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El Gran Combo De Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico (1962 – present)

Salsa orchestra from Puerto Rico. The legendary Puerto Rican band popularly known as El Gran Combo played their first gig in San Juan in 1962 and soon became the island’s most popular salsa group. While many bands formed and dissolved during the 1960s and 1970s, El Gran Combo had unusual staying power. Throughout the next several decades, the band’s style altered and evolved to fit Latin dance-music trends, from boogaloo and merengue to tango and bomba. While an influx of talented young singers and musicians kept the 12- or 13-member band sounding fresh, the steady presence of a few founding members—including the pianist-songwriter Rafael Ithier—gave El Gran Combo their signature style and their venerable reputation as a premier salsa band.

El Gran Combo originated as an offshoot of the popular Puerto Rican band El Combo de Rafael Cortijo. Invited to start a new group with Joseito Mateo, a singer from the Dominican Republic, Ithier and six fellow musicians dropped out of Cortijo’s band to start their new enterprise. The move shocked the Latin music world. “You were not supposed to leave Puerto Rico’s favorite group like that,” Ithier told Montreal’s Gazette, “but the discipline was not very good anymore…. I did not want to be with a band that was not ready to work.”

The new band was not lacking in discipline.

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