Manolito Simonet. “When I write a song, the first thing I want is for Cuba to dance”
BY ROXANA CONSUEGRA, PHOTOS: MADWOMAN AND JOSÉ (TITO) MERIÑO
Manolito Simonet, pianist, composer, orchestrator and music producer, is one of the most outstanding exponents of the popular dance genre in Cuba. In 1993, he founded his group, El Trabuco, which has been dedicated to promoting and giving prestige to Cuban culture on both national and international stages.
With an unusual format mainly for live performances, El Trabuco combines string instruments and wind instruments, typical sections of charanga and jazz orchestras, respectively. By mixing them, a very broad sound is created, with a versatility allowing totally free movement between strings and brass.
Their art has reached the public in all the country’s provinces as part of numerous nationwide events. Among them are the Drum Festival, the Salsa Festival and the Adolfo Guzmán Contest, created with the aim of disseminating traditional Cuban rhythms. In addition, they have participated as special guests in activities that promote other cultural elements such as the New Latin American Film Festival and the Habano Festival.
In the foreign arena, regions of the Middle East, Europe, America and Asia have danced to the beat of El Trabuco for the last almost three decades. They have performed in over 40 countries as part of cultural exchanges and renowned events.
Their participation in the Latin American Festival in Milan, the World Music Festival in Belgium, the Colombian Festivals in Huelva, Seville, the eve of the Millennium in New York and the wedding of the Prince of Holland, among many others, have provided the group with unique experiences, while giving them great privileges and opportunities to enrich their repertoire.
Meanwhile, the recording career of Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco is approaching twenty records, made with different labels, such as the Cuban Bis Music and Egrem, and the foreign Manzana and Eurotropical from Spain, Bembé Records from the United States, and Planet Records and Aurora from Italy. On the other hand, almost all the orchestra masters have been licensed by Universal Music Group.
Manolo has also created compositions for female voices such as Tania Pantoja, Vania Borges, Anaís Abreu and the Anacaona ensemble. He has also made orchestrations for them, as well as for Paulo FG, Waldo Mendoza, Emilio Frías (El Niño), Alexander Abreu and Havana D’ Primera and the orchestra Revé; and for all of them, he has produced several singles.
Musicians and ensembles from other countries have also relied on compositions, orchestrations and productions by Manolito Simonet. They include the Nicaraguan Luis Enrique, Puerto Ricans Victor Manuelle, Gilberto Santa Rosa and Andy Montañez, the Puerto Rican music group Power, Spanish Harlem Orchestra from the USA, country music singer John Owen, the Argentinean Dominic Miller, saxophonist David Murray and many more.
Thanks to his performance as a composer he was awarded the ASCAP award in 1999, the highest distinction granted by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Writers based in New York. At the beginning of 2019, the group toured the United States where they were given an award for the 25th anniversary of El Trabuco, presented by the New Jersey City Hall.
“Despite all the hurdles, the uninterrupted work and dedication of its members have brought the group high distinctions and awards,” said its director when referring to the trajectory during these 27 years in an interview with CubaPLUS Magazine. Two essential requisites for the members are communication and discipline, foundations that solidify the work, he added.
In fact, Disciplina is the name of the title track of the orchestra’s latest album, a recently finished production that is waiting for public release. Made up of twelve tracks, the album has two guests: Rolando Lunas in “Melodía para una leyenda”, dedicated to Juan Formell, and Osaín del Monte in the song Disciplina.
According to Manolito, this new album’s release will take some time because it is important that the situation facing the world is controlled. Until the public can dance to the songs, we will keep them unreleased. “When I write a song, the first thing I want is for Cuba to dance,” he concluded.