They were the first group, and remain the best, to play in the old-style son line-up: tres, guitar, trumpet, bongo, güiro and vocals--as during the great days of the 1920s and '30s. They have been the pioneers in reviving this style for new generations and re-introducing it into the Cuban mainstream. They named themselves after the mountain range in the eastern part of Cuba as a tribute to the birthplace of son. Sierra Maestra first performed in 1976 at the University of Havana where the group members all studied. Their aim, then as now, was to revive and re-explore this popular Cuban music style of the 1920s which had become forgotten.
The original line-up mentioned above was slightly augmented with extra percussion (congas and maracas) and the replacement of the old marimbula with electric bass. Some of the guaracha rhythms were speeded up to allow for the move away from the slow close pair dancing of the '20s. This revival of son with a modern stamp was a sensation for the new generation of Cubans, and Sierra Maestra quickly became popular through playing the annual festivals at the universities around the island of Cuba. They won the first prize in each of their first 3 years - '76, '77 and '78.
They were also appearing regularly on national TV. In 1978, they were asked to represent Cuba at the "Festival Mundial de la Juventud y los Estudiantes" in Havana. In 1979, they took 4th place at the televised "Carifesta" Caribbean competition, also in Havana. In 1981 their first record, "Sierra Maestra llegó con el guanajo relleno", received a silver disc, a composite award for high sales, general popularity and critical reception. They also won individual prizes for the best recording, most popular song and the highest record sales.
1981 was also the year of their first foreign tour -- to Nicaragua. They recorded their second LP, "Y Son Asi", in 1982 and won the Girasol prize for being the most popular group of the year. They toured Angola and Nicaragua that year. In 1983 they won the "Benny More" dance music prize at the festival of the same name and took part in the IV Song Festival held in Helsinki. They then travelled to Sweden and France and to the International Film Festival in Spain (where they have often played over the years).
Also in 1983, they recorded the soundtrack to the Cuban TV series "Las Impuras"; (more recently their song "A Los Rumberos de Belen" was used by Robert Redford for his film "The Milagro Beanfield War"). Since then Sierra Maestra have maintained a full international touring and recording career, around Europe, Africa and Asia. In 1994 during their European tour, they recorded "Dundunbanza" for World Circuit Records in London, an extremely stylish cocktail of Arsenio Rodriguez tunes and other favourites. Sierra Maestra now have worldwide distribution for their music. One of Cuba's great musical secrets is now out! Read more on Last.fm.
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