Pupi Legarreta

Innovative Cuban violinist, flautist, singer, band leader, arranger and composer, key figure in Latin music.
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Artist Biography

Innovative Cuban violinist, flautist, singer, band leader, arranger, composer Legarreta was a key participant in the early 60s pachanga/charanga craze, mid-70s to early 80s charanga revival and New York descarga movement. As a boy he paid for violin tuition by working as a barber, which his father urged him to abandon. Pupi left Cuba in 1959 and joined the USA’s second charanga band, Orquesta Nuevo Ritmo, (the first was a short-lived outfit founded by Gilberto Valdés in 1952) organized in the mid-50s by Cuban conguero Armando Sánchez in Chicago. Nuevo Ritmo’s personnel included other prominent Latin music names, such as Rudy Calzado and Pellín Rodríguez (vocals), Rolando Lozano (flute), René ‘El Latigo’ Hernández (piano) and Victor Venegas (bass). With Nuevo Ritmo, Pupi made the single ‘Tumba La Caña’, the New York recorded The Heart Of Cuba (1960) on GNP and performed at New York’s legendary Palladium Ballroom. Mongo Santamaría took over the reins of leadership after Sánchez’s departure, adding Jose ‘Chombo’ Silva (violin/tenor saxophone) and Willie Bobo (timbalero). Based on the USA west coast, Pupi performed on six Fantasy label recordings by Santamaría’s charanga (including one with pianist/leader Joe Loco) between 1961 and 1962, and wrote all the arrangements on Ay Que Rico! (late 1962) by the Benny Velarde Orchestra for the same company.

Pupi’s recording debut as band leader was 1963’s Salsa Nova on Tico Records; the title was one of first uses on record in New York of the term ‘salsa’. The album featured an impressive line-up, including Chombo (violin), ‘El Latigo’ Hernández (piano), Osvaldo ‘Chi Hua Hua’ Martínez (güiro), Carlos ‘Patato’ Valdez (conga), Totico and Elliot Romero (vocals), Pupi played violin, sang in the chorus and wrote all the arrangements and Tito Puente handled the musical direction. He switched to Remo Records and issued a string of six albums on the label from the mid- to late 60s; particularly outstanding was the Latin jam orientated Pupi En Venezuela (late 60s), which was reissued with three tracks from another Remo release Pupi: Jala Jala under the title Pupy [sic] Y Su Charanga on the UK Tumi label in 1993. ‘Superb, long descarga jams of classic folk numbers show how the flute/violin charanga orchestras had progressed from the elegant to the electrifying, ’ was DJ Tomek’s comment about Pupy Y Su Charanga in Jazz On CD, June 1993. Pupi’s second Remo release, Jala Jala Con Boog - A - Loo (mid-60s, aka Salsa), contained his self-penned ‘Salsa’; on another track, the guaracha ‘Cada Quien’, a vocalist describes him as ‘El Rey de la Salsa y la Sabor’ (The King of Sauce and Flavour).

He performed on the noteworthy descarga sets Pacheco His Flute And Latin Jam (1965) led by Johnny Pacheco and Descarga Cubana Vol. 1 (1966) led by Osvaldo ‘Chi Hua Hua’ Martínez (this album was coupled with its successor Latin Cuban Session Vol. 2, c.1967, on the Palladium label CD reissue Descarga Cubana (1991). A decade later he took part in the classics Cachao Y Su Descarga ’77 Vol. 1 (1976) and Dos (1977) by descarga pioneer Israel ‘Cachao’ López.

He signed with Fania Records and released a series of four albums between 1975 and 1980 on their Vaya Records subsidiary, starting with the highly regarded Pupi Y Su Charanga (1975), with Cuban flautist Don Gonzalo Fernández. In 1976 he performed on Fernández’s weighty Super Típica De Estrellas, virtually a summit meeting of most of New York’s leading charanga stars at the time. Pupi’s 1977 collaboration with Johnny Pacheco, Los Dos Mosqueteros - The Two Musketeers, included a remake of his composition ‘Salsa’.

Pupi became a member of the Fania All Stars, with whom he appeared in the movie Live In Africa (1974; UK title Salsa Madness, 1991), and made his UK debut in 1976. He played on three Fania All Stars’ albums between 1978 and 1980, including Habana Jam (1979), recorded in his home land of Cuba; plus their 1986 20th anniversary releases Live In Africa and Live In Japan 1976. In the second half of the 70s he regularly guested on Larry Harlow’s albums, including El Judio Maravilloso (1975), Con Mi Viejo Amigo (1976), El Jardinero Del Amor (1976), La Raza Latina (1977, nominated for a Grammy Award), and El Albino Divino (1978). Pupi Pa’ Bailar was his last album as a leader in 1980; and by that time the 70s New York charanga explosion had begun to run out of steam. Thereafter, his recording activity diminished to session and arranging work for other bands and artists, including Roberto Torres, Papaíto, Orquesta Sublime, Israel ‘Kantor’ Sardiñas, Rudy Calzado and Orquesta Son Primero.