Known as Manos de Oro, he modernized the tumbadoras and played with the most important musicians of the island of Cuba.
He was born in Güines, Havana on June 30, 1930, in the bosom of a family of musicians, son of Joseíto “El tresero” and Niñita, who from a very young age used to play a boot-cleaning box in the corner of the Chapel of Santa Bárbara, in the legendary neighborhood of Leguina, where so many congas and bembés have been made and will continue to be enjoyed.
Saying Federico Arístides Soto Alejo may not say anything to some music neophytes, but when you say Tata Güines, things change radically and everyone thinks: That is the tumbadora made soul and flavor.
He became attached to percussion instruments, especially the tumbadora, which, as a Cuban, groaned under the effect of his prodigious hands. Under the influence of Chano Pozo, whose touches bewitched him and gave him the key to create his own style.
He was formed as a musician among the drums and the religious festivities of his neighborhood. He adopted his nickname as a child -el Tata-, and as a surname the name of the town where he grew up. Music was in his blood: his father and uncles made music with their hides.
He played double bass in the group Ases del Ritmo. He was part of the Partagás group, led by his uncle Dionisio Martínez, and later founded the Estrellas Nacientes orchestra and performed with the Swing Casino orchestra in Güines.
In 1946 he performed in his hometown with the Conjunto de Arsenio Rodríguez.
}In 1948 he moved to Havana, where he was a member of the orchestras La Nueva América, led by Pao Domini; La Habana Sport led by José Antonio Díaz, Unión, led by Orestes López, La Sensación led by Belisario López, and in 1952 he joined Fajardo y sus Estrellas, with which he traveled to New York in 1956.
He joined Los Jóvenes del Cayo, with which he appeared on the radio station La Voz del Aire; later he performed with the ensembles Camacho and Gloria Matancera.
He accompanied the trio Taicuba as a bongo player, and worked with Guillermo Portabales, Celina y Reutilio, and Ramón Veloz. He participated, along with Chano Pozo, in the comparsa Los Dandys de Belén; also, Los Mosqueteros del Rey, Los Mambises and Las Boyeras.
He recorded with Arturo O’Farrill (Chico) and with Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente, Frank Emilio, Guillermo Barreto, Gustavo Tamayo and others. He was part of the Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna (later Los Amigos), led by pianist Frank Emilio; Guillermo Barreto, timbal, Gustavo Tamayo, güiro, Israel López (Cachao) and Orlando Hernández (Papito), double bass.
In 1955 he travels to Caracas, Venezuela, to participate in the carnivals of that city. He traveled to New York with the Fajardo y sus Estrellas orchestra, with which he performed at the Palladium, where he coincided with Machito y sus Afro-Cubans and Benny Moré, whom he accompanied on the tumbadora; he also performed at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, where he worked for the first time as a soloist.
He prepared a show and shared the stage with Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Maynard Ferguson and Los Chavales de España, with whom he recorded the piece “No te puedo querer”.
In 1960 he returned to Cuba. Four years later he founded Los Tatagüinitos. He offered a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Manuel Duchesne Cuzán, with which he performed his work Perico no llores más. He accompanied the guitarist and composer Sergio Vitier in his work Ad Libitum, danced by Alicia Alonso and Antonio Gades.
He toured California, Chicago, Miami, Puerto Rico, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Martinique, Monte Carlo, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Hungary, where he participated in the Jazz Festival; Soviet Union, Finland, Spain.
Tata Güines was a master of masters of Cuban percussion. His death represents a notable loss for Cuban culture. Nobody like him in Cuba to make percussion an art.
In front of Tata Güines, the leather of the drum seemed the most delicate and expensive silk. He would place his agile hand on the tanned skin stretched by the fire, and with his fingernails he would achieve the saddest of laments as well as the most contagious smile.
Few knew him as Federico Arístides Soto Alejo, but everyone knew that he had modernized the tumbadoras, that he was a master at placing the “loose” beats in a song, as if “carelessly”, but that the piece could not survive if it lacked that imprint of someone who let himself be carried away by the rhythm of the claves, by his very fine ear and by the demands of a body accustomed, since he was almost a child, to music.
He died on February 4, 2008 in Güines, Havana.
Awards and recognitions
National Music Award 2006
Félix Varela Order 2004
Alejo Carpentier Medal 2002
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