30 June 1930
4 February 2008 (aged 77)
Tata Güines (born Federico Aristides Soto y Alejoà June 30, 1930, died February 4, 2008) was a Cuban percussionist on the tumbadora, or conga drum, as well as a composer. He was important in the first generation of Afro-Cuban jazz.
Güines was born in Güines, a poor town east of LA HAVANA in HAVANA province of Cuba. He made his first drums out of milk cartons and sausages. He became famous for playing the conga, a tall, narrow drum of Congolese brought to Cuba by African slaves from the Congo. By the 1950s he was working with such top Cuban musician as Arsenio Rodríguez, Chano Pozo, Bebo Valdés and Israel Lopez. In the late 1950s he formed a band with the pianist Frank Emilio Flynn, forming a new band, Quinteto Instrumental de Musica Moderna, later known as Los Amigos.
Güines moved to New York City in 1957, playing there with great jazz players such as Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, and Miles Davis at Birdland. As a percussionist, he performed with Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra. He returned to Cuba in 1959 after Fidel Castro came to power in the Cuban revolution which he helped fund by contributions from his earnings as a musician.
For a while instrumentalists fell out of favor with the Cuban public and his popularity diminished. He again became popular in 1979 with his work in the Estrellas de Areito sessions, recording for Egrem, the Cuban state record company, which revived the old descarga style. By the 1990s, he was considered an old master and frequently toured. He recorded with the young conguero Miguel Díaz, his greatest stylistic progeny, on the 1995 record, "Pasaporte", which won the Egrem album of the year award, the equivalent of a Grammy in Cuba. Again in 2004 he played the congas on the Latin Grammy-winning "Lagrimas Negras" ("Black Tears") with pianist Bebo Valdés and Spanish Flamenco singer Diego El Cigala. He worked with other young bands and recorded "Chamalongo", with the Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett, and played on the title track of Bebo Valdés and Diego El Cigala's popular 2003 album, Lágrimas Negras.
Tata Güines was known as the "King of the Congas". He had a musical career that lasted six decades that helped popularize Afro-Cuban rhythms.
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