Orquesta de Antonio María Romeu, founded in 1910, was one of the first charanga francesas. (Source: Wikipedia)

Cuban Charanga Flutes


The five-key wooden transverse flute, which in the 1950s and 1960s was dubbed the "charanga flute."

During the 19th century, the transverse flute underwent many changes, with as many as eight keys being added to assist the musician in mastering the requirements of the concert orchestra and the new music that was being developed. In 1847, Boehm introduced the first of the modern full-key woodwind instruments. The five-key flute was divided into four sections to permit better intonation and easier tone production in the upper range.

The five-key instrument requires the musician to play fork fingered notes that restrict the range and sound of the instrument. So, when you hear the five-key flute generally, you may note an almost dry sound with the range of musical notes less numerous than those that can be played on the modern metal flute. For the musician of this classical instrument, tone is of the essence. There is a lot of soul required by the musician to achieve the right sound.

From the early part of the 20th century through the early 1960s, Cuba produced a long list of capable charanga flute players. Some were better than others. Some were able to produce exotic tones and some developed exceptional fingering techniques. Each one of these musicians had or has a unique style.

In the late 1930s, the music of the charanga changed and the flautist was able to move from a supporting role to a more prominent one that called on the musician to provide improvisational skills. As new recording techniques were developed, the charanga orchestration was extended to allow not only the piano an improvised solo, but also the flute and even the violin.

A few five-key flautists who were prominent through the 1970s and into the 1980s:

Jose "Rolando" Lozano - In 1953 he was on the first RCA Victor recordings made with Orquesta Arag�n de Cuba. He left the band in 1955 and came to the United States where he was a founding member of Orquesta Nuevo Ritmo de Cuba (1959). He brought his classical instrument into the world of jazz with recordings made with Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, the Tito Puente Orchestra, the George Shearing Quintet and Francisco Aguabella. In 1979, he organized a charanga band that made one recording.

Jose Antonio Fajardo - He began his musical career playing the five-key flute in the 1940s with Paulina Alvarez and Arca�o y Sus Maravillas. Fajardo started his first band in 1949 and by the early 1950s most of the members of Arca�o's organization were playing with him. Fajardo, like Lozano, is sure-fingered and capable of moving from charanga music to Cuban jazz to jazz. He can easily play the difficult low notes of the ancient flute and achieve a smooth sound when playing the higher range. Fajardo y Sus Estrellas Cubanas recorded on the Cuban Panart label. He recorded numerous other LPs on Coco, Fania, and Columbia (Sony). He can be heard with Charanga de la 4, Hector Rivera (1961), and some SAR all-star releases (1979-81). He has not recorded since the mid-1980s although he occasionally makes appearances in New York and Miami.

Albert Cruz (Pancho El Bravo) - Known for his quick fingering and sharp tonal guajeos, Pancho El Bravo was definitely one of the top musicians in the charanga music scene. He played with Orquesta Neno Gonzalez, which had been organized in the mid-1930s and which rivaled Orquesta Arag�n for smoothness and delivery. Pancho El Bravo started his own charanga band around 1959 and became very popular both in Cuba and the USA during the 1960s Pachanga craze. His band is still in existence, although he has been retired since 1985.

Joaquin Oliveros - A student of the late Antonio Arca�o, Oliveros is a master of the five-key conical flute. He started out with Orquesta Sensacion in 1960 when he was only 18. He replaced another exceptional classical flute player, Juan Pablo Miranda (Panart releases: Cuban Jam Sessions). Oliveros is at home with classical music, with charanga music and with jazz. He is currently playing with Orquesta Charanga T�pica Rubalcaba (headed by father of jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba). He can be heard on the recent recording Danzones - Orquesta Neno Gonzalez, which was released on CD in 1994. He may well be one of the best.

Eddie Zervigon - One of the young exiled Cubans who was able to organize (with his brothers) and maintain a successful charanga band in New York City for more than 30 years. Zervigon is an exceptional flute player. Orquesta Broadway was organized in 1961 and has remained a staple in New York despite lean periods when charanga was not in vogue (mid 1960s through the early 1970s and 1984 through the present). He has recorded on the SAR label with its all-stars and with a number of other top New York bands. Zervigon manages the tone and fingering with extreme grace.

Antonio Antonio Arca�o - Shortly before his death in Havana in 1993, in a discussion with my brother, Arca�o insisted that he "was not a very good flautist." If he wasn't, he certainly left a legacy. His styling and short improvisational riffs were among the first to be recorded with a modern charanga band. His band with, among others, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Orestes Lopez, Felix Reyna, and Enrique Jorrin produced innovations and styles that still have an impact on modern Cuban music. He did not record much after 1944. He directed a number of bands in Cuba in the late 1980s.

There are dozens of other musicians who play the charanga flute including Richard Egues (Orquesta Arag�n and Orquesta Richard Egues) who switched to the Boehm system metal flute in the late 1960s, Johnny Pacheco, Gustavo Cruz (Charanga America), George Castro (Eddie Palmieri and Orquesta T�pica Ideal), Juan Pablo Miranda (Orquesta Sensacion), Eloy Martinez (Orquesta Melodias del 40) and Miguel O'Farrill (Orquesta Enrique Jorrin).

Gilberto Vald�s led a charanga band in the 1940s and early 1950s and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie in the 1950s. Gonzalo Fernandez played with Rosendo Ruiz y su Orquesta in 1956, and, after a long stint in Europe, reappeared in New York recording with his own Orquesta Super T�pica, a studio band, and Pupi Legaretta y Pacheco in the 1970s. Pupi Legaretta plays both violin and the five-key flute and can be heard with his own band (1960s and 1970s releases). Another smooth classical wood flute player was Julio Guerra who was a backup to Fajardo, appeared with Orquesta Estrellas Cubanas through the mid-1960s and with Mongo Santamaria on the 1960 release Our Man in Havana.

Article by David A. P�rez
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