In his heyday during the late 1950s, bandleader and singer Beny Moré (1919–1963) was known as "El Barbaro del Ritmo," the wild man of rhythm, due to his penchant for up-tempo dance numbers. His family (he was born to former slaves in Cienfuegos, on Cuba's southern coast) practiced Santeria, the Cuban religion derived from the deities of Africa's Yoruba people. As "Francisco Guayabal" and other tracks on this compilation demonstrate, Moré was a singer who embraced the African elements of Cuba's heritage.
But Moré was also the most suave ballad singer south of Nat King Cole, a natural persuader who linked the cool of postwar crooners to the wistful longing essential to bolero. Moré's interpretations were dramatic, marked by wild swings of mood—among the trademarks displayed on "Mucho corazón" are unexpected forays into his falsetto range. Everybody who cares about the fine art of singing should know Beny Moré.
Fiercely loyal, Moré regarded the musicians of his Banda Gigante as his "tribe"; he intentionally sought dark-skinned Cuban musicians to combat the racism of Havana's nightclub owners. Though he didn't read music, he was known to create arrangements on the fly, by singing the motifs he wanted his horn section to play; sure enough these arrangements have a blithe, lighthearted quality that's worlds away from the blaring trumpets some mambo bands used like weapons.
Cue up "Manigua" for a crash course in the many facets of Moré: One minute he's the wild man of rhythm, the next he's the swooning lounge don. As the singer Compay Segundo, a Cuban legend who followed in Moré's footsteps, once put it: "He was a showman and he was the greatest of them all. No one else came near."
Genre: World, Cuba
Released: 1999, RCA
Key Tracks: "La culebra," "Bonito y sabroso," "Que bueno baila usted"
Catalog Choice: Complete Recordings 1953–1960
Next Stop: Compay Segundo: Calle Salud
After That: Ibrahim Ferrer: Buena Vista Social Club Presents. . .
Book Pages: 520–521