Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


TORRES, Roberto

(b 10 February 1940, Güines, Cuba) Singer, bandleader, percussionist (maracas, güiro, clave), composer, producer, label boss. He began singing in his mid-teens, worked in Havana with Conjunto Universal and Orquesta Swing Casino, and went to NYC in 1959. He organized the co-operative charanga Orquesta Broadway '62 with Eddy Zervigon (flautist; b 7 July 1940, Güines); made popular LPs with them on Gema, Musicor and Tico labels '64-8, then worked with José Fajardo and Sonora Matancera. He sang lead vocals with Mike Martinez's Latin Dimensions on their eponymous LP '72 on Mericana; made solo debut on same label with El Castigador '73 ('The Ladykiller'), including the hit 'El Caminante' ('The Stroller', which became his nickname) arranged by Louie Ramirez, followed by Roberto Torres y Chocolate Juntos '74 on Mericana (a collaboration with Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros), De Nuevo, Roberto Torres y sus Caminantes and El Duro del Guaguanco '76-8 on the Mericana subsidiary Salsoul. He launched the NYC-based SAR label '79 (co-founded with Sergio Bofill, boss of premier 10th Avenue Latin record distributor GB Records, and Adriano Garcia) with his own El Rey del Montuno; over the next three years he produced over 50 LPs on SAR and allied Guajiro, Toboga and Neon labels for Papaito, Afro Cuban singer Monguito 'El Unico', Linda Leida (singer and composer; b Villas, Cuba; d late 1980s in Miami), Alfredo 'Chocolate' Armenteros, Henry Fiol, Charanga Casino, singer La India de Oriente (b Luisa Maria Hernández, 1927, El Cobre, Oriente Province, Cuba), Peruvian singer Lita Branda (sister of singer Melcochita), Charanga De La 4, Alfredo Valdés Jr (b 31 May 1941, Vedado, Havana, Cuba; pianist/arranger/SAR staff music director) and his father, singer Alfredo Valdés (b 1908, Havana, Cuba; d 1988, NYC), Jorge Maldonado (b 24 September 1950, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico; singer), Fernando Lavoy, many others.

The senior Valdés joined Septeto Nacional in 1930, formed in Cuba in 1927 by Ignacio Piñeiro; in 1981 Valdés Jr was pianist/arranger on father's album Alfredo Valdés Interpreta Sus Exitos Con El Septeto Nacional, produced by Torres: six conjunto arrangements of songs originally written by Piñeiro for a septeto format. Torres and SAR headed an early-1980s revival of tipico (typical, traditional) Cuban music which was not simply imitation of the orthodox; with the African and French Caribbean markets in mind he went for a rootsy sound on extended tracks: millions of albums were sold. Using many of the same NYC-based musicians on various sessions, he formed the SAR All Stars, including Chocolate, Leopoldo Pineda on trombone, Zervigon bros from Orquesta Broadway, Valdés Jr and many others; the All Stars debut album was a live descarga (Latin jam session) called SAR All Stars Recorded Live In Club Ochentas (two volumes), with e.g. one side of the second LP devoted mostly to an exceptional extended version of the Cuban classic 'El Manisero' ('The Peanut Vendor'), with lead vocals by Papaito; also SAR All Stars Interpretan A Rafael Hernández, versions of songs by the revered Puerto Rican composer including Torres's moving vocal on 'Lamento Borincano' from 1929, about an émigré's nostalgia for home. The SAR group's output fell off after 1982; many stars switched to Caimán Records, formed in 1983 by Bofill and Humberto Corredor, others moved to Laslos Records, formed in 1984; Monguito 'El Unico', Valdés Jr and others also recorded for Ivory Coast's Sacodis label 1980 to the mid-'80s, which mirrored the SAR sound.

Torres's albums included Recuerda A Portabales (songs associated with Cuban singer/composer Guillermo Portabales, b José Guillermo Quesada del Castillo, 6 April 1911, Cuba; d 25 October 1970, PR), Presenta: Ritmo de Estrellas (an all-star charanga, arranged by Pupi Legarreta), Recuerda Al Trio Matamoros (songs from repertoire of the Cuban trio), Charanga Colonial (another all-star lineup), all '79-81; also three LPs by his Charanga Vallenata '80-2, fusing Cuban charanga and conjunto elements with Colombian vallenata accordion played by Jesús Hernández, vol. 2 yielded the massive hit 'Caballo Viejo'; Corazon De Pueblo '84; Elegantemente Criollo '86, made in Miami (where he had relocated, taking SAR with him) with Israel 'Cachao' Lopez,  and others, appearing frequently in the Billboard salsa chart. This was followed by a series of less successful pedestrian releases, including Y Sigo Criollo!, Tropicalisimo, Roberto Torres Rinde Homenaje A Beny Moré, Con El Sabor De Roberto Torres, Recuerda La Sonora, Bailable Como Nunca! and La Fiesta '88-96. Torres produced eight albums by Charanga De La 4 '79-93, always with uncredited musicians, including the mid-'87 top ten hit Se Pego!, then a ninth release, Interupta A Matamoros '97.