Indications on How to use the Discography

Cuba Canta

Encyclopedic Discography of Cuban Music 1925-1960

Cristóbal Díaz-Ayala

The Discography is organized in alphabetical order by performer. A performer can be a singer, a soloist or a group of musicians, from a duo to a symphony orchestra. The discography includes:

  1. Music recorded by Cuban performers, inside or outside of Cuba, regardless of whether the composer is Cuban, and whether or not in the case of singers or soloists, they are accompanied by Cuban musicians.
  2. Music written by Cuban composers, regardless of whether it is recorded by Cubans or foreigners, inside or outside of Cuba.
  3. Music recorded in Cuba by non-Cubans or recordings of non-Cuban music.

With such a wide area to cover, logically, in the case of (b), it is impossible to encompass everything that has been recorded worldwide by Cuban composers, but we try and give an idea, above all, in Latin America, of the presence of Cuban music in other countries. In Volume I of this discography, we cover the first cylinders recorded by a Cuban artist in 1898, to the last discs recorded in 78rpm by the acoustic system. We have definite dates for the beginning and end of that period, because the change over to a electric system was imprinted into the master of each disc, and this happened almost simultaneously in the fall of 1925. We had thought of covering only 78 recordings from that period until they were phased out at the end of fifties by LPs. But there is no precise demarkation date, as was the case in the first phase. When the 33rpm LP phase begins, which herein we will denote as 33", launched by Columbia Records, and shortly after Victor markets the 45rpm disc (herein 45"), three different formats are in use simultaneously. In fact, at the beginning, at least with popular music, production focussed on compilations of 78s of a given artist. At first eight 78s could be placed on a 10" LP; later, when the 12" LP became widespread, twelve or more numbers would be included on each LP. But as time went on, and original recording techniques were being replaced (masters in wax being done instead on magnetic tape), then the process is inverted. Eight or twelve (or more) numbers are recorded by a given performer, which were edited onto an LP. But then, some or all of the songs were also released on 78. It would have been ideal to cover only the original 78s, that is, recordings individually executed without any predetermined notion of turning them into LPs. But, unfortunately, there isn't enough information to be able to make such a neat separation; furthermore, the reader also needs to know which of these discs subsequently passed into LP or CD format. In other words, we have to simultaneously include three formats: 78s, LPs, and CDs. In any case, there is still a need to have a cut-off date, otherwise the discography would be not only unfinished but unfinishable. So we have decided to opt for an eclectic solution: that it include up to the end of 1960, but with the following clarifications.

We used this date, two years after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, in which the Cuban record industry underwent a radical change, ultimately being nationalized. Starting in 1961, the old Cuban record industry, now in the hands of EGREM, suffered overwhelming change, with many performers leaving the country, and many new figures being incorporated into the musical ranks. So, it is a good moment to signify the end of one stage and the beginning of another.

But this break off point is not all-inclusive. It is not logical to divide hundreds of personal discographies into a before and after 1960. So, the second norm established is that every performer whose career began before 1960 will include everything recorded after that date up to the publication date of this book.

As we said before, almost simultaneous to the appearance of 33s, we witness the rise of 45s, promoted by RCA Victor. Definitely, their use was limited to substituting for 78s in the case of single numbers of popular music. And while Europe and the United States saw the virtual effacement of the 78 market, in Latin America such was not the case, where the quantity of existing juke boxes for 78s were a costly investment, and they could not make the rapid conversion over to the new 45rpm format juke boxes. Consequently, Latin American recording labels had to keep making records in both formats, until the juke boxes slowly began disappearing from the market starting in the 1970s. In Cuba, this process was accelerated because the Cuban government banned juke boxes early in the 1960s.

As a result, different from the case of rock and roll, R &B, and other popular U.S. musical genres in which it would be impossible to compile a discography without including 45s, the Cuban situation is the opposite, with the 45s being repetitive of what had been released on 78 and on LP. When a 45 was not released in other formats, then we include them. The same applies with Eight Track or Tape, which came out in the sixties as competition to LPs, but quickly petered out. As in the previous scenario, only the rare instance where there is no duplication will we include them. And the same also applies for cassette tape recordings, a more economical and practical substitute for LPs, and just like eight track meant to be used in more portable formats like cars. With cassettes we more frequently find limited print run recordings that never came out in LP format, which was costlier, and so we included them.

Analysis of Entries in the Discography

(2) (3)  CE - Carlos Embale RM - Roberto Maza

(4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)
2296   P 1915 Lp 2055 CU Congo Mulenze r-col M. Román  
2297   P 1915 Lp 2055 CU El vive bien gg A. Zayas RM

(1) Performer: Is the name that appears on the record label as such. They are in alphabetical order, according to the word(s) underlined. The letters in parenthesis after the performer's name indicate nationality. If the letters are not there, the performer is Cuban. When national origin is not known, it will appear as a question mark in parenthesis: (?). Problems arise when work is shared between a well-known group and an equally established singer, as when Celia Cruz sings with the Sonora Matancera. We have established the following eclectic guidelines:

  1. Preference is given to Cuban over non-Cuban performers. For example, if Mexican singer Pedro Vargas recorded with the Orquesta Cosmopolita (Cuban), (the underlined word(s) always indicating its alphabetic location), those recordings will appear under Cosmopolita, with a cross-reference that reads:

    Pedro Vargas          Ver (See): Orquesta Cosmopolita
  2. In the case of orchestras that have had many Cuban and/or non-Cuban singers, they are all grouped under the Orchestra, but with cross-references to each one of the singers, showing they are under that orchestra listing. Such will be the case with the Sonora Matancera, Conjunto Casino, Casino de la Playa, etc.
  3. The guideline is bent the other way in the case of a famous artist such as Fernando Albuerne. But one can definitely locate all the recordings of a given performer contained in the discography, through the use of cross-references.

As for the alphabetical order followed in the entries for performers, the following guidelines were established:

  1. In the case of individuals, we list them under surname. For example: Fernando Albuerne.
  2. In the case of artists who have a nickname or stage name, they will apppear with the nickname, but cross-referenced to their real name, if it is known. Example: Ñico Saquito. Cross-Reference: Antonio Fernández Ver (See): Ñico Saquito
  3. In the case of musical groups, the reference to what type of group it is, is left out for listing purposes. Examples:
Grupo Afrocubano appears under letter A
Conjunto Modelo appears under letter M
Orquesta Cosmopolita appears under letter C
Trío Servando Díaz appears under letter D
Sexteto Habanero appears under letter H
  1. In the case of names preceeded by definite articles like "el", "la", "los", "las", they appear with the definite article as part of the listing. So, Los Compadres are under "L", and not under "C"; and Trío La Rosa, is under "L".
  2. In the case of group titles beginning with Hermanos (Brothers) or Hermanas (Sisters), they appear under "H".
  3. With doubtful cases, that is, when a name might be confused with a surname, we have used cross-references in order to facilitate finding the artist in question. For example, Cheo Belén Puig appears under "P", but with a cross-    reference under "B". Thus:
    Cheo Belén Puig    Ver (See): Cheo Belén Puig.

(2) Secondary performers on a specific number or song. In this section they are designated by the abbreviation that identifies them in the discography under a specific performer. In other words, these abbreviations are only valid for the recordings of the Grupo Afrocubano, and they appear in the last column, under (11). But furthermore, all the names used in section two have cross-references, so that under Carlos Embale it will say, See Grupo Afrocubano. If the performer's initials are not followed by a second set of initials, then the performer is a singer; however, if after their initials in full caps there is a second set of initials in lower case, it means that the performer is a soloist in a given musical instrument.

The number (3) to the left and under the title, or column (1), are the cross-references to other performers which the title entry has recorded with. For example, in the case of Celia Cruz, to the left and under her name would appear: Véase (See): Sonora Matancera, and any other group which she has recorded with.

Number (4) gives the number of the master recording on 78. Other formats, like LPs or CDs do not have these master numbers. See the special explanations for each record label in terms of numbering of masters.

Column (5) registers the date of the recording. When there are three figures separated by slashes, they correspond to the month, day and year; when there are two figures, month and year, and with one, the year. The year figure has the last two digits only since everything dated happened in the twentieth century. The abbreviation "ca" means the date is approximate. Also, see the special explanations for each record label concerning dates. We are following the English system of month, day and year, so someone born on December 31, 1930 will appear with a birth date of 12/31/30.

Column (6) corresponds to the number of the disc proper, preceeded by a corresponding abbreviation of a specific recording label; for example, P is Panart. In some instances the same number has been used on more than one 78, and so immediately after the first, the second number will appear. Underneath the listing for 78s are those for LPs, with LP initials. In the case of CD versions they will be listed directly underneath LPs or 78s, accordingly.

There is a special index of abbreviations for recording labels in order to identify them. In the case of each performer, they are begun in chronological order, by recording label they satrted recording with first. But this is not always rigorously adhered to since in some instances we do not have recording dates, and, in others, the performer has recorded under several labels at once, in which case we always take the label of his or her first recording, listing all the other recordings under the same first label, even if the performer recorded under another label during that time period.

Column (7) refers to where the recording took place. As for countries, we use the abbreviations that appear in the special index of musical genres and nationalities. Almost always, the country mentioned implies its capital city, where most recordings took place. Such is the case with Cuba (Havana), at least in the period covered during this stage. The same holds true for Mexico (Mexico City), Venezuela (Caracas), Argentina (Buenos Aires), etc. For Colombia, more than one city might apply. In the United States we have tried to specify by city, using NY (for New York and New Jersey), to differentiate recordings on the East Coast from that done in the West Coast, like Los Angeles (LA), or Miami, Florida (MI). Of course, and this is equally true for other columns, when that information is absent, it means we do not have it. 

Column (8) contains the title of a specific number or song. At times there are discrepancies between the name of a song and the way it appears listed in the catalogues or archives of a recording label, and the correct name of the number, if it be a well-known composition. We have preferred using the correct name it is known by, especially if the error is particularly evident. When we have access to the label itself, then we will list it as how it appears under that label. On occasion, a title appears in two languages (with the English title usually being the second language).

Right after, in column (9), is the listing for the abbreviation of the musical genre. (Please refer to the Special Index of Musical Genres and Nationalities). When the genre is little-known or practiced, its whole name is written out. The genre doesn't always appear as the composer wrote it, since it can be arranged by another performer, changing what originally was a bolero into a cha-cha-cha.

Column (10) registers the name of the composer, abbreviated for well-known composers, and they appear in the Special Index of Composers; the rest of the time we try and include the whole name in the reduced space available for such entries. In the case of more than one composer, we list one, adding "&" to indicate the others.

Column (11) includes additional singers or other performers in the manner previously explained.

Other Clarifications

The short biographies at the beginning of each performer entry, only seek to give a general and cursory idea of their career, and for that reason we add the sources of that information. Our written text does not necessarily copy the source(s) we cite.

In general, we are not incluiding reissues on 78 done in other countries except for Cuba and the U.S. In the case of LPs, we include them when it concerns 78 recordings that have not been issued in Cuba or the U.S., but instead produced in other countries, as often happened with many recording of the Sonora Matancera done by the Fuentes label in Colombia.

In terms of recording dates, they are approximates because we do not always have exact dates.

The true recording date is the one in which the number is registered for the first time, in order to be commercially issued at a future date.

In the case of Victor and other recording labels that recorded outside their studios in the United States, referred to as field recordings that were later transcribed into masters in the U. S., sometimes it is not possible to determine the date contained in the logs of the original recording, or of the transcription. For this reason we have opted to preserve the numbers of original acetate masters recorded in Cuba and not the number of the master assigned later in the United States.

Though normally the time transpired between the original recording and the transcription was brief, usually some fifteen days, occasionally these periods could be greater if the recording label decided not to release all the numbers recorded by a given performer.

As for the master numbers, they are found only on the original discs recorded on 78rpm, since the ones from LPs are from the magnetic tapes, and not from the masters.

In reviewing any discography or records done in the U.S. or Europe, you will note that the 78 masters have at the end a hyphen followed by a number. For example, the master of a Victor disc recording of El Panquelero by the Cuarteto Machín is: BE 73566-1. It was common practice in each recording to do various takes from the same master number, followed by a number 1, 2, or 3, etc., to indicate each take. Afterwords, the technicians would decide which take was the best, and this was the version used for running off the copies to be sold commercially.

This applied to recordings by local, that is, U.S. artists, but rarely was that so with Latin artists; usually, only one take was done. If you browse the Spottswood discography previously cited, especially Volume 4, which contains recordings in Spanish, you will see that almost all masters have a -1, simply because there were no other takes. Therefore, we considered this information superfluous and felt the space should be occupied by other data.

Clearly, many master numbers are missing, for lack of information.