El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico
Known as the most popular band from Latin America, and undoubtedly the most successful salsa band in Puerto Rico, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is an orchestra that is synonymous with the flamboyant beats of salsa. Its success has also seen several musicians starting their careers within the band and then going on to have successful solo careers. Also referred to as El Gran Combo, the group has released numerous albums and performed in various stadiums across the world. It has achieved international acclaim and remains one of the best bands in Puerto Rico.
Rafael Ithier founded El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico in the year 1962, and has remained the musical director of the orchestra. Together with Eddie Perez, nicknamed La Bala, they are the only members that have remained from the original band. Over the years various artists, such as Celia Cruz, La India and Andy Montanez, have all contributed to the band at various times. Pianist Willie Sotelo, who joined the band in 2006, is now the de facto musical director of the band when they are on tours. Presently the band consists of Rafael Ithier, Jerry Rivas, Eddie Perez, Domingo Santos, Charlie Aponte, Victor Rodriguez, Mitchell Laboy, Freddie Rivera, Freddie Miranda, Moises Nogueras, Miguel Torres, Taty Maldonado and Papo Rosario.
Rafael Ithier started his career in music as part of a band for Rafael Cortijo, but the band disbanded and Ithier moved to the United States for a while, before eventually making his way back to Puerto Rico. Needing a backup band for Joseito Mateo, Rafael Alvarez Guedes asked Ithier to assist. Ithier got together as many band members as possible, including some of whom played with him in Cortijo’s band. He told Rafael Alvarez Guedes that the band’s name was El Gran Combo and from there the band began to take shape. Singers were brought in to do vocals for albums such as Acangana, El Gran Combo En Navidad, El Caballo Pelotero, Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso, Neuvo Milenjo El Mismo Sabor, Arraz con Habichuela and Pasaporte Musical.
Their first live performance took place in San Juan, at the Hotel La Concha, and since then, they have performed in venues such as the Yankee Stadium (New York), Alaska, France and in Madison Square Garden, for their twentieth anniversary. Now, just shy of being together fifty years, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is still going strong and producing wonderful performances and music that has Puerto Rico tapping its feet and dancing to the beat of the salsa sounds.