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The guy’s a star in Cuba and has been for years, trends (and infidelity to his island) notwithstanding. He hasn’t been seen at home much lately. Too busy working in Mexico, he’s been neglecting the Cuban scene and showing no inclination to write. But now in 2005, there’s good news for the island at last! Issac Delgado is back. After signing with Lusafrica, he returned to the Abdala studios and recorded a new album, Prohibido. Mixed in New York, with input from Luis and Roberto Quinterto, two Venezuelan drum-player brothers famous in Nueva York (they’ve notably accompanied La India), and arrangements by Alan Pérez (Delgado’s former bassist now lives in Madrid, where he plays with Paco de Lucia), the album is the sensation of the 2005 Cubadisco, the yearly Havana trade fair and showcase for Cuban record production. The record will remain a milestone, a remarkable achievement in the career of Issac Delgado, romantic dandy charmer and king of Cuban salsa.
Issac Delgado’s story began on the 11th April 1962 in Marianao, to the north-east of Havana, home of the famous Tropicana cabaret. His father was a tailor, his mother an actress, singer and dancer (she was a member of Las Mulatas de Fuego, a prominent dance company at the end of the 40s). She and her acquaintances sowed the seeds of a vocation in little Issac’s head. On his mum’s days off, he was there at home when musicians and actors such as Elena Burke, José Antonio Mendez and Martha Valdés came to call. At 10, he began to study music, playing cello at the conservatoire. He turned out not to be very motivated though. More interested in sport, he soon gave up the instrument. But this was just a passing phase. The seed of music was simply dormant. Pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba set it growing when he brought the teenager (now 18) into his group, Proyecto. A few singing lessons later, Issac Delgado was a new man. He began a professional career with the Orquesta de Pacho Alonso, led by Pachito Alonso, whose father was the inventor of the pilon beat, a dance genre somewhere between mambo and cha-cha that was fashionable in 60s Cuba. It was 1983 when Issac set off down the path that would lead him on to the delights and dazzle of success and fame. After taking his first trips abroad and recording an album with Pachito’s band, he joined the Tropicana show as a solo artist. There, he performed alongside some great names: Tata Güines, Elena Burke and Los Papines. In 1988, Issac Delgado became the singer of NG La Banda. He continued to appear with the group until 1991, when, spurred by his increasing popularity and the enthusiasm of the public, who recognised his singing talent, he finally took the great step, forming his own group and performing under his own name. He made a first record in 1992 in Venezuela, Dando la Hora, produced by the man who believed in him before anyone else: Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Other records followed, including El Cheveré de la Salsa, (1995 Egrem Prize), recorded with Adalberto Alvarez (aka “El Caballero del Son”), and Malecon, featuring some high-flying guests (Pablo Milanés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Samuel Formell, Germán Velazco, Joaquín Betancourt and Juan M. Ceruto).
From Japan to the United States and Latin America to Europe, Issac Delgado has travelled the world over the years. Playing with Celia Cruz here, releasing a brilliant hit (La vida es un carnaval) or organising a tribute to Benny Moré there, he’s become one of the most universally-recognised artists from the highly musical island of Cuba. Today, he has a new trump in his hand as he heads on down his star-strewn path. It’s called Prohibido.