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Ismael Rivera MAELO Ismael Rivera is probably my favorite of all the magnificent Afro-Caribbean artists of the last 40 years. Known to all as “The Great Sonero”, this spoiled child from Calma Street –which now bears his name– was the most gifted sonero of his generation.
His dexterity with rhythmic phrasing earned him fans throughout the Spanish-speaking world, which idolizes him. On this album, titled “Maelo, el Sonero Mayor,” Ismael Rivera displays his vast talent for Caribbean rhythms, meandering through themes such as the guaracha, the bomba, and the bolero with the perfect execution he was known for. This extended album begins with the song “Me tienes loco,” written by his good friend and musical colleague Javier Vázquez.
In the guaracha, interpreted in the unique style established as the great singer’s standard, he sings to his muse, asking her to “break the coconut” because “little mama, you’re driving me crazy.” This number encapsulates the skill and execution that earned the singer his famous nickname. With rhythm, elegance, and tenderness, Ismael turned a simple song into a jukebox favorite throughout the Afro-Caribbean basin. It is a definitive example of its style, and of how a song can become a classic. “Dueña de mi inspiración,” penned by boricua composer Plácido Acevedo, is one of my favorite Ismael numbers. In this piece, Maelo sings of the distance between him and his lover.
In the background echoes the chorus, “Wretched distance, how you torture me.” Searching for “the master of his love” against the backdrop of tortuous longing and distance, Ismael radiates talent, singing in unison with the music. Pure Maelo in style and presentation, this is another classic that is still celebrated daily by lovers of his music. “Cachita,” written by master composer Rafael Hernández, is sung in Rivera’s unparalleled style – a “salsified” version of the famed guaracha.
Once again, Maelo demonstrates his adept and charming musical style. A special addition to the album is the bolero number “Si no te veo más,” one of the 17 bolero songs Ismael performed during his extraordinary career. This particular song merits special attention. Ismael sings with the same subtlety and rhythm evident throughout his repertoire. His execution demonstrates his talent for imbuing a song with emotion and flavor, incontrovertible proof of his singular style, which turned him into a icon of Caribbean musical interpretation. On this album, Maelo is accompanied by his band, the famous Cachimbos: his good friend Rigo Malcom on the timbales, Víctor Venegas on the bass, José Luis González on the conga, Víctor González on the bongos, Mario Hernández on the tres, Harry Aguiar on the trombone, Manolín González on the tenor saxophone, Héctor “Bomberito” Zarzuela on trumpet, Javier Vázquez on the piano, and Ismael himself on the maracas, güiro, and clave. Tito Allen, Ismael Quintana, Héctor Lavoe, Néstor Sánchez, and Adalberto Santiago back the “Great Sonero” up in the chorus.
As was the custom in the majority of Ismael’s productions, the arrangements and musical direction were left in the able hands of Javier Vázquez, the indisputable architect of the sound that highlighted Rivera’s rhythmic essence. “Maelo, el Sonero Mayor” is a perfect example of the dexterity of this magnificent sonero who, over the years, has become a legend throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Ismael’s style has been preserved on this album for those who have not had the opportunity to enjoy his live performances. But even more than that, “Maelo, el Sonero Mayor” brings back to life the image captured in the minds of all who fell in love with this humble, special boricua who went down in history as “The Great Sonero.” “May my people never lose the clave.”
Musicians: Carlos Malcon (Rico) – Timbales and Quinto on B1 Victor Venegas – Bass Jose Luis Gonzalez – Conga Victor Gonzalez – Bongo Mario Hernandez – Tres (Guitar) Harry Aguiar – Trombone Manolin Gonzalez – Alto Sax Hector Zarzuela – Trumpet Javier Vazquez – Piano Ismael Rivera – Maracas, Guiro, Clave Chorus Hector Lavoe, Adalberto Santiago, Nelson Sanchez, Tito Allen Arrangements and Musical Director: Javier Vazquez Recording Director: Ismael Rivera Recording Engineer: Irv Greenbaum Art Director: Tony Green Album Design: Ron Levine Photography: Lee Marshall Produced by: Ismael Rivera
Written by Juan Moreno Velázquez