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Johnny Escobedo - lead vocals, guitar

Johnny Escobedo, el guajiro, was born in Jiguaní, Cuba, which is located in the eastern side of the island where the ‘son’ originated.  Johnny has been singing all his life.  He remembers serenading a girl using taburetes (straight back chairs of hide) instead of congas, at the age of five.  He is influenced and inspired

YouTube Video

by his uncle Juancito Rabionet, a very popular troubadour in Jiguaní, and his mother, Dora Isis, who loves to sing.  Even when the family moved to New York, Isis could be heard singing her heart out as she hung the wash out to dry.  Her sweet song echoed through the inner courtyards of the old tenement building.  Other inspiration comes from memories of life in Jiguaní when Johnny would play in the old Spanish fort on the hill, from where you can see all of Jiguaní below -- the Sierra Maestra to the south, and to the west and north, the plains. There are also fond memories of swimming in the river behind his abuela’s house with his cousin Felix and riding back to town on uncle Chan’s palomino.

El guajiro’s musical influence also comes from his parents playing the records of Beny Moré, Orquesta Aragón, La Sonora Matancera, Sarita Montiel, Los Chavales de España, Antonio Molina… and others of that generation. 

Johnny collaborated with Norman Downing in writing and recording the soundtrack to the feature length independent motion picture, Rum and Coke. 

Through the years, Johnny has sung and played with many musical groups of various genres. In the San Francisco Bay Area he has played with Salsa 24, Surco Nuevo (a Puerto Rican folkloric group), and Iré (a Cuban Son group). Recently he has been lured back to his guajiro roots.  This new trio allows him to express himself naturally.  Each line is delivered with raw emotion and the listener is empowered to relax and enjoy.

Norman Downing - percussion, vocals

Fernando Ortíz, the first great Cuban folklorist, described Cuba's musical innovations as arising from the interplay ('transculturation') between African slaves settled on large sugar plantations and Spaniards. The African slaves and their descendants made many percussion instruments and preserved rhythms they had known in their homeland-  The most important instruments were the drums, of which there were originally about fifty different types; today only the bongos, congas and batá drums are regularly seen (the timbales are descended from kettle drums in Spanish military bands). Also important are the claves, two short hardwood batons, and the cajón, a wooden box, originally made from crates. Claves are still used often, and cajons (cajones) were used widely during periods when the drum was banned. 

Norm brings these Cuban percussion instruments to life for El Guajiro. Norm has played in the San Francisco Bay Area for the last 30 or so years with local bands such as Cubanacan, Orquesta Soroa, Ire, and Palenque.

Roberto 'Bo' Razon - tres cubano, vocals

Among the different hats - writer, director/producer, composer/arranger/performer,educator - Bo Razon has worn, it is perhaps that of multi-instrumentalist that he dons so well and so often. One of the several ethnic lutes he plays is the Tres Cubano, the small guitar typically played in Cuban Son music. This core instrument of Cuban folklore and traditional rural music eventually was adapted to more urban and contemporary Cuban genres.  

Bo started playing the Tres over two decades ago in the San Francisco Bay Area, at a time when there were but a few “treseros”(tres players). He was the original “tresero” of Conjunto Cespedes, the Bay Area’s premier Son group in the 80‘s. In the 90’s he went to Cuba to study and research its traditional music. Among Latin music giants and luminaries Bo has played with are Cuban drum master Francisco Aguabella, John Santos, Karl Perazzo, Michael Spiro, Jesus Diaz, Rebecca Mauleon, and others. 

Over the last three decades, Bo has played and collaborated with many of the Bay Area’s finest musicians across a wide spectrum of musical styles and genres. He has shared the stage with artists as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nona Hendryx, General Public, Sonny Okosuns, Ornette Coleman, Airto & Flora Purim, and more. Bo has also performed as percussionist with Patti Austin, Julia Fordham, Jim Chapell, Pauline Wilson, among others, and has performed extensively throughout Asia and Europe in music festivals and performance venues. 
The video clip shows Bo playing a Tres solo with Conjunto Kalabari, an SF-based Salsa group with Karl Perazzo, Bill Ortiz, Jeff Cressman (current Santana band members), world-renowned percussionist Michael Spiro and other fine musicians from the Bay Area. 

Ricardo 'Richie' Razon - bass 

I've felt tumbao in my bones since my brother told me our great-grandma came off a banana boat from Cuba. Around the same time, he introduced me to son cubano and the intricacies of clave and bass patterns-  I've been 'avoiding the downbeat' ever since. I'm truly honored to have been invited to perform and record with this incredible group of musicians. I think it was Cachao (Cachao - Ahora Si) who said: 'bass is the soul of music'. For me, this is a unique opportunity to learn it. - R  
(Johhny's Note: Rich Razon wears many hats-  he set up the recording sessions in his studio, engineered the tracks on this website and all throughout, makes sure everyone is well fed. He's a very competent recording engineer, bass player, web guru and chef, not a combination you see often. Rich is often out of town but every chance he gets he sits in with us on bass. This adds another dimension to our sound  and keeps things fresh with the variety. You've heard of the fifth Beatle, well, Rich is the fourth guajiro! - J.E.)

Rare vid of Razon brothers playing together at La Vic, San Francisco..
Subpages (1): Tres Cubano