PA’ BRAVO YO JUSTO BETANCOURT A true sonero is defined by the style of phrasing and improvization that sets him or her apart from everyone else. That is a proper description for Matancero Justo Betancourt, who was singing by the age of 11 as a member of a group Los Latinos that later became the Conjunto Club in Havana, Cuba. At 12, Betancourt already had recorded four tracks accompanied by his uncle Carlos Querol, which included a track he would later re-record titled Leguleya No.
Amongst his early musical achievements in Cuba Justo recorded a rare 45 RPM for Pacho Alonso Manono backed on the B-side by Serenata A Haiti that appeared on the GEMA label. Justo Betancourt grew up to become one of the unique voices of the sonero era of the 1970s when being a singer was not enough. After his move to Puerto Rico circa 1970 he formed the band Conjunto Borincuba, which he directed for five years (1973-1978) but later left the band and moved away from the island for 11 years due to personal problems. His only recording during that time was his last project for the Fania label— Leguleya No (one of his first recorded songs as a pre-teen).
Justo’s next recording would occur in 1990 but his lustrous career has included stints and recordings with Orlando Marín, Johnny Pacheco, Mongo Santamaría, La Sonora Matancera (five years), Eddie Palmieri, Ray Barretto and endless coro work for the best of the best at Fania. (By the way Betancourt was the first vocalist to sign with Fania in 1968 and was a member of the Fania All Stars.) As a DJ, music collector and fan, “Pa’ Bravo Yo” was my first Betancourt LP as it was for many back in 1970s. On this recording, produced by Larry Harlow, all the arrangements were those of Javier Vazquez, who also composed the numbers “Cataño” and “Psicología” . Vazquez would handle many charts for Justo throughout his career and on this recording brought together a who’s who of musicians that included Victor Paz, Roberto Roena, Chino Pozo, Jose Rodríguez, Alfredo Rodríguez, Victor Venegas, Andy Gonzalez, Jerry Gonzalez, Nicky Marrero, Emilio Arazena, Charlie Santiago and the composer of “Pa’ Bravo Yo” Ismael Miranda, who played the maracas. Two of the best, Yayo El Indio and Adalberto Santiago, were on coro along with Antar Daly, who also contributed two compositions to the recording. This gem opens up with the title track that is by far Justo’s most recognizable hit in any part of the world with the fantastic solo trumpet work of Victor Paz .
Again the true genius of Justo’s vocal talent stand out on the boleros “Psicología” and “Adios Felicidad” as well as the Jose Rodríguez composition “Guajira Sentimental”, a tribute to Betancourt’s beloved Cuba with a sweet tres solo by Charlie Tribilín Rodríguez (who went on to his own solo career in the 1980’s that also included recordings with vocalist Rey Reyes). “Caracas Tiene Su Guaguancó” (Antar Daly) also was considered a tribute to Venezuela that would become a huge supporter of Justo’s tours in the 1980’s. “Oyeme Cantar” was another big favorite of the dancers in the 1970s with the trombone fade out by none other than Jose Rodríguez (Cachao, La Perfecta, Libre, Fania All Star).
Today these are classics for a new generation of fans with a newly re-mastered sound—and it’s a great place to start to become a Justo Betancourt fan.
Credits: Victor Paz – Trumpet Emilio Arazena – Trumpet Jose Rodríguez – Trombone Andy Gonzalez – Bass Victor Venegas – Bass Jerry Gonzalez – Congas Nick Marrero – Timbales Charlie Santiago – Timbales Roberto Roena – Bongo Chino Pozo – Bongo Harry Viggiano – Tres Charlie Rodríguez – Tres Alfredito Rodríguez – Piano Ismael Miranda – Maracas Chorus – Adalberto Santiago, Antar Daly, Yayo “El Indio” Producer- Larry Harlow Engineers – Alan Manger and Jon Fausty Recorded and Mixed at – Good Vibrations Sound Studio, New York City Arrangements – Javier Vazquez Original Album Photo – Jan Blom Original Album Design – Stu Leuthner Written by Nelson Rodríguez