Sierra Maestra have been stars of Cuban music ever since the late 1970s. They were the first group, and remain the best, of the modern era to play in the old-style son line-up: tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, güiro and vocals - as during the great days of the 1920s and ‘30s. They have been the pioneers in reviving this style for new generations and reintroducing it into the Cuban mainstream. They named themselves after the mountain range in the eastern part of Cuba as a tribute to the birthplace of son.
Sierra Maestra lead singer (Jose Antonio Rodriguez, pictured centre) dies aged 52, obituary
The group have played a significant part in the recent global explosion in popularity of Cuban music. Ex-leader Juan De Marcos González created the Afro-Cuban All Stars and Buena Vista Social Club while still with the band, and Jesus Alemañy, previously trumpet with Sierra Maestra for 15 years, left to create his group Cubanismo. Yet the new tres, percussion and trumpet players have joined the six original members to make the group line-up perhaps the strongest ever.
Sierra Maestra have recorded 16 albums and over 10 singles and appear on at least 40 compilations.
SIERRA MAESTRA first performed in 1976 at the University of Havana where the group members were all studying. Their aim, then as now, was to revive and re-explore this popular Cuban music style of the 1920s which had become forgotten. The original instrument line-up of son from this time had been augmented with extra percussion (congas and maracas) and the replacement of the old marimbula with electric bass. Some of the guaracha rhythms were speeded up to allow for the move away from the slow close pair dancing of the ‘20s. This revival of son with a modern dance feel was a sensation for the new generation of Cubans, and SIERRA MAESTRA quickly became popular playing the annual festivals at the universities around the island of Cuba. They won the national first prize in each of their first 3 years - ‘76, ‘77 and ‘78. They were also appearing regularly on national TV.
In 1978 they were asked to represent Cuba at the “Festival Mundial de la Juventud y los Estudiantes” in Havana. In 1979 they took 4th place at the televised “Carifesta” Caribbean competition, also in Havana. In 1981 their first record, “Sierra Maestra llegó con el guanajo relleno”, received a silver disc, a composite award for high sales, general popularity and critical reception. They also won individual prizes for the best recording, most popular song and the highest record sales. 1981 was also the year of their first foreign tour - to Nicaragua.
They recorded their second LP, “Y Son Así”, in 1982 and won the Girasol prize for most popular group of the year. They toured Angola and Nicaragua that year. In 1983 they won the “Benny More” dance music prize at the festival of the same name and took part in the IV Song Festival held in Helsinki. They then travelled to Sweden and France and to the International Film Festival in Spain (where they have often played over the years). Also in 1983 they recorded the soundtrack to the Cuban TV series “Las Impuras”; (more recently their song “A Los Rumberos de Belen” was used by Robert Redford for his film “Havana”). Since then Sierra Maestra have maintained a full international recording and touring career around Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada and Australasia.
In 1994 during their European tour they recorded “Dundunbanza” in London, an extremely stylish cocktail of Arsenio Rodríguez tunes and other favourites. This was followed in 1997 by “Tibiri Tabara” also for World Circuit Records. SIERRA MAESTRA have worldwide distribution for their music. CDs “Tibiri Tabara” and “Dundunbanza” out on World Circuit Records. “Rumbero Soy" on Riverboat Records.
Sierra Maestra last toured Ireland in August 2003 when they played at Cuba in Galway, The Half Moon Cork and The Village Dublin