Gracias, Juan Formell!

Posted on May 13, 2014

Juan Formell has been a major musical presence in my mind lately since his untimely passing on May 1st.  As the brainchild of Los Van Van since the beginning, he created a fresh irresistible dance hit sound whose lyrics were as relevant as the daily newspaper in Cuba.  Formell’s genius was in the fact that he connected with the youth as well as every day people for more than four decades.  Los Van Van always had strong personnel but had a dynamic core of Cesar “Pupy” Pedroso, Jose Luis Quintana “Changuito” along with Formell created Songo, a world wide sensation in the 1980’s.  Los Van Van represented Cuba in the same iconic relevance as international giants such as El Gran Combo from Puerto Rico, Oscar D’Leon from Venezuela and the New York based Eddie Palmieri.  I had the honor of introducing Los Van Van for their first San Francisco Bay Area show in 1997 at Maritime Hall and DJ’ing with them at Bimbo’s 365.  The first tour was featuring  the electric vocal powerhouse trio of Pedrito Calvo, Mayito Rivera and Roberto “Roberton” Hernandez – what a great night!  Los Van Van would bring the house down every time that I saw them..the last time was during a multi night stand at Yoshi’s in San Francisco.   I remember interviewing Juan Formell during that first tour to S.F.  He was very generous with his time although he was a bit tired from his trip but that didn’t stop him from expressing strong opinions on Hip Hop to his role as a Cuban ambassador of good will.  I have given my own tribute to Formell on my Con Sabor program lately.  It gave me the chance to break out my old Cuban vinyl and play classics from different eras of Van Van’s development.  Listening to these old classics and the Van Van cds of the last 2 decades gave me another chance to appreciate this monster of a band.  To its leader, bassist, composer, arranger and visionary…..Gracias, Formell!