Manuel Galban, Cuban Guitarist, Has Died

Jul 8, 2011
Originally published on July 9, 2011 12:48 pm

Manuel Galbán, a man who helped shape the sound of modern Cuban music, died Thursday of a heart attack in Havana. He was 80 years old.

Galbán played guitar on the 1997 album Buena Vista Social Club, a collaboration between traditional Cuban musicians and American guitarist and composer Ry Cooder. But Galbán's popularity in his home country long preceded that album and resulting documentary.

He joined the innovative group Los Zafiros in the 1960s. They blended doo-wop with calypso, bossa nova and traditional Cuban styles.

Galbán traveled the world leading Cuba's national music ensemble and his own successful group. After his career was revived by the Buena Vista Social Club, he recorded a Grammy-winning album called Mambo Sinuendo with Cooder, who told NPR what made Galbán special in a 2003 interview:

"Nobody — but nobody — in Cuba has played guitar like this. He's strictly a renegade. It's just his — what can I say? It's in his hands."

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