After abandoning early thoughts of either becoming a lawyer (his father's wishes) or boxer, singer Miguelito Valdés capitalized on his natural musical talent and rose to prominence as one of Cuba's most popular vocalists. Steeped in the island's native son and rhumba rhythms, Valdés spent the latter half of the '30s holding sway over Havana's nightclubbing throngs and touring various Latin American countries with Orquesta Casino de la Playa. The group also featured such up-and-coming talent as the young Perez Prado, renowned pianist/arranger Anselmo Sacasas, and vocalist Cascarita. After his fruitful stay with the band, Valdés, like Prado and many of his contemporaries, migrated to New York to pursue an international career. Stints with Xavier Cugat and Machito, not to mention several early solo dates, led to fame in the '40s and '50s. This fine Harlequin disc spotlights Valdés' 1938-1940 Cuban recordings with the La Playa Orchestra. There's no version of "Babalu" to be found (Valdés was the first to popularize the song), but the collection does include 21 solid cuts by Valdés and the orchestra. Along with Tumbao's equally rewarding Valdés-Casino release, this disc is a must for fans of vintage Cuban music.
by Stephen Cook