Abelardo Barroso
  • courtesy of Nonesuch Records
  • Abelardo Barroso

The story sounds partly apocryphal, but who am I to second-guess? Cuban singer Abelardo Barroso—who as a singer in the legendary and deeply influential Septeto Nacional was one of the most important voices behind the island’s son explosion in the 1920s—had fallen on hard times by the mid-’50s. He hadn’t cut a record in 15 years, and it had been even longer since he had a been a creative force. One night in 1955 he was performing for change outside of an upscale nightclub where the great Beny Moré was headlining—a situation that occurred only because Moré himself sanctioned it for his old hero. Before long a slick young bandleader and entrepreneur named Rolando Valdés arrived and remembered working with the singer before World War II. Impressed by the quality of Barroso’s voice, Valdés enlisted him in his new cha cha cha group Orquestra Sensación. Barroso fronted the group for more than a decade, although his greatest music with this new unit was made in his first few years with the group, who were one of the most popular practitioners of the new cha cha cha.

Barroso had already adapted to changing styles in the past. He moved from son to danzonette—an updated take on the stately danzon—in the late 20s, and in the following decade he simultaneously fronted his on own son group, Sexteto Universo, and the charanga group Lopez-Barosso. By the 40s, with the rise of a new brass-driven sound developed by Arsenio Rodríguez, Barroso fell out of favor until he ran into Valdés on that fateful night in the mid-50s. Last fall World Circuit released a superb 14-track collection of Barroso’s work with Orquestra Sensación called Cha Cha Cha that demonstrates the group’s skillful retrofitting of old chestnuts for the musical style referenced in the compilation’s title. Today’s 12 O’Clock Track is the group’s 1955 recording of “La Hija de Juan Simón,” a song of Colombian origin that had been popular on the island for half a century.