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Cuban Music Lesson: Orquestra Aragon

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

By Jack Tomas

People say old bands that are still touring are being ridiculous. It’s hard to argue that it does seem pretty silly for a 70 year old man like Kieth Richards to be strutting around in leather pants. Then again, that that guy can strut at all is a miracle. On the other hand, why shouldn’t they still be doing their thing? They may not be as spry as they used to be and they might look like the walking dead, but still. Why sit around a nursing home in Boca Raton pretending you actually want to play Maj Jong when you can be up on stage? This is the case with the Orquestra Aragon, who have been getting people to shake their asses since 1939.

The band was formed in 1939 by Orestes Aragon in Cienfuegos, Cuba. They were famous for playing danzones in the clubs and dance halls of Cuba. If your Cuban, you’re grandparents or great-grandparents probably danced to these guys, then went home and ensured your existence. In 1948, Orestes was replaced by Rafael Lay Apesteguia as band leader, after Aragon developed the heart disease all Cubans develop from eating too much fried pork. Lay was the one that came up with the sound that would make Orquestra Aragon famous. Cha Cha Cha was the big thing in the late 40’s, so he mashed that with the dazones they had been playing for years and created a new thing. In danzon, the lead instrument is the violin and in cha cha cha it is the flute. Lay made them both the lead instruments, which seems crazy but sounds awesome. They had several hits like “Pare Cochero”, “El Bodeguero”, and “Para Oriente Me Voy a Bailar.”

The Orquestra Aragon is still around! Sure, none of the original members is still alive, but some of the guys that were there in the 50’s and 60’s still are. They are also releasing a new album later this year. They’ll be playing where I live in New York next Tuesday and I’m going to go see them. Why wouldn’t I? As long as they can still get onstage and play that funky violin and flute, they should keep at it. If you travel to the year 2347, our future robot overlords will be dancing to the Orquestra Aragon.

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