Artist Essentials

Roberto Roena

Roberto Roena Essentials Cover

Roberto Roena was a true showman when he performed with his band, Apollo Sound. He displayed a variety of colorful hair styles and was even known to have played bongos in his underwear. He was so dynamic during his performances, that he would do things like fly around Madison Square Garden wearing a harness and being the first to include go-go dancers in his act. More importantly, he was an accomplished bongocero and dancer who was featured in Fania All Stars concerts and movies, dancing with an elegance that excited audiences around the world. When Roberto was nine years old, his family moved from his native, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and settled into a section of Santurce, Puerto Rico. While in Santurce, Roberto and his brother Cuqui would put on shows where they focused on dancing and refining their routines. It eventually led to weekly performances on the television program La Taberna India. During one of the broadcasts, percussionist/bandleader Rafael Cortijo saw Roena in action and took him under his wing. Rafael showed him how to play bongos and noticed how naturally Roberto adapted to the instrument so vital to any orchestra. He later became the leader of his own band, Roberto Roena y Su Apollo Sound, one of the most popular bands from Puerto Rico, where Latin bands are ubiquitous. Roena has also been a long-time member of the famed Fania All Stars orchestra where he enjoyed worldwide success during the ’70s. Roberto suffered a massive heart attack in Puerto Rico and was flown to New York City for surgery to repair a heart valve, but complications developed, and he died on September 23, 2021. Among his many achievements Roberto Roena was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.  —Bobby Marin