Arsenio Rodríguez was a cuban musician, composer, and bandleader.
His unique style changed the face of latin dance music and lead to what would eventually become known as salsa.
He is often referred to as the father of the Conjunto, an instumental technique that introduced the conga drum, which was previously received as a taboo because of its African origin.
Nonetheless, Arsenio still emphasised afro-cuban, especially Congolese, elements in his compositions.
A descendent of Congolese slaves, Arsenio was born in Mantanzas, Cuba, in 1911.
Arsenio was sadly blinded at the age of 7 after being kicked by a horse. However, this did not stop him from delving into musical instruments.
From a young age, Arsenio played bass, afro-cuban drums & percussion, and tres – which later became his key instrument.
In the 1930’s, the Son Cubano genre of music was generally separated from its African roots. However, Arsenio changed this in the 40s when he added the conga drum to his Cubano son songs, leading to the birth of the conjunto genre.
During this period, he was credited (along with some of his bandmates) with developing the mambo rhythm. Another important innovation was the bands inclusion of the guaguanco to the cuban dance format.
The guaganco is an afro-cuban style traditionally performed by voices and percussion. Arsenio mixed the guaganco to the son Cubano.
This afro Cubanizations of the son are among Arsenio’s most important contributions to cuban music.
Arsenio moved to New York in 1953. He didn’t have the same level of success in New York like he had in Cuba, but nonetheless he released a well received album ‘Sabroso y Caliente’.
The 1940’s was a major period in Arsenio’s career and the history of the cubano son genre. This period was also when he recorded most of his famous compositions such as ‘La yuca de Catalina’ and ‘La Vida es un Sueñ’.
In the late 50’s, Arension experimented more with his compositions. His recordings included chants from ‘Palo Congo’, an afro-cuban religion of Congolese origin, and he incorporated jazz into his songs.
Towards the ending of his musical career, he created a style he called ‘swing son’.
His last album was released in 1968.
Arsenio passed away in 1970 in Los Angeles. As a musician, composer, performer and musical experimenter, Arsenio is regarded as one of the giants of Cuban music.
He went on to influence many Cuban musicians that came after him, while also influencing American musicians.