Juan de Dios Alfonso

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No history of Cuban music is complete without a mention of Juan de Dios Alfonso and the dance band he started called La Flor de Cuba, especially if it is a visual presentation including photographs of…
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No history of Cuban music is complete without a mention of Juan de Dios Alfonso and the dance band he started called La Flor de Cuba, especially if it is a visual presentation including photographs of this rusty, dusty outfit active from the mid-19th century until Alfonso's death in 1877. La Flor de Cuba was one of the greatest black groups in the style known as orquesta tipica, the set list comprising any and all dance styles of the era, include the contredance, minuet, rigodone, guarache, and lancero. Alfonso's unique instrumentation paired certain axes such as clarinet and violin and also included the trombone and characteristic Cuban percussion.

Outside of Cuban music history, Alfonso and his outfit inhabit several niches of particular importance. Cynics who accuse bandleaders of playing god no doubt relish the existence of a bandleader whose name itself includes the word "god." Certainly of more importance is the fact that an 1869 gig by La Flor de Cuba at the Villanueva Theatre in Havana has to go down as the worst gig any group has ever had, making the Deep Purple inferno at the Montreux Jazz Festival seem like a picnic in the country. The Havana theatre was actually attacked by a Spanish battalion during one of the sets; it was, after all, a time when Cubans were fighting for their independence from the Spanish mother ship. To make matters worse, the battalion consisted of volunteers who decided to make particularly gruesome work out of the unarmed audience. Alfonso's compositions for dancers avoid such heavy subjects; titles include "Ay! Manuelita" and "La Bella Maria."