captured in acclaimed productions of her own and prestigious collaborations. The maturity is notorious and the feeling and flavor has also aged. Congratulations because we need and will have Choco for a while, we are sure of that.