Manuel Galbán, the Grammy award-winning Cuban guitarist who rose to international fame as part of the Buena Vista Social Club, suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away in a hospital in Havana on 7 July, 2011.
A statement issued by Daniel Florestano, longtime manager of both Galbán and the Buena Vista Social Club, said 'it is a very sad day for Cuban music and fans of Cuban Music...Galban’s enormous impact worldwide with his unique guitar sound and warm smile will be missed by many.'
Born in the small village of Gibara, Cuba, on 14 January, 1931, Galbán began his professional musical career at the early age of fourteen with the Orquesta Villa Blanca. In 1956 the young musician moved to Havana to play in the clubs and bars of the capital city, where he joined the recently formed vocal group Los Zafiros ('The Sapphires') in 1963. With their innovative blend of Cuban music, R&B, doo-wop, calypso, bolero, and bossa, Los Zafiros became one of the most successful Cuban groups of all time, and Galbán developed a unique guitar style that drew on early American rock ‘n’ roll and surf rock as well as Cuban guitar styles. After Los Zafiros disbanded in 1972, Galbán went on to lead the Dirección Nacional de Música, Cuba’s national musical ensemble, and later the Grupo Batey, where he would spend the next twenty threee years playing and touring with the group.
His profile soared on an international scale during the 1990s when American guitarist and producer Ry Cooder asked him to participate in Wim Wenders' Academy Award-nominated film, Buena Vista Social Club. He had been touring as the Buena Vista Social Club ensemble's guitarist for the past decade. This involvement with the project helped to cement Galbán's position as one of the most influential Cuban musicians of his time
He went on to work extensively on several Buena Vista Social Club solo projects with Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo, Cachaíto López, and Guajiro Mirabal. His most successful collaboration was with Ry Cooder for the 2003 album Mambo Sinuendo, which won a Grammy the following year for best pop instrumental album. At the time of his death Galbán was working on a solo album entitled Blue Cha Cha, the title single of which is to be released on Barcelona´s Montuno label - the inspirational sounds of this prolific artist will live on.