Los Van Van, This Train Won't Stop
By: Kiro / Photos: Boris L. Muriedas
Unmistakable for its melodic sounds and inimitable way of portraying Cuban everyday l ife, Los Van Van is celebrating its fourth decade, proud to know they are at the top of the hit parade.
The orchestra´s history goes back to September 4, 1969, when Juan Formell created the group; revolutionizing the song lyrics and rhythm of Cuban dance music, adding to it the bass, electric organ, electric guitar, viol ins and a meticulous vocal arrangement characteristic of quartets at the time.
Very few were unaware of the triumph of the up and coming orchestra when, in the early 1970s, its director enriched the set with percussion instruments, creating a sound he later defined as songo, a new form of son with elements of jazz and rock. By then, band members José Luis Quintana (Changuito) on percussion, César (Pupy) Pedroso on keyboards, José Luis Cortés (El Tosco) flute, and Miguel Ángel Rasalps (El Lele) the voice, had become well known for their virtuosity.
The band made its first international tours and recorded its first five singles, among them El Guararey de Pastorita, with inarguable success among dancers.
The 1980s marked a major step in the Van Van´s spiral ing success. The gravelly sound of trombones on one hand, and the incorporation of synthesizers and electric viol ins on the other, put the golden seal on recordings such as Báilalo, Eh! Ah! (1982), Anda, ven y muévete (1984), La Habana sí (1985), Eso que anda (1986), Nosotros los del Caribe (1987) and Se acabó el querer (1988).
A national tour kicked off the decade of the 90s, in their full artistic maturity, with new contemporary rhythms in songs like Que le den candela and Ese es mi problema, on their album Azúcar (1993); Soy normal, natural and Qué sorpresa, on Lo último en vivo (1994); De igual a igual and Deja la ira, on their CD Ay Dios, ampárame (1995); and Esto te pone la cabeza mala, on their album with the same name in 1997.
The musical patrimony of Los Van Van, with over 20 albums, was crowned in the year 2000 with a Latin Grammy for the disc Llegó Van Van/Los Van Van is here, bestowed by the U.S. Academy of Recording Arts and Science for Best Salsa Album. With this award, Formell achieved international recognition for a linguistic style revolving around the use of the picaresque and local color, becoming the chronicler of Cuban reality beyond all idiomatic rules.
Like a train at full speed, Los Van Van celebrates a splendid 40 years of work with the upcoming release of the documentary Eso que anda, an EGREM-ICAIC production, directed by the well-known Cuban filmmaker Ian Padrón.
Van Van is now in the middle of an extensive tour of the United States and Puerto Rico that started this February, with over 70 concerts in numerous cities including New York, Boston and Miami.
Assuredly, it is another display of professional ism and good taste, clarifying the question that will always follow them, in their well-known lyrics "¿Qué tiene Van Van, que sigue ahí?" (What is it with Van Van, always at the top?)..