Born on 5th May 1933 and christened Luis Manuel Mirabal Vazquez, he is known professionally as Guajiro a playful term best translated as country bumpkin or rustic. It was Tito Gómez who gave it to me Guajiro explains. When I was playing in the Riverside Orchestra in 1960, he said Are you from round here, in Havana? I said No, from a village in the province of Havana. Ah, so youre a Guajiro! And ever since then Ive been Guajiro.
His father was director of the local municipal band of Melena del Sur, a small town outside of the capital, so young Luis Manuel was immersed in music from an early age, learning at his father's knee and listening to his sister studying singing & piano. He satisfied his curiosity by trying out a few instruments in the band, including the clarinet & saxophone, before settling on the trumpet at eleven years of age. The trumpet is an instrument that carries a great deal of prestige and is particularly important within Cuban music, and Guajiro would develop a style of playing that is distinctly Cuban. To his fathers delight he took to it prodigiously quickly, turning professional a mere seven years later with the Conjunto Universal, a traditional Cuban band playing in small venues around the city.
By 1953 he was honing his talents with the jazz band "Swing Casino, one of the many North American style bands that flourished on the island when it was still a playground for rich Americans, followed by the "Orquesta Casino Parisien" in the Hotel Nacional. Restless and seeking a change, he founded the Conjunto Rumbavana in 1956, an outfit playing Cuban son, guaracha and mambo at casinos, nightclubs and carnivals all over Cuba and ultimately beyond. Success came quickly: with the star vocalists Lino Borges and Raúl Planas, Rumbavana was a major band which catapulted several of its number into stardom.
Guajiro left just before the group embarked on a second international phase to take up his first residency with the Riverside Orchestra at the renowned Tropicana Club in 1960. In 1967 Guajiro would begin another long term musical association, as a founding member of the groundbreaking Orquesta Cubana de Música Moderna and remained with them for twenty three years. Led by the saxophonist Armando Romeu, Música Moderna was the launch pad for several major Cuban jazz figures, including percussionist Guillermo Barreto, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, Paquito DRivera on horns, Juan-Pablo Torres on trombone and the pianists Gonzalo Rubalcalba and Chucho Valdés. The group experimented successfully with musical forms that embraced both classical and traditional ideals, and featured heavily in Cuban cinema soundtracks from the late 60s to the mid 70s, during which time Guajiro also toured independently with Oscar de Leon and José Feliciano. In 1973, under the leadership of Demetrio Muñiz, Guajiro returned to what would become his home from home, the Tropicana. For the next 30 years, with good friend Luis Alemañy at his side, Guajiro would remain part of the Tropicana orchestra, until his busy international touring schedule would force him to retire his position in 2003.
With a hand-picked cast of over thirty of Cubas greatest musicians, the historic Estrellas De Areito descarga sessions from 1979 featured Guajiro; these recordings soon achieved legendary status amongst musicians and connoisseurs alike, and would be released internationally by World Circuit in 1998. Widely regarded as a musicians musician, Guajiros place in the annals of Cuban music is now very much assured.
Less well known perhaps is the fact that Guajiro is a senior member of both the National Revolutionary Militias ceremonial band and the General Staff band of the Cuban army. He has played over the years in the welcome ceremonies for numerous heads of state, gracing the tarmac of Havanas airport with ear-splitting fanfares. Hes also an active teacher, often giving his expertise for free to deserving students. Its a job that I do with no interest in the money, but with the interest of helping them study. Among his students were Yaure Muñiz, who appears on Guajiros solo album, and Miguel De La Hoz, who appears on the latest release by Guajiros fellow Buena Vista colleague Omara Portuondo. These pursuits, together with his considerable dedication to his art, have resulted in him being lauded within Cuba and beyond for his contribution to Cuban music, including an award from the UNEAC (Union of Writers & Artists in Cuba). Recently he even performed in Washington for the Diplomatic Mission of the United Nations.
Guajiros a man of few words when it comes to music, preferring in true brass players fashion to let his trumpet speak for itself. He has an unshakeable belief in the relevance and vitality of Cubas rich musical heritage, and while he finds the Buena Vistas resurgence gratifying he doesnt appear particularly surprised or phased by the bands astronomic success. Music for me has always been Cuban music, not the music of today, but the old styles, and Ive always dedicated myself to that, playing what I have to play. I love Cuban music and it feels really good making it these days with the Buena Vista. I do what I can, and each member does what they can. He clearly takes nothing for granted, and fully appreciates how lucky they have been. Its great. Weve been playing together for years, and this Buena Vista project has brought us Omara, Cachaíto, Ibrahim and myself - some great moments of truth. Our relationship is very, very good.
The debut solo album from Guajiro is a tribute to one of the great figures in Cuban music, Arsenio Rodríguez, featuring many of Guajiros colleagues from the various Buena Vista projects. All of the tracks were written by or associated with Arsenio, the songs are powerful, driving, trumpet led conjunto music from the 1940s and 50s. As a result Guajiro has always felt very much at home with his music. When Arsenio was famous I was still living in my village in Melena, but we never got to play together, nothing like that, although he was a great inspiration he laments. Guajiro got his just reward when Buena Vista Social Club Presents Manuel Guajiro Mirabal was nominated for both a Latin GRAMMY and a GRAMMY.
Guajiros schedule these days is hectic by any standards. Now, as part of an all-star Cuban touring group also featuring Orlando Cachaíto López, Aguajé Ramos and Manuel Galbán, Guajiro is busier than ever, bringing audiences the finest in Cuban music. When back home in Havana he always takes the trouble to listen to the young talent, whether they are playing in the limelight or simply under a tree. He claims he doesnt really mind the travelling, always laughing and joking with the crowd (Im still a simple person, he insists). And for a man whose experience has been so extensive jazz, swing, traditional, experimental the future holds no bounds.