By Omar C. Romero Feria
This year, Guillermo Barreto, one of Cuba’a leading figures of percussion, would have turned 88 years old.
Born on August 11, 1929 in Havana, he received his first musical lessons from his father, Primo Barreto, then studied piano with maestro Rafael Ortega.He started with percussion with the great maestro Obdulio Morales’s orchestra and later, in the 40s, joined the Tropicana cabaret band as drummer under the direction of the maestro of maestros, Armando Romeu, who recognized that Barreto had an exceptional musical ear.
With the arrival of the Tommy Dorsey band and great drummer Buddy Rich in Havana in 1950, Barreto had the opportunity of replacing the famous drummer when he got sick, earning the admiration of all North American musicians and of Buddy Rich himself, who gave him his instrument. Barreto joined the Sans-Souci Orchestra under the direction of his piano teacher Rafael Ortega. In 1957 he joined the group of his close friend Bebo Valdés at the Sevilla Biltmore. He was also part of other bands - that of Mariano Mercerón, Generoso Jiménez, and Roberto Valdés Arnaud, among others, and he was drummer for many recordings of popular artists of that period.
In Canada, he won the Juno Prize with Jane Bunnet, and throughout his life shared stages with wellknown artists such as Nat King Cole, Lucho Gatica, Johnny Richards, Stan Getz, Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Mongo Santamaría, and popular Cuban performers and musicians. He was the famous musician on several Cuban radio stations and television channels.
With the National Symphony Orchestra he participated as soloist in the work of Leo Brouwer Two concepts of time and in Ad Libitum, by Sergio Vitier, the latter danced by prima ballerina Alicia Alonso and the now deceased Antonio Gades.
In 1958, along with another of the greats of Cuban music, maestro Frank Emilio Flynn, he founded the Modern Music Quintet, which would soon become Los Amigos and in 1967, along with Chucho Valdés and other talented musicians, founded the Cuban Orchestra of Modern Music, without leaving Los Amigos.
It is important to highlight that he also dedicated part of his life to being an arranger and produced all of the Aché records done under the EGREM seal by his life companion, Merceditas Valdés, who bécame known for her defense of the folk roots of Cuban culture.
There is no doubt to that popular saying ‘What is inherited is not stolen’ and what better way to illustrate this than by his nephew Giraldo Piloto Barreto, director of his own band Klímax and president of the Drum Festival, an event that is celebrated each year to pay a well-deserved tribute to Cuba’s greatest percussionist, Guillermo Barreto