We've updated our Terms of Use. You can review the changes here.

Arsenio Rodr​í​guez Y Su Conjunto

by Arsenio Rodríguez

  • Streaming + Download

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality download in MP3, FLAC and more.
    Purchasable with gift card

      $10 USD  or more


Linda Cubana 03:02
El Divorcio 02:29


Arsenio Rodríguez (born Ignacio de Loyola Rodríguez Scull, 1911–1970) was a Cuban musician, bandleader and prolific composer of African descent who developed the son montuno and other Afro-Cuban-based rhythms that formed the basis of what became known as salsa in the 1960s and 70s. Although he was not widely known before his death, today he is seen as one of the most important figures in Latin music, his influence evident not only in Latin music but in African popular music as well. He is also recognized (along with Israel ‘Cachao’ López and Dámaso Pérez Prado) as one of the creators of the mambo, which Rodríguez himself often referred to as ritmo diablo. His most famous compositions are “La Vida Es Un Sueño,” “Bruca Manigua,” “El Reloj De Pastora,” “La Yuca,” and “Adivinalo.” Although he was blinded as a child by a kick in the head from a mule, Rodríguez nevertheless learned to play guitar, bass, maracas, bongó, and tumbadora (conga drum) by age 15, mastering the more difficult tres guitar soon after. His skill and innovation earned him the nickname “El Ciego Maravilloso” (The Marvelous Blind Man).

Arsenío Rodríguez began his career in the late 1920s in Havana, Cuba playing in various son sextets, later forming Arsenio Rodríguez y su Conjunto in 1940, wherein he would update the sextet lineup by adding conga, cowbell, piano and extra trumpets. Along with his conjunto, he recorded over 150 sides exclusively for RCA Victor through 1956. Seeking treatment for his blindness, Rodríguez travelled to New York in 1947. The treatment was unsuccessful, however he would return to New York a decade later to permanently settle there for the rest of his career. Never one to stand still creatively, by the early 1960s -- when he recorded two albums for Ralph Pérez’s Ansonia Records -- Rodríguez had begun introducing other modes of musical expression inspired by his adopted home (pachanga, jazz, r&b, rock) into his conjunto (group), incorporating saxophones and ‘walking’ bass, as well as loudly amplifying his guitar. Perhaps the most prominent change is how Rodríguez and his band decided to pick up the tempo and brighten the arrangements to match New York’s faster paced, modern, young urban Latino audience. “Sabor de Pachanga” features lyrics that discuss how life is accelerated and today’s youth are always running around to dance parties, getting in front of the band and demanding the latest craze: the uptempo pachanga, instead of the slower son montuno. Though he enjoyed some success in the early years of his career in New York, by the late 1960s work had dried up, so he decided to move to Los Angeles to try his luck there. Unfortunately, he remained relatively unknown in California; the largely Mexican-American audiences who were more accustomed to the big band sounds of Tito Puente and René Touzet, were indifferent to his, by now, old-style conjunto sound. He had never been a particularly healthy individual, and having advanced in years, was slowing down already; he died soon after arriving in Los Angeles, succumbing to a stroke brought on by diabetes in 1970. Contrary to popular belief, Arsenio did not die penniless; he received a modest income from his composition royalties. In the ensuing years, his body of work would come back into favor with the public, due largely to the likes of Fania Records and many musicians who finally recognized and celebrated him as a true pioneer in the field of Latin music and a progenitor of salsa. Several compilations of his recorded output would be reissued as part of this revival.

"Arsenio Rodriguez y su Conjunto" (ALP 1337) is recognized as one of the best records by “El Ciego Maravilloso” not only for its diverse repertoire and solid musicianship but also for the high quality standards and professional manner in which it was made (and according to the original liner notes, Arsenio himself agreed with this assessment). Recorded at the famous Beltone Studios circa 1960, when Rodríguez was 49, the album was released in 1963 and features the formidable singing talents of Chewi Rivera (lead vocals), Cándido Antomattei (second voice), Israel Berríos (second voice and guitar), and Raffi Martínez (chorus), as well as the powerful trumpets of Alfredo “Chocolate” Armenteros, Víctor Paz, and Agustin Caraballoso. In the rhythm section Arsenio is heard loud and clear on his magical tres, joined by his brothers Israel ‘Kiki’ Rodríguez (tumbadoras) and Raúl Travieso on bongos and bell, plus Evelio Quintero on timbales, with Raúl Díaz holding down the bass and the great Alfredo Valdés, Jr. on piano. The young Alfredo Valdés, Jr. was also responsible for the advanced arrangements on the album, and would become an integral part of the future New York salsa scene. To say this album was an influence on Latin musicians who would go on to become the stars of salsa is an understatement. Not only would the basic structure, instrumentation and hard, tight, yet swinging sound of Arsenio Rodríguez y su Conjunto provide a template for decades to come, but this album features several fantastic tunes that became quite popular hits for other artists during the salsa boom, including “El Reloj de Pastora,” “Hachero Pa’ Un Palo,” “El Divorcio” and “Errante y Bohemio,” which are all done in the funky son montuno rhythm. In addition, the joyful “Linda Cubana” showcases Arsenio’s powerful chops on tres; it’s a largely instrumental piece that updates the old danzón “Tres Lindas Cubanas” with the highly danceable and upbeat guaracha rhythm. The lively son pregón (a pregón is a street vendor’s cry turned into song) “Frutas de Caney” is another updated Cuban standard done in an infectiously alluring fashion while “Yambú En Serenata'' is a beautiful mix of authentic folkloric rumba drumming in the guaguancó yambú rhythm and traditional Afro-Cuban vocals with the modern conjunto accompaniment of bass, tres and trumpets. And then there is previously mentioned nod to the Bronx-based youth dance fad of the moment, “Sabor de Pachanga,” a bouncy ditty that clocks in at a brisk clip. In contrast, several songs bring the downtempo, slightly mournful and romantic vibe of the bolero, including “No Importa La Distancia,” “Comprendo Que Sufres'' and the ‘plegaría’ (prayer) devoted to Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. The album closes out on the mid-tempo guaguancó “Pucho Marquez,” which is a humorous portrait of a musician who just sits around and can no longer enjoy playing music, partying or dancing, perhaps due to his controlling “boss” (i.e. spouse) María. Overall, the album is a prime example of why Arsenio’s sound was so unique, vibrant and unapologetically Afro-Cuban. He made no attempts to white-wash, dilute, or cross-over, staying true to his guitar-based, Afro-rooted approach throughout his career. Yet, he remained open to some outside influences, taking enough of what he needed to strengthen his work without dumbing it down. In a sense, he has more in common with the Delta bluesmen of old -- who travelled from Mississippi to Chicago and plugged in to create urban blues, which in turn helped beget rock ‘n’ roll -- than he does with contemporary Latin orchestras of the time, who, to stay with this analogy, were more like Motown artists.

By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Johnny Pacheco (Dominican bandleader and musical director of Fania) had rejected the charanga instrumentation and repertoire of his early days. Instead, he adopted the conjunto format and recorded versions of the son, guaracha, guaguancó and son montuno sound that Arsenio Rodríguez and others like La Sonora Matancera, Chappottín and Estrellas de Chocolate had pioneered decades earlier. Additionally, soon after Rodríguez’s death, pianist and orchestra leader Larry Harlow recorded the LP Salsa, which was essentially an Arsenio tribute album reconfigured and branded as salsa in accordance with Fania’s salsa marketing program. Many of Rodríguez’s compositions (and songs composed by others that he made famous) were re-recorded in an updated Nuyorican style by the then-current stars of salsa such as Ray Barretto, Ismael Miranda, and Celia Cruz. It was Rodríguez’s tough urban sound and funky approach, as well as his Afro-centric viewpoint and catchy melodies, that appealed to this new generation of musicians and audiences who were reacquainting themselves with their roots via Arsenio’s music and those of other Latin artists from bygone eras. The two volumes of Arsenio Rodríguez y Su Conjunto that Ansonia Records released were a crucial part of this revival. These albums provided a high quality archive of inspirational material, and we are very fortunate today to have them lovingly restored and easily accessible for the next generation to enjoy.

-Pablo Yglesias


released October 23, 1963


all rights reserved



Ansonia Records

Independent Latin and Afro-Caribbean voices and rhythms since 1949 🌴🌴🌴

contact / help

Contact Ansonia Records

Streaming and
Download help

Redeem code

Report this album or account

If you like Arsenio Rodríguez Y Su Conjunto, you may also like: