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Los Van Van

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Biography

Los Van Van is a Cuban band led by bassist Juan Formell, and is considered to be one of Cuba’s major timba acts, while Juan Formell has arguably become the most important figure in contemporary Cuban music.


In 1967, Formell became musical director of Elio Reve’s charanga orchestra. He reformatted the group into Changui ‘68, and then founded his own group, Los Van Van, on December 4, 1969.

Musical style

Using a charanga line-up as its base, Van Van added trombones and vocals, and was the first Cuban group to use synthesizers and drum machines. Their sound was a fusion of changui and son montuno with various types of music, including Afro-Cuban rhythms, rock, funk, disco, and hip hop. Juan Formell contributed countless innovations to the Cuban bass and clave, which paved the way for a radical reconceptualisation of rhythmic arrangements in Cuban music. The Van Van sound came to be known as songo (based on the songo rhythm), which laid the base for the later development of timba.

Los Van Van has consistently managed to adapt its style to the times, and remains, after 35 years, Cuba’s most popular dance band. Along with pianist Cesar “Pupy” Pedroso, Juan Formell has written some of the most intriguing verses in popular dance music, including stories that run over several albums and, contrary to trends in timba, all types of social commentary. Both artists are undisputed masters of double-entendre in a musical culture where multiple meanings in lyrics are pervasive.

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