Born: July 16, 1943 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor/leader
Ruben 'Negro' Rada more than almost any of his contemporaries for decades has worked as a devoted cross-genre pioneer.
Rubén Rada is born in 1943 in Montevideo’s Palermo quarter. He grows up as a fan of the Beatles, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong and Carlos Gardel. Embarking on his musical career in 1965 with the band El Kinto Conjunto, Rada becomes the first to combine Western rock music with Latin elements and to incorporate elements of jazz, funk, soul, tango and pop in his songs. But even in these early years, his ambitions and his achievements run deeper.
From the beginning, he integrates Uruguay’s national genre, candombe, in his musical creations. This traditional style, marked by complex rhythms laid down by three drums and costumed dancers, also has a history in Argentina as an expression of black identity, but, along with that nation’s black population, has largely disappeared there. Rada wants to prevent this from happening in Uruguay.
His promotion of candombe is at once a spirited act of dedication to his country’s 180,000-strong black community. In his eclectic art the combination of popular sounds from all over the world with his native musical culture and African heritage he anticipates the similar approach of the Brazilian Tropicália movement around Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, who a few years later give form to a new Afro- Brazilian pop and rock idiom.
On the threshold of the 1970s Rada formed another band, imposingly named Tótem, which creates “candombe-beat” and quickly attains cult status in South American Latin rock. Rada’s reputation spreads beyond the shores of the continent. In 1977-78 he lived in the USA, where he performs alongside many prominent musicians, including Ray Barretto, Flora Purim and Hermeto Pascoal. On his return to the southern hemisphere, he works to increase his popularity in Argentina, founding the group La Banda in Buenos Aires and dividing his time between the two capitals on the Rio de la Plata.
In the 1980s he appeared at festivals in Cuba and tours Northern Europe. He moves to Mexico in 1991, immersing himself deeply in the regional scene as a producer and arranger. In Mexico City he shares the stage with Sting and UB40. He led candombe in back-to-back triumphs in the late 1990s, first at a concert with Daniela Mercury in southern Brazil before an audience of 100,000, then in 1998 in Europe, where he collaborates with the nuevo flamenco band Ketama. In New York, between 1996 and 1999, he recorded the CDs “Montevideo” and “Montevideo 2,” for which he finally grabbed the attention of the world-music scene.
Rada’s vocal faculties are even more startling than his cosmopolitan career. His singing encompasses an extraordinary range of expression. It can sound lovely and gently lyrical, fall into the timbre of a muted trombone, then shift into a dramatic droning. Equally striking is Rada’s compositional skill, which has caught the ear of major foreign artists: Milton Nascimento, Leny Hall and Herb Alpert have all recorded his songs. In the new millennium, Rubén Rada, better known simply as “El Negro Rada,” has again intensified his commitment to his lifeblood genre. On “Candombe Jazz Tour” he gathers together the great candombe highlights, furnishes them with new arrangements, and makes the old genre shine with contemporary radiance. Rubén Rada, an exceptional figure in South American music