"Lagrimas Negras" after Cuban percussionist passed away
Artist biography Federico Aristides "Tata Gu├»nes" Soto
If congas should be defined by a name it would be Tata Gu´nes. This legend of Cuban culture is one of the most talented conga players in the world.
Tata GŘines was born Federico Aristides Soto on June 30, 1930, in the town of GŘines, about 30 miles southeast of Havana. "I learned percussion in the barrio in GŘines,"he recounts. "I've always said you have to learn with the elders, and there as a child I learned with the elders." At nine he was playing with his father, a guitarist, in a local band called Partagßs; at 16 he began playing with groups in Havana, including those of Arsenio Rodriguez and Bebo ValdÚs. "In the '40s many bands had congas," he says, "but there wasn't a lot of evolution or development in those years."
In 1954 Tata GŘines joined the charanga (flute and fiddle band) Fajardo y sus Estrellas. "When I started with Fajardo," he says, "congueros like myself and Patato started developing, creating and modernizing, and the combos came along. That same year he recorded the album Descargas: Cuban Jam Sessions in Miniature (Panart), a landmark of Cuban-style improvisation, with a group led by bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez. "The modernization of the congas took a big step with Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente," says GŘines. "We had no idea that record was going to hit like that. It became a textbook recording that all students of percussion listened to."
Afterward he recorded with Cuban jazz arranger Chico O'Farrill and toured Venezuela, Mexico and the United States; from 1957 to 1959 he played at theWaldorf Astoria hotel in New York. Back in Cuba he performed and recorded with Peruchin, Frank Emilio Flynn, Guillermo Barreto, Gustavo Tamayo and Quinteto Instrumental. In the '70s he formed his own group, Tata GŘines y su Tataguinitos, made up of his students. In 1994 he recorded Pasaporte (Enja) with percussionist Miguel "Angß" DÝaz and the Cuban All-Stars.
Today, Tata GŘines declares, "I am happy that in many countries I am recognized and respected as a pioneer of the drum." But he has serious reservations about modern refinements of conga technique. "The one thing I am against and will never be in favor of," he says, "is to take the technique of the drum set to the conga drum. The conga is a basic instrument, an instrument of accompaniment. It carries the rhythm and guides the band in coordination with the bass. The proof is in the records we've made and recorded over the years that have served as a model.
"But now I don't understand anything when these congueros are soloing, because there is no base, no rhythmic concept. I think the most beautiful thing is to do your solo and have the audience understand what you are saying; otherwise, it's a machine-gun throwing bullets everywhere.
Listen to Chano Pozo, Candido Camero, Mongo Santamaria-they are completely distinct. You have to spend your energy learning the basics and the fundamentals.
"This is my word of advice to today's conga players-that they ultimately respect the instrument and don't get caught up in the war of 'I can play more than you; I can play faster than you.' The speed on the conga drum is something I created. It's in the recordings."
Tata Guines died on Monday February 4, 2008 in Havana, Cuba due to a kidney infection. He was 77.