Buena Vista Social Club guitar icon Manuel Galban dies at 80

Manuel Galban helped bring Cuban music to international audiences
Manuel Galban helped bring Cuban music to international audiences

Manuel Galbán, the Cuban guitar legend who helped Buena Vista Social Club rise to worldwide fame, died yesterday (7 July) in Havana after suffering a heart attack. He was 80 years old.

After getting his start as a young teen in 1944, Galbán became a member of Los Zafiros in 1963, adding his acclaimed American-influenced style to the world-renowned vocal group that combined traditional Latin music with bolero, doo-wop, calypso music, bossa nova and rock (see the video above). This fusion transformed Los Zafiros into one of the most popular Cuban groups of the time. They even performed in front of The Beatles at a show in Paris.

Following his tenure in Los Zafiros, Galbán formed Batey, which brought Cuban music to even bigger audiences. The guitarist's profile soared on an international scale when Ry Cooder asked him to participate in Wim Wenders' Academy Award-nominated film, Buena Vista Social Club. Galbán and Cooder would later team up for a disc called Mambo Sinuendo, which won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album in 2003.

For the past decade, Galbán toured as a guitarist for the Buena Vista Social Club ensemble. At the time of his death, he has working on a solo album, titled BlueChaCha.

"It is a very sad day for Cuban music and for fans of Cuban music," said Buena Vista Social Club manager Daniel Florestano. "Galbán's enormous impact worldwide, with his unique guitar sound and warm smile, will be missed by many."

Joe Bosso

Joe is a freelance journalist who has, over the past few decades, interviewed hundreds of guitarists for Guitar WorldGuitar PlayerMusicRadar and Classic Rock. He is also a former editor of Guitar World, contributing writer for Guitar Aficionado and VP of A&R for Island Records. He’s an enthusiastic guitarist, but he’s nowhere near the likes of the people he interviews. Surprisingly, his skills are more suited to the drums. If you need a drummer for your Beatles tribute band, look him up.