Antonio Fernandez Ortiz, better known as Nico Saquito (and also nicknamed "Mr. Cat") was at the heart of the Casa De La Trova acoustic music scene in Santiago, Cuba. A master of the acoustic trova style, Saquito (1913-1982) was one of Cuba's most beloved acoustic musicians, writing countless classics and helping solidify the acoustic trova style (and is considered by many to be the creator of the style called the guaracha. Early in his career, he passed through a series of minor bands before deciding to devote himself full-time to his music, sometime in the late 1930s. In the '40s, he worked extensively on radio, but his career really took of in the postwar years, when he teamed up with fellow acoustic guarachero Maximilliano ("Bimbi") Sanchez, as part of the Guaracheros De Oriente, a group that Saquito led for decades to come, despite constantly shifting personnel. His career as a bandleader was briefly interrupted in the 1950s when he toured outside of Cuba and then found himself unwelcome to return due to his left-wing political sympathies (he later returned to Cuba in 1960, after the fall of the Batista government...)
Saquito is one of those great master musicians whose sound improves as they get older -- although early recordings are now available on CD, many of his later records, notably those issued on World Circuit and the Corazon label, are also exquisite. As with many legendary Cuban artists, Saquito's work has been reissued on a hodgepodge of Latin American and European labels, doubtless with varying degrees of overlap and differences in sound quality, etc. The records listed below are just ones that were readily available to me in the USA.
Nico Saquito y Sus Guaracheros De Oriente "Alborada: 1946-1951" (Tumbao, 1998)
Early recordings by one of the legends of acoustic guajira music. The band includes Senen Suarez on lead guitar, and several Suarez compositions are featured (as well as over a dozen by Saquito). These early tracks lack the subtlety and economy of Saquito's more recent recordings, where his status as a master musician is gracefully asserted... nonetheless, this is a stunning disc. Recommended!
Nico Saquito "Guaracheros De Oriente - Adios Compay Gato" (Tumbao, 1999)
The Guaracheros ensemble in its full glory, recorded in 1954-55, with Nico Saquito playing maracas and leading the chorus (though he does not sing lead on these recordings). Most of the songs were written either by Saquito or by Miguel Matamoros; one bolero by Sindo Garay is also included. Every track on here is melodically bright and appealling -- the word "sprightly" comes to mind -- and this is certainly some of the most accessible old-style Cuban music you're likely to come across anytime soon. Very nice stuff -- highly recommended!
Nico Saquito "Goodbye, Mr. Cat" (EGREM/World Circuit, 1982)
These later recordings, with Saquito fronting the Quarteto Patria and El Duo Cubano, aren't as fiery as his stuff from the 'Fifties, but they also aren't overly formalized or stuffy. It's gentle, masterfully swinging material, with the same sort of old-timer grace as the many Buena Vista Social Club-related albums that came our way a decade and a half later. For a long time, this was the only Nico Saquito record that was readily available to folks in Europe and the United States; now that there's more to choose from, this disc may have lost a little of its lustre, but it's still pretty sweet. Recommended!
Nico Saquito "Nico Saquito En La Bodeguita Del Medio" (EGREM, 2002)
Nico Saquito "Nico Saquito Al Bate" (EGREM, 2000)
The same as the 1993 Good Bye, Mr. Cat album listed above.
Nico Saquito "Cuidadito Compay Gallo" (Orfeon, 2000)
Nico Saquito "Grandes Voces De Cuba" (Orfeon, 2002)
Nico Saquito "Los Que Son Y No Son" (2005)
Nico Saquito "Maria Cristina" (Musart, 2007)
Other Cuban Artists
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