Tatá Güines, like many musical veterans who started playing professionally in the 1940s and 50s, a golden age for Cuban music, he found international fame in the 1990s at the end of the cold war, when some Cubans were allowed to travel.
Most recent of his long career trajectory, Güines had played on “Lágrimas Negras” the 2003 flamenco-Cuban disc that saw émigré Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and Spanish vocalist El Cigala win two Latin and five Spanish Grammies. Güines and Valdés' musical friendship dated back to the 1950s, when in a group with bassist Israel Cachao López they recorded what became Cachao's “Descargas” and Valdés' “Sabor de Cuba” albums.
Although Güines was known as el rey de los tambores (king of the drums) a title that referenced his following of the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion, which speaks to its Orisha deities through drums, he began by playing the bongos. He loved to tell how he made his first pair out of empty chorizo sausage and condensed milk tins.
Born Federico Aristides Soto Alejo into a musical family in Güines, east Havana, he began playing bongos and acoustic bass with the Ases del Ritmo in 1943, then with his uncle Dionisio Martinez's dance band and the family Orquesta Estrellas Nacientes. Like most Cuban musicians of his generation, he was self-taught, learning the congas by watching older players. With Chano Pozo as his inspiration, he was determined to create his own style of conga playing, teaching himself by night while working as a shoemaker by day.