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Discography - The 1980s

1980: Los Van Van, Vol. VI- Areíto LD-4005
cuban music, musica cubana

tr title   composer arranger lead singer singles
1 Tú tranquilo songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
2 Cuéntame cha Formell Formell Juan Formell .
3 El montuno sin complicaciones mt Formell Formell Miguel "Lele" Rasalps .
4 Si no me entiendes tú b Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
5 Francisco y el león songo Formell-Cortés Cortés Pedro Calvo .
6 La rumba no está completa r-son Formell Formell Lele .
7 Que no me mires así b-sng Formell Formell Juan Formell .
8 Qué gallega, qué mujer songo Formell Formell Lele .
9 Agua que te quemas dz Formell Formell . .
10 De la Habana a Matanzas gg Aparicio Formell Lele .

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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Personnel Changes:
Lele returns to replace Lázaro Morúa
Lázaro González and Cristóbal González join on trombone
Joel Drigs replaces El Yulo on congas

El baile del buey cansao (from Vol. VII) is usually mentioned as LVV's "comeback hit" -- the mega-hit that revitalized LVV's popularity, but with the benefit of hindsight, we can clearly see that Volume VI turned out to be at least as important. De la Habana a Matanzas was re-recorded in the 90s and both versions are brilliant. The idea of the orchestrated guaguancó provided the template for a mini-genre which continues to be brilliantly exploited by Revé, Manolito and many more. El montuno sin complicaciones was another classic thatLVV re-recorded on 2004's Chapeando. Issac Delgado sang a gorgeous Juan Ceruto arrangement of Tú tranquilo on the 1997 tribute Gracias Formell. With Francisco y el león, both El Tosco and Pedro Calvo continued to develop the styles that would make them such icons in the years that followed. And with the La rumba no está completa, Formell had clearly found the groove that would carry him through the rest of his career.Featuring a great solo by Pupy, transcribed in Beyond Salsa Piano, Volume 10, the song was re-recorded in 2008 on Arrasando, now with Cucurucho taking the piano solo.

Volume VI was also the first album to add trombones. Formell beat Revé to the studio with the idea by about two years but which Cuban charanga was the first to add trombones in concert is something we're trying to sort out. (Of course, Eddie Palmieri and other New Yorkers had been experimenting with combinations of charanga and conjunto instrumentation for decades).

Volume VI also features the return, for one album, of founding singer Miguel "Lele" Rasalps, father of Abdel "Lele" Rasalps, who's sung for the current group since 2001.

Last but not least is the departure of the great innovator El Yulo. We can find no trace of him after this until he joined NG La Banda in the late 90s, only to die in a tragic car crash in 1999. If anyone can give us information on what Yulo did between 1980 and 1996, please write in. Yulo's replacement was the multi-talented Joel Drigs, who only stayed for a year before being replaced by the current conguero Manolo Labarrera. As of 1999, Drigs has his own band and was playing small gigs as a singer/percussionist.

1982: El baile del buey cansao (Vol. VII) - Areíto LD-4045
cuban music, musica cubana

tr title   composer arranger lead singer singles
1 Somos Los Van Van songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
2 Que no, que no cha Formell Formell Juan Formell .
3 Quiero que me hables de ti b Tortoló Formell Israel Sardiñas .
4 Hoy se cumplen seis semanas songo Pedroso Pedroso Israel Sardiñas 7548
5 El baile del buey cansao conga-son Formell Formell Formell, Pedrito, Sardiñas 7548
6 No me engañes más que tú eres nada chasón Formell Formell Formell & Sardiñas .
7 Vine a verte gg-son Sardiñás Sardiñas Sardiñas .
8 Hoy qué quieres de mí b Sardiñas Formell Sardiñás .
9 Fallaste al sacar tu cuenta songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo .
10 El baile del buey cansao, No. 2 conga-son Formell Formell Formell, Pedrito, Sardiñas .

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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EGREM smiles down on us with their best back cover to date, giving us, for the first time, an actual list of the musicians and a thorough list of composers, arrangers, and lead singers.

Personnel Changes:
Israel "Kantor" Sardiñas replaces Lele on vocals
El Tosco leaves (for Irakere) - (Orlando Canto either returns or never left)
Manolo Labarrera replaces Joel Drigs on congas
no more guitars, cello, or 4th violin (they probably left much earlier)

Perhaps most important, this is the album where Changuito begins adding timbales, although there is still drumset present. There's a very interesting episode of Mi Salsa featuring Pedro Calvo and Changuito as guest artists with NG La Banda, and during the interview segments, there's some spirited discussion of this controversial move.

El baile del buey cansao, both the song and the album, estabablished Van Van as Cuba's leading band once and for all. Based on the old conga line rhythm, it's a novelty song, but very catchy. 30 years later, it's still catchy, but many of the other tracks have better withstood the test of time. Pupy's Seis semanas is one of the all-time classics. Van Van re-recorded it on 1995's epic Ay dios ampárame, and Pupy has re-recorded it twice and still plays it regularly. Pupy's Fallaste al sacar tu cuenta, while not as famous, is almost as good. And my favorite track, Somos Van Van, with Pedro Calvo now completely in his prime, is a great example of Formell's second great songwriting style period.

Israel Sardiñas, an excellent singer and composer, only stayed for one album, but he played a major role. His version of Seis semanas was a big influence on Pupy's current singer Pepe Gómez. Sardiñas wound up in Miami, where he formed a Beny Moré Tribute band before passing away in 2007.

1983: Qué pista (Vol. VIII) - Areíto LD-4118
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tr title   composer arranger lead singer singles
1 Por encima del nivel (Sandunguera) descarga Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
2 De 5 a 7 songo Formell Formell Mario Valdés .
3 Ay mamá recíbeme songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
4 Qué pista son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
5 Dale calabaza conga-son Formell Formell Formell, Pedrito, .
6 Después que te casaste songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo .
7 Consejo de un viejo songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo .
8 Que palo es ese palo son Formell Formell Juan Formell .

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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Por encima del nivel, better known simply as Sandunguera, is one of Formell's greatest songs and easily held the distinction of being Los Van Van's "greatest hit" until it was overtaken in the late 90s by the twin timba anthems - Soy todo and Te pone la cabeza mala, ranked #1 and #2 respectively by the readers of timba.com. Sandunguera also has a fabulously confusing clave structure.

cuban music, musica cubanaOther standout tracks are Pupy's Después que te casaste, Qué palo es ese and the title track. Ay mamá recibeme was sung by Paulito FG on Gracias Formell. Dale cabeza was the obligatory followup to El baile del buey cansao. Some vanvaneros complain that this period is marred by the use of dated electronic percussion and synths, but if you can get past that, there are some exquisite grooves, compositions and vocal performances.

Personnel Change: Mario Valdés replaces Israel Sardiñas. His nickname was Mayito, and so now, of course, he's called "the first Mayito". He stayed with the band until the early 90s and left just as Mayito Rivera arrived. It's likely that this is the same Mario Valdés who sang, composed and arranged for Los Reyes 73 although he never wrote any songs for LVV. His first vocal performances for Van Van are a little rough, but he improved greatly in the mid-80s and recorded many classic tracks.

1983: The Silvio Rodríguez Collaborations
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Silvio Rodriguez y Los Van Van - Single EPA-7583 (1983)
A: Canción urgente para Nicaragua - 4:11
B: Decimas sobre mi abuelo - 4:47

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Silvio Rodriguez y Los Van Van - EPA-7584 (1983)
A: Imaginada - 3:03
B: Llegué por San Antonio de los Baños - 5:17
(photos courtesy of Timba Bob)

These came in courtesy of Hendrik's pal Rob. Three of the tracks can be found on the "Rosetta Stone" bootleg. There are also collaborations with Omara Portuondo (Y que se sepa) and Elena Burke (Al fin creo en el amor), but we don't have the years of the numbers.

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Another mystery trackwith no year, Vuela la amistad, is on the above compilation.

1984: Anda ven y muévete (Vol. IX) - Areíto LD-4164
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tr title   composer arranger ot;>lead singer singles
1 Anda ven y muévete songo84 Formell Formell Mario Valdés .
2 Será que se acabó son Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo 7708
3 La Habana no aguanta más son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo 7708
4 Y qué tú crees son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
5 El danzonete danzonete Anicito Díaz Formell Pedro Calvo .
6 Habla claro camará son Pedroso Pedroso Mario Valdés .
7 Artesano del espacio songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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As with El baile del buey cansao, the title track was a big novelty hit, so much so that when Rubén Blades set out to cover an LVV song, the one he chose was Anda ven y muévete, but it's really just a somewhat questionable remake of Lionel Ritchie's All Night Long. Once you get past the first track, however, the rest of the album is absolutely brilliant and has withstood the sense of time in every respect. La Habana no aguanta más, Será que se acabó and Artesano del espacio are particularly compelling. By this point the transition to the 80s style is complete and the next 6 albums hold together in terms of quality and stylistic maturity as well as the extraordinary 1970-76 songo phase. By this point, it's no longer "songo". Even the liner notes list the styles of many of the songs as "son". The tempos are slower, the bass is primarily bombo-ponche, and aside from the title track, the songwriting is much more Cuban-sounding, although La Habana no aguanta más still manages a subtle and probably subconscious tip of the hat to Paul Simon's For Emily Wherever I May Find Her. Why -- you might ask -- do I praise the reference to Simon and complain about the one to Ritchie in the same paragraph? I'm not sure I can explain this adequately, but there's a definite difference between a brilliant quote and a derivative one.

Falling somewhere between these extremes is the relationship of Rubén Blades' Todos vuelven to Pupy's Habla clara camará. A key melodic phrase at the very beginning of the cuerpo of each song is too similar to be coincidental, but who inspired whom? The Blades track was recorded in May of 1983 and released in 1984. The LVV album was also released in 1984. Hmmmm ... any theories out there?


cuban music, musica cubanaAreíto 7584, which we assume is in the EPA series of numbers, even though the EPA is printed on the 45, contained Imaginada and Llegué por San Antonio de los baños, both of which can be found on the Miami bootleg we've been calling the "rosetta stone" CD (pictured to the right). Aside from the trombones, it's hard to immediately hear anything that distinguishes the accompaniment as being Van Van. We've never heard the A-side of Areíto 7583, but we think the B-side is Décimas para mi abuelo, also on the rosetta stone CD

cuban music, musica cubanaWhile we're on the subject of collaborations, we have no record number, but the rosetta stone CD also contains an early 70s version of Y que se sepa with Omara Portuondo singing. Finally, LVV accompanied Pablo Milanés on Proposiciones in 2002, which can be found on Pablo Querido and also on an obscure early bootleg of LVV's Malecón CD that was sold in Havana nightclubs in the early 2000s.

1985 Personnel Changes: Lázaro and Cristóbal González are out on trombone, replaced by the wonderful trio that has stayed with the group ever since: Alvaro Collado, Edmundo "Mundo" Pina, and one of the unsung geniuses of the timba era, Hugo Morejón, who added many or most of the trombone mambos from the late 80s onwards as well as pioneering the concept of adding a second keyboard.

1985: La Habana sí (Vol. X) - Areíto LD-4282
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tr title   composer arranger lead singer singles
1 La Habana sí songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
2 La resolución son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo 7801
3 El buenagente songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo .
4 La duda de Belén songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo .
5 Quién bien te quiere te hará llorar mer-son Formell Formell Mario Valdés .
6 Y no me explico lo que tienes son Alina Torres Formell Pedro Calvo .
7 Se muere la tía son Vaillant Formell Mario Valdés .

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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(courtesy of Victor Barrientos)

For the next 6 or 7 years, there are no personnel changes. Van Van has become a well-oiled machine - un tren, if you will. They've achieved a perfect creative chemistry between Formell, Pupy, Changuito, Hugo. Mayito the Elder's voice has matured, Pedrito is perfect. Nothing sounds dated and nothing sounds strained. The songwriting styles of Pupy and Formell complement each other brilliantly, and when they go to an outside songwriter, it's for something really irresistible, as in the case of the last two tracks. Alina Torres's Y no me explico lo que tienes, much better known as El carnicero, is one of the most-quoted LVV songs and Rodulfo Vaillant's Se muere la tía is one of the best Cuban tracks of any era. One of the many great references can be heard in Charanga Habanera's brilliant Sube y baja.

Pupy's El buena gente became the title track of his 3rd CD with Los Que Son Son

The only single was La resolución, whose rare B-side, Lo que te dice un guajiro, can be found on the "Rosetta Stone" bootleg if you search long enough in Little Habana on Calle Ocho. Or ... as I always say ... write EGREM. Seriously, folks, if enough people send email, especially in Spanish, EGREM will eventually realize that they're sitting on a goldmine that's just begging to be repackaged a la Fania. The remastered La Habana sí would of course have Lo que te dice as a "bonus track". Sigh ...

1986: LIVE DVD - Live in Europe
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Universal Latino 60688-9

This priceless DVD has one song from Eso que anda and 8 from Volumes 8, 9 and 10. It's the best quality footage we've found of LVV in the 80s and allows you to see Changuito in his prime as well as to hear how differently the songs were played live. Timba fans have learned that studio albums are merely blueprints for the much longer, more intense live versions that they spend most of their time listening to. It's easy to forget, as we piece together the earlier history of Cuban music, that the added energy and length of live performances is nothing new to timba. It's just much harder to find live recordings of the earlier decades.

1986: Eso que anda (Vol. XI) - Areíto LD-4367
cuban music, musica cubana

tr title   composer arranger lead singer singles
1 Eso que anda songo 86 Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
2 Y ya tu campana no suena songo 86 Pedroso Pedroso Mario Valdés .
3 Amiga mía songo 86 Formell Formell Mario Valdés .
4 Canta la ceiba, baila la palma real songo 86 Calixto Callava Formell Pedro Calvo .
5 No es fácil, que no que no songo 86 Formell Formell Pedro Calvo .
6 Polvo de estrellas songo 86 Formell Formell Pedro Calvo 7864
7 Disculpe señora songo 86 Pedroso Pedroso Mario Valdés .
8 Se quiere que llegue pronto songo 86 Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo 7864

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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alternate cover

Going back to the days of 78s, Cuban records have traditionally listed the rhythm or style of each song, presumably to aid disc jockeys playing for dancers. It's hard to give a technical definition of "songo 86". It seems to refer to the heavy use of synthesizer timbres, which often, but not always, sound dated. The songwriting and singing are excellent however.

1987: Al son del Caribe (Vol. XII) - Areíto LD-4431
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cuban music, musica cubana

tr title   composer arranger lead singer
1 Nosotros los del Caribe catá songo Formell Formell Mario Valdés
2 La titimanía changó son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
3 Recaditos no mer-son Formell Formell Mario Valdés
4 Diferentes y especiales songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
5 Calla catá Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo
6 Tierra dura son Blades Morejón Pedro Calvo
7 Que lo sepa mamá y que se entere papá songo 86 Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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Another great album, containing one of LVV's all-time classics, La titimanía. As part of our as-of-yet unpublished review of Issac Delgado's Prohibido, we did a lengthy analysis of all three versions -- this one, the Tony Calá version on Gracias Formell, and Issac's.

Volume 12 also has Van Van's contribution to the "cultural exchange" that began several years earlier when Rubén Blades covered Anda ven y muévete. This one stands up much better. Although Oscar d'León is probably the most popular non-Cuban salsero among the Cuban public, the musicians themselves seem to have the greatest affinity for Rubén Blades, who is quoted regularly by Mandy Cantero, Manolín, Mayito and so many others.

1988: El negro no tiene na' (Vol. XIII) - Areíto LD-4497
cuban music, musica cubana

cuban music, musica cubana

tr title   composer arranger lead singer
1 Me gusta y no puede ser songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo
2 El negro no tiene na' son Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
3 Me falta un año songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo
4 Se acabó el querer songo Calvo Pedroso Pedro Calvo
5 Este amor que se muete songo Formell Formell Mario Valdés
6 Constructores por derecho songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo

click here for our timba.com review with audio samples

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There's a funny story behind the title of this one. With the reputation that musicians have for living life hard and fast, Pedro Calvo, well over 60, looks astoundingly healthy. It turns out he eats health food and doesn't drink or smoke. In fact, Pedrito has only one vice, and the fact that he's rumored to have 13 children gives you a clue as to what it is. His Wilt Chamberlain-esque escapades gave rise to some (obviously untrue) rumors in the 80s that he had AIDS ... hence the album's title El negro no tiene na'. (I guess you had to be there ...)

In any case, this is one of the best albums of the 80s and very much deserving of a long and detailed review.

1988: Songo
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Songo -- was recorded in 1988 in New York City by legendary recording engineer Jon Fausty, among whose many sonic achievements include Rubén Blades' Siembra. The 8 songs are all hits of the 80s: Titimanía, Calla, Qué palo es ese, Sandunguera, Muévete, Recaditos no, Ya tu campana no suena, and Y qué tú crees. The arrangements are fairly similar and the main idea was to present Los Van Van to North Americans with the type of high fidelity they'd come to expect.

1989: Crónicas (Vol. XIV) - Areíto LD-4596
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(please send better photos both sides!)

tr title   composer arranger lead singer
1 Yo sé que Van Van songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
2 No soy de la gran escena songo Formell Formell Mario Valdés
3 Que vivan los abuelos son Formell Formell Mario Valdés
4 Artesanos de la harina songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
5 Se cambia el turno songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo
6 Cuatro años de ausencia songo Pedroso Pedroso Pedro Calvo
7 Tranquilo mota songo Pedroso Pedroso Mario Valdés
8 Yo sé que Van Van songo Formell Formell Pedro Calvo


It just keeps getting better from here on out. This album is a drop-dead masterpiece, from the scorching bookend theme tracks to the piano and bloque breakdowns on No soy de la gran escena that set the stage for timba, to Pupy's addictive and hilarious Tranquilo mota. The lyrics are brilliant throughout -- these aren't sappy love songs or mail-in food-sex metaphors and barrio tributes. Most timba fans have probably only heard the opening and closing theme song, but every note on this album is required listening!

Saturday, 10 August 2013, 05:15 PM