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Manuel Galbán, Buena Vista Social Club Guitarist, Dead at 80

Galbán Also Recorded a Grammy-Winning Album with Ry Cooder

Manuel Galbán, the Cuban guitarist best known as a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, died July 7 of a heart attack in Havana at 80 years old.

Born in 1931 in Gibara, Holguín Province, Cuba, Galbán made his professional debut in 1944. He joined the internationally acclaimed Los Zafiros in 1963, which combined the traditional filín movement with other music styles such as bolero, doo-wop, calypso music, bossa nova and rock. This fusion transformed Los Zafiros into one of the most popular Cuban groups of the time.

From 1972 through 1975, Galbán led Cuba’s national music ensemble, Dirección Nacional de Música, before forming his own group, Batey, with which he remained for 23 years. With Batey, Galbán toured the world and recorded a number of albums documenting popular Cuban music for the prestigious Cuban record label Egrem and the Bulgarian label Balkanton.

Galbán later joined the group Vieja Trova Santiaguera for two years before answering Ry Cooder’s call to take part in a project featuring Ibrahim Ferrer, which subsequently led to his long-standing membership with the Buena Vista Social Club, along with Ferrer, Rubén González, Compay Segundo, Omara Portuondo and Cachaito Lopez.

Wim Wenders’ film on the BVSC revived Galbán’s recording career. He also played guitar on recordings by individual members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Galbán’s duet album with Cooder, Mambo Sinuendo, catapulted him to a household name in world music circles. In 2003 Mambo Sinuendo was nominated for a Latin Grammy Award, and in 2004 the album received a Grammy Award for the Best Pop Instrumental Album.

For more than a decade Galbán toured the world performing with the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club Orchestra, and over the past three years he prepared his latest album, BlueChaCha.

Originally Published