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MUSIC - CUBA

Cuban 'king of congas' dies at 77

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Cuba's most famous percussionist Tata Guines, who became a legend playing the conga, a tall and narrow drum brought to Cuba by African slaves, died on Monday in Havana. He was 77.

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HAVANA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - "King of the Congas" Tata Guines,
Cuba's most famous percussionist who shared the stage with
Josephine Baker and Frank Sinatra half a century ago, died on
Monday in Havana. He was 77.


Cuban state media reported that Guines, whose real name was
Federico Aristides Soto, died of a kidney infection.


He was born in a poor black neighborhood in the town of
Guines, just east of Havana, and made his first bongo drums
from sausage and condensed milk cans.


Guines became a legend playing the conga, a tall and narrow
drum of Congolese origin brought to Cuba by African slaves. He
performed with the top names in Cuban music like Arsenio
Rodriguez, Chano Pozo, Bebo Valdes and Israel "Cachao" Lopez.


In 1957, Guines moved to New York where he jammed with jazz
greats Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson and Miles Davis at
Birdland.


Guines stunned audiences with his driving Afro-Cuban beat
by playing five congas and singing at the Waldorf Astoria hotel
in a solo performance that put percussion at center stage.


Guines enjoyed celebrity and owned his own car, but never
got used to life in the United State due to racial segregation,
he said in an interview published last year.


"Fame did not extend beyond the stage. Once you left the
stage, it was like the signs said: 'Whites only,'" he said.


Guines returned to Cuba in 1959 soon after Fidel Castro
came to power in a leftist revolution that he helped fund with
contributions from his earnings as a musician.


Like other Cuban musicians who returned to fame late in
life through the Buena Vista Social Club recording, Guines
enjoyed renewed success in 2004 playing congas on the Latin
Grammy-winning "Lagrimas Negras" (Black Tears) by pianist Bebo
Valdes and Spanish Flamenco singer Diego El Cigala.

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