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Master of conga mourned

Associated Press
Published February 6, 2008


GUINES, Cuba - Cuban musicians, family and friends remembered the island's most famous conga drummer, Tata Guines, as he was buried outside Havana on Tuesday after a six-decade career that helped popularize Afro-Cuban rhythms worldwide.

Known as the "King of the Congas" and "Golden Hands," Mr. Guines died Monday (Feb. 4, 2008) after being hospitalized for hypertension and kidney problems. He was 77.

"There's no one in Cuba, if not the world, better at making percussion an art," Cuban music critic Jose Luis Estrada wrote Tuesday in the state-run newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

Mourners sang, clapped and swayed at a ceremony in his hometown of Guines - which he took as his stage name at the start of his career.

Born Federico Aristides Soto on June 30, 1930, Mr. Guines was best known for playing the conga, a tall, barrel-like drum central to rumba and Afro-Cuban music and culture.

He took the stage in Havana in the early 1940s with the Partagas Sextet and moved to the United States in 1957, where he performed with jazz greats Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Though he enjoyed success in the United States, Mr. Guines was upset by the racial segregation he experienced there and returned to Cuba after Fidel Castro's rebels toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Mr. Guines won a Latin Grammy in 2004 for Lagrimas Negras, or Black Tears, a collaboration with legendary exiled Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdes and Spanish singer Diego La Cigala. He also worked with the Rumba Cubana All-Stars on La Rumba Soy Yo, or I Am the Rumba, which won a Latin Grammy in 2001.

He received Cuba's National Music Award in 2006.

[Last modified February 6, 2008, 01:33:48]

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