Roberto Roena, one of the old oaks in salsa, died Thursday night. The Puerto Rican musician made his mark on emblematic groups such as Cortijo y su Combo, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Fania All Stars, Puerto Rico All Stars and Apollo Sound. He was 81 years old.
“I must report without words that maestro Roberto Roena, the great father of the Salsa Museum, has just passed away,” reported the account of that cultural entity.
When offering the information to the newspaper El País of Colombia, Carlos Molina, director of the Museo de la Salsa, said that Brenda, daughter of “The great dancer” (as they called Roena), confirmed the news from Puerto Rico, indicating to Molina Jr., via telephone, “that the death of the artist occurred as a result of a heart attack.”
As Molina explained to El País, shortly after 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, the salsa singer said he felt bad, so his family members requested an ambulance to take him to a health center. On the way to the hospital he suffered the heart attack that ended his life, he added.
Born on January 16, 1940, in Mayagüez, a municipality in the west of Puerto Rico, Roena began his musical career with Rafael Cortijo and his group Cortijo y su Combo as a dancer.
Before he had founded the group of dancers “Mambo Flashes” with his brother, known as “Cuqui”.
At age 16, Roena was invited to dance in the Cortijo orchestra (1928-1982) in various performances in New York, including at the El Palladium ballroom.
After several months dancing in the group, Roena was added as a bongocero to the orchestra, as well as a choreographer and member of the dance corps along with the legendary salsero Ismael Rivera (1931-1987) and Sammy Ayala.
After six years with the Cortijo orchestra, Roena decided to break away from it and join Mario Ortiz’s All-Stars Band.
Six months later, he joined El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, along with former colleagues from Cortijo y su Combo, such as Rafael Ithier, Eddie “La bala” Pérez and Martín Quiñones, among others.
During his stay at El Gran Combo, Roena was part of the orchestra together with great salsa artists such as Andy Montañez and Pellín Rodríguez (1926-1984), with whom he recorded major productions such as “Acángana” (1964), “El Caballo Pelotero” (1964 ) and “Boogaloos” (1967).
However, in 1967 Roena decided to form a new group, Los Megatones, where Camilo Azuquita, Montañez, Rodríguez and Elías Lopés participated as musical director.
But his biggest project was the creation of Apollo Sound, named after NASA’s spacecraft.
The project was unique for those years since the orchestra consisted of two trombones, two trumpets, and two saxophones and they fused salsa with rock and bossa nova.
Two weeks after forming the group they began to record their first production “Roberto Roena y su Apollo Sound”, under the Fania label.
Sammy “El rolo” González was one of the singers who was with Apollo Sound and who also attended today’s tribute, where he thanked Roena for the opportunity he gave him to participate in his orchestra, with which he recorded hits such as “Cui cui “,” Betrayal “,” I fled to the candle “,” The one who left is not necessary “and” Tell my opponent “.
While running Apollo Sound he was also a member of Las Estrellas de la Fania. Legendary musicians Héctor Lavoe, Cheo Feliciano, Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Bobby Valentín, Ismael Quintana, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, among others, also participated in that group, directed by the Dominican Johnny Pacheco.
“Traición”, “Chotorro”, “My disappointment”, “Fea”, “Marejada feliz”, “Cui cui” and “El Progreso”, among others, are part of his musical creations in the salsa genre.