Yolanda Rivera is the Undisputed Afro-Puerto Rican Queen of Salsa, a role model for emerging salseros and salseras, and, with the exception of Celia Cruz, the only woman who played a significant and enduring role in La Sonora Ponceña’s long and illustrious trajectory.
She was born in Ponce in 1951 to a large musical family. At eight, through her sister, a Cuban music aficionado and seamstress, she met her idol, Celeste Mendoza (“La Reina del Guaguanco”). “She came to my house and gave me an LP. She was a wonderful dancer, singer, and a primary influence.” Other influences include Los Van Van, Los Papines, Israel “Cachao” López, Ismael Rivera, Chamaco Rivera, and Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez.
Rivera launched her career in Ponce in 1968, with the local group, Roberto y La Nueva Ley. One year later, she and her brother moved to New York. Shortly after that, she joined Willie Rosario’s orchestra as a backup (coro) singer.
In 1975, Rivera returned to Puerto Rico. After a stint with the group Roberto y su Chango, she debuted as a lead singer on Orquesta Terrifica’s Sabor a Pueblo (1976).
In the late 70s, just before boarding a flight to New York, Rivera encountered La Sonora Ponceña’s founder and leader, Don Quique Lucca, and remarked, “If I don’t find work soon, I’m leaving for New York!” Shortly after that, Don Quique invited her to his home, handed her a cassette tape, and said, “Learn these songs.” The songs were Sonora Ponceña’s repertoire. The rest is history.
Under the direction of Don Quique and his son Papo Lucca, Rivera became an indispensable member of La Sonora Ponceña. Also, she recorded eight memorable albums with the group, including Explorando (1978), Energized (1979), La Ceiba (with Celia Cruz, 1979), Unchained Force (1980), and Night Raider (1981).
In 1984 Rivera gave birth to a daughter with a severe disability. After seeking several opinions in Puerto Rico and finding the diagnosis unacceptable, she put her career on hold and moved to Miami. There, her daughter underwent a series of surgeries and treatments and made a full recovery.
In 1986, Rivera appeared with Gambino Pampini’s, Fuerza Noble Orchestra. Also, between 1988 and 1989, she recorded three albums with Ruddy Haddock including De Puerto Rico Bailable y Más (1988), Otra Vez (1988), and Salsa Tropical (1990).
In 1995 Rivera reunited with La Sonora Ponceña and appeared on the album, Apretando. The same year she appeared on Wendell Rivera’s album Portfolio, which is notable for the song, Vuelvo a Cantar, whose lyrics proclaim her triumphant return to the music scene.
In 2000, La Sonora Ponceña celebrated its 45th Anniversary and the release of the album, Y Seguimos Haciendo Historia (Inca), which featured a variety of singers including Rivera, Hector “Pichie” Pérez, Willie Colón, Danny Davila, Luigi Texidor, Ismael Miranda, Cano Estremera, and Andy Montañez. Also, in 2001, Rivera celebrated Ray Barretto’s 50th Anniversary and shared the stage with Adalberto Santiago, Tito Allen, and Ray de la Paz.
In 2009, Rivera received a lifetime achievement award. Also, La Sonora Ponceña’s 55th Anniversary. A highlight was Rivera’s interpretation of the classic Puerto Rican anthem, Borinquen, and her stunning white outfit, which doubled as a Puerto Rican flag.
In 2013, Rivera released La Hija de Guaguancó (Melaza Records), her first and only production as a leader. The album was well-received in the Caribbean and Latin America but, regrettably did not receive the airplay and recognition it deserved in the U.S. (the album is currently out of print).
In 2019, I had the pleasure of seeing Rivera perform with La Sonora Ponceña at Lehman College in the Bronx. Before a full house, the group, and master tresero Nelson González performed La Sonora’s greatest hits, ignited the room, and received several well-deserved standing ovations.
Not long ago I caught up with Rivera on Facebook, where she maintains an active online presence. The conversation between her and I was brief, but I learned about two independent productions that are only available through her Facebook page, Yolanda Rivera Oficial. An album titled, 46, and a single titled, El Moño.
Some of Rivera’s biggest hits include Ahora Sí, Hasta Que Se Rompa El Cuero, Se Formó, La Rumba en el Patio, Madrugando, Borinquen and, Lo Mío Es Cantar (Borinquen is her personal favorite).
In a 2014 interview, Rivera was asked, “If you were born again, what would you do?” “Sing!, she eagerly replied. When she was asked, what wouldn’t you do? She was quick to answer, “Not marry!”
In a career that spans fifty years plus, Rivera has seen and experienced it all. She survived racism, sexism, spousal abuse, vicious rumors, and the perils associated with a woman in a male-dominated society and industry. According to Rivera, “It was hard. You have to demonstrate who you are, how you are, and what you’re capable of. This is not to say there weren’t incidents but, “Ay Que Braviar, Ay Que Guapiar!” On occasion, I’ve had to put some people in their place but overall, I’ve been lucky.”
In a recent interview with radio show host, Nando Alvarrici Rivera announced she is, retired but open to the idea of making a recording that celebrates fifty years in the music business.
Today, “Yolandita” is revered throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, and the U.S. for her unique vocal style, her body of work as a sidewoman, soloist, leader, and her long-standing affiliation with La Sonora Ponceña. Long live Yolanda Rivera, La Sonera Más Querida!
- Alvarrici, Nando – Con Sabor Latino (99.5 FM) – Interview: Yolanda River Cantrell, David – Research, Recordings.
- Isla Caribe Podcast #40 – Interview: Yolanda Rivera
- Rivera, Yolanda – Pagina Oficial (Facebook)
- Swing Antillano Con Saoco – Porque Se Va De La Sonora? (Interview, November 2014).
© 2020 Tomas Peña
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Artist Profile: Adrien Brandeis
Adrien Brandeis is a french jazz pianist and composer born in Annecy. After studying at the Nice conservatory, he moved to Paris in 2018 to study with Manuel Rocheman and graduated from the CRR conservatory in Paris.
In 2017, he produced and released his first album in quintet Euforia, which had great recognition and international success after performing in Asia (Jazzmandu Festival in Nepal, Kolkata International Jazz Festival in India).
Euforia put Adrien Brandeis, in the spotlight of the Jazz scene, and led him to be awarded the prestigious Letter One Rising Stars Jazz Award 2018. This award, which recognizes the best young European jazz artist of the year, opened the doors for him to share his music on the biggest European stages during the summer of 2019: Nice Jazz Festival (France), Umbria Jazz Festival (Italy), Leopolis Jazz Festival (Ukraine), Love Supreme Jazz Festival (England), Heineken Jazzaldia Festival (Spain), Kongsberg Jazz Festival (Norway), JazzOpen Stuttgart (Germany).
Subsequently, he toured Mexico to present Euforia in trio, at the International Jazz and Blues Festival of Zacatecas 2019 and in several theaters in the center of the country.
On the French scene, he has won numerous awards: first prize at the Jazz à Juan 2017, public prize at the Jazz 2017 in Porquerolles, among others.
In Paris, he has collaborated with numerous musicians such as Orlando Poleo, Inor Sotolongo, Damian Nueva, Arnaud Dolmen, Abraham Mansfaroll, Felipe Cabrera and Philippe Ciminato.
Very attached to Latin music, he went to study in Havana, Cuba, with Ernán López-Nussa to perfect his piano skills, in September 2019.
These trips and experiences enriched his piano playing and allowed him to write his second album Meetings, a quartet album with Damian Nueva, Arnaud Dolmen, Inor Sotolongo and special guest Orlando Poleo.
Meetings, released in October 2020, allows him to move towards a more modern sound while maintaining a certain freshness. It was selected as one of the best jazz albums in France in 2020 by TSF Jazz radio.
In 2021, Meetings is presented more than 30 times; including festivals and clubs in France (Altitude Jazz Festival, Festival Jazz en Sol Mineur, Festival Musique en Cour, Duc des Lombards) as well as in Mexico (Festival Internacional de Polanco, Festival Internacional de Irapuato, Ciclo de Jazz del Forum Cultural Guanajuato, Festival EuroJazz, Festival Cultural de Mayo in Jalisco).
After two tours in Mexico in May and November 2021, where he was very well received by the Mexican public, he created a strong bond with this country and was fascinated by its culture and the places he visited.
It is then, that he decided to record his third album Siempre más allá, a testimony of his experiences and his personal tribute to Mexico.
This album was recorded as a quartet, with the musicians with whom he had shared the stage a few months before: Giliard Lopes (Brazil), José Loria Triay (Mexico) and Roberto Vizcaíno Jr. (Cuba).
He also had the collaboration of two great Cuban musicians of the international jazz scene: Horacio “El Negro” Hernández and Roberto Vizcaíno Guillot.
In the summer of 2022, he had outstanding participations in the A to jazz Festival (Bulgaria), Jazz à Toulon (France) as well as a special invitation to the San Jose Summer Jazz Festival (USA). He even had the opportunity to arrange and present his music in Piano Solo in Portugal and England.
YouTube Video – Adrien Brandeis – Siempre más allá (EPK)
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