Orquesta Aragon Brings Havana to the Bay

By Carla

Flautist Eduardo Ramon and Ernesto Bacallar, with the band since 1993.

Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall was transformed into an oasis of the best in Cuban music with the 70th Anniversary Celebration of Orquesta Aragon. Direct from Havana, these musicians gave fans, friends and the community a feast of charanga, cha-cha-cha and a multitude of musical fusions while guests danced the night away in the orchestra pit.
The Aug. 13 festivities covered over seven decades of Cuban music, and for many the event felt more like a long awaited family reunion, with Orquesta Aragon back in for the first time since 2001.
When KPFA music director and radio host Luis Medina introduced the group, excited fans gave a standing ovation.  “I didn’t think I’d get a chance to see them in my lifetime,” said Alejandro Gonzalez, Transportation Coordinator and Central Protection Officer of Job Corps-Treasure Island.   
Orquesta Aragon and Cuban musicians in general have been allowed into the U.S. since 2003.  The California Democratic Party recently passed a resolution recommending that Cuba be taken off the U.S. list of terrorist countries. And a Freedom to Travel  bill recently made it out of committee to the House floor for debate and a vote.

Celso Valdes joined the group in 1954.

“The orchestra did not disappoint me.  They blended everything together the cha-cha, rumba  tango.  Name it, claim it, they played it with a Latin flavor,” Gonzalez continued.
Guests of honor included Attorney/Producer/Manager William T. “Bill” Martinez of “Culture Cures” and honorees percussionist Walfredo de Los Reyes, percussionist Carlos Caro and  KPFA producer/musical historian Emiliano Echeveria.
“This show has been a special treat.  I was blessed to be here.  And I’m glad the UC students got a chance to witness this and even receive discounted tickets,” said Gonzalez.
Orquesta Aragon is considered the royalty of Cuban music groups, and is the most recorded band in Cuban history.  Prior to their Zellerbach Hall performance the group appeared live on Univision.
Now under the direction of violinist Rafael Lay, who followed in his father’s footsteps as the leader of Orquesta Aragon, the group has maintained its signature sound. The group’s musical repertoire includes approximately 700 individual recording, included in over 100 full-length albums worldwide. Among the group’s man hits are “El Bodeguero,” “La Gloria Eres Tu,” “Pare Cochero,” “Espiritu Burlon” and “Calculadora.”
Orquesta Aragon has performed in some of the most prestigious venues in the world including Carnegie Hall in New York City, Paris’ Olympia Theatre and the Tchaikovsky Theatre of Russia. In 1999, the group was an inductee of the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and later became a recipient of the Order Pablo Picasso given by the UNESCO organization.