Jose Aleman

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While the surname Aleman might sound like a hippie making a bar order, pronounce it properly in Cuban Spanish and a musical legend has been summoned, including an orchestra popular enough to have gigs…
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While the surname Aleman might sound like a hippie making a bar order, pronounce it properly in Cuban Spanish and a musical legend has been summoned, including an orchestra popular enough to have gigs in both the 19th and 20th centuries. Unfortunately a typographical error in Helio Orovio's wonderful Cuban Music From A to Z makes Jose Aleman way too legendary: after establishing that he was born in 1846 the text later claims: "In 1972 he formed his own orchestra, which performed for many years." The mistake is also grossly misleading in terms of the historical activity of Orquesta Aleman, a so-called orquesta tipica which was actually revived in the '20s -- not the '70s -- by son Ramon Aleman.

Jose Aleman was not some kind of vampire hiding his eternal damnation behind the cloak of a composer, bandleader and multi-instrumentalist. This list of skills should also include tailor, a trade he also practiced during lulls in his musical activity. Having removed the premise that he would be capable of launching a new orchestra at the age of 136, there are still plenty of impressive aspects to his career. He was skilled on four instruments representing three different musical families. Aleman composed a great deal of music that could be presented in a variety of settings, involving both dance and religious themes, and he put together the ensembles to do it, presenting the former repertoire in dancehalls and the latter in churches.

Aleman was himself in Havana orchestras about which many a tale has been told concerning astonishing musicianship in all the sections. Aleman was considered one of the greatest double bassists in the history of Cuban music. The sound of an orquesta tipica, on the other hand, spotlighted wind instruments in various ear-twisting combinations, some of the axes such as the ophicleide worthy of a museum display all on their own. Leadership of the group, originally founded in Santiago de las Vegas circa 1878, was passed off to Ramon Aleman after his father's death in 1924.