José Manuel Cobles

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b. 1923, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Born into a repressed society, which affected even the music played by the masses, Cobles was obliged to suppress his musical inclinations for many years. Nevertheless,…
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Artist Biography by

b. 1923, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Born into a repressed society, which affected even the music played by the masses, Cobles was obliged to suppress his musical inclinations for many years. Nevertheless, he gradually developed an interest in and eventually a facility with music such as merengue, bolero, ranchera, mangulina, bachata and son. Several family members were musicians and he grew up surrounded by music but had to find work as a carpenter. He lived for a while in Manzanillo, where at the age of 24 he acquired his first guitar. He then settled in Santiago where he picked up a nickname, Puerto Plata, the name of his home town. Living in a tough section of the city, the barrio of La Joya, he was again surrounded by music. There, he met singer Daniel Rodriguez and guitarist Ernesto ‘Sanabria’ Almonte, with whom he formed the Trio Primavera. The group played often although they were not full-time musicians. The three decades from 1931 were lived under the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo whose personal musical preference was for a more sophisticated form of merengue, played on accordion or by orchestras rather than on guitar. The dictator’s dislike for the more primitive form permeated down through the country’s cultural strata and it was not until after his assassination in 1961 that the freer musical forms began to emerge.

Gradually, Cobles gained a reputation first within the republic. It took a long time, but eventually this reputation spread to other parts of the Caribbean. Since the mid-90s, Cobles has lived in the USA, in Colorado, and though performances there and with his touring band, which has included requinto players Edilio Paredes and Frank Mendez, he has offered a rare opportunity to hear a form of music that was barely affected by the commercialism that has altered much of the music of Latin America since midway through the twentieth century. His tours through into the mid-00s have taken in several music festivals across the USA. Among the songs in Cobles’ repertoire are ‘Dolorita’, ‘La Cotorrita De Rosa’ and ‘Los Piratas’. This music finally became available to a worldwide audience on his album debut, which was released under the Puerto Plata title, in his 84th year.