Roberto Rona, salsa percussionist and bandleader, dies at 81

After catching the act, Puerto Rican composer and bandleader Rafael Cortijo invited Mr. Rouena, who was only 15 or 16 years old, to join his orchestra, Cortijo y Su Combo, as a dancer and chorus member. Mr. Cortijo, a percussionist, began schooling him on bongos, and soon Roberto became part of the band.

When Mr Cortijo’s group disbanded, Mr Rona became part of the Salsa Orchestra El Gran Combo, recording and touring internationally. It was in 1969 that they formed Apollo Sound—named, some versions of the story go, as its first rehearsal coincided with the launch of Apollo 11, the first mission to land astronauts on the Moon. The group almost had a different name.

“At first I wanted to have Apollo 12, because we were 12 musicians,” he told LA Opinion in 1996, “but then I thought, if the United States launches Apollo 13, we’re obsolete.”

With the Apollo Sound, Mr. Rowena took salsa to a new level of sophistication, employing two or three trumpets and a complex rhythm section to create a propulsive sound that was typical of Chicago and jazz-rock groups such as Blood, Sweat and attracted to the music. tears. Its live shows were wild, Mister Rona set the tone, and its albums were steady sellers for Fania.

In an interview With The Times in 2014, when he was part of the lineup for the Fania Records tribute concert in Central Park, Mr. Rona credited the label’s founders, johnny pacheco And Jerry Masucci, along with making the salsa event.

“Jerry and Johnny give you the freedom to do your thing,” he said. “They allowed musicians to express themselves the way we wanted, and that led to a lot of hits.”

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