Any discussion about popular Puerto Rican music is remiss without the name Tite Curet Alonso. In a career that spanned roughly 30 years, he was one of the most prolific and vital composers in Puerto Rico’s history.
Catalino Curet Alonso was born in the municipality of Guaynabo in 1926. His mother was a seamstress. His father was a Spanish language teacher, trumpeter, trombonist, a member of Simón (“Pin”) Madera’s band and Guayama’s municipal band.
In 1928, at two, his parents divorced, and Tite Curet, his mother, and sister moved to the Barrio Obrero in the municipality of Santurce (San Juan). There, he grew up immersed in music. “I used to drop in on (the guitarist) Tito Enriquez. I learned a lot from him. Also, I learned a lot from (the composer) Pedro Flores and (musician, composer) Rafael Hernández.” Among his childhood friends were Rafael Cortijo, Ismael Rivera, and Daniel Santos.
Tite Curet received his primary and secondary education in the municipality of Guayamo. After high school, he enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), where he studied journalism and sociology.
In 1960, he moved to New York and worked as a journalist for the newspaper El Diario La Prensa. Tite Curet credits his elegant, metered, literate lyrics with journalism. When he composes a tune for a singer, he takes into account his, or her style and how they sing, if they are good with their vowels, consonants, and pronunciation and whether, or not they interpret the lyrics credibly.
Tite Curet drew inspiration from Brazilian composers. “They have been my best teachers because they are the sorcerers of the half-tone and the effective use of words.” He also studied music theory and solfège (a music education method used to teach aural skills, pitch, and sight-reading).
When he was fifteen (1965) he composed his first tune and had his first big hit titled “Efectivamente” with Joe Quijano. Initially, Fania Records hired Tite Curet as a promoter, but they quickly realized he was a gifted composer. His first worldwide hit was “La Gran Tirana”, interpreted by La Lupe.
Throughout his career, he composed roughly 2000 songs. Of those, about 200 were hits, and 50 are widely considered salsa classics. A short list of the artists who interpreted Tite Curet’s compositions include Joe Quijano, Airto Moreira, Iris Chacón, Willie Colón, Cheo Feliciano, Celia Cruz, La Lupe, Tito Rodríguez, Olga Guillot, Mon Rivera, Héctor Lavoe, Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades, Tito Puente, Ismael Miranda, Roberto Roena, Bobby Valentín, Marvin Santiago, Willie Rosario, Andy Montañez, Ismael Rivera, Rafael Cortijo, Tommy Olivencia, and Frankie Ruiz.
His most famous compositions include “La Gran Tirana”, “Periodico de Ayer”, “Las Caras Lindas”, “Anacaona”, “Isadora Duncan”, “El Hijo de Obatalá”, “La Esencia del Guagancó”, “La Abolición”, “Puro Teatro”, “Piraña”, “Brujería”, “Carcajada Final”, “Los Entierros Pobres”, “Mi Triste Problema”, “Pena de Amor”, “Papel de Payaso”, “Pueblo Latino”, “Tu Loco y Yo Tranquilo” and “Franqueza Cruel” among others.
Tite Curet’s versatility as a composer transcended genres. In the 70s, he penned the hit ballad “Tema de Nilsa” for Johnny Olivo. Also, “Mi Movimiento” for Iris Chacón, “Yo me Dominicanizo” for Los Hijos del Rey, “Pico de Pala” for Tony Croatto, and the title track for the Brazilian percussionist, Airto’s 1984 album, “Aquí Se Puede” (Sacoboco Records). Similarly, his Christmas compositions are interpreted by countless singers and groups.
Shockingly, despite his prowess as a songwriter, from 1949 to 1985, Tite Curet supported his family as a postal worker and writer for the magazine VEA. The reason? Tite Curet’s music was banned from Puerto Rico’s airwaves by the publishing company ACEMALA (Asociacion de Compositores y Editores de Musica Latinoamericana) for fourteen years. ACEMALA sued every venue (radio, T.V., CATV, municipalities, hotels, restaurants, and the Catholic Church) for copyright infringement of every song composed by Curet. As a result, an entire generation was deprived of his genius. In 2009, the U.S. Federal Court in San Juan released 695 songs originally licensed to Fania Records. The remainder of Curet’s compositions is still in the hands of ACEMLA.
Tite Curet suffered a heart attack on August 5, 2003, in Baltimore, Maryland. Shortly after that, his body was transported to Puerto Rico, where he was given a state funeral with an honor guard, and wakes were held at three prestigious locations. He is buried in Santa Maria Magdelena de Pazzis Cemetery in Old San Juan.
Journalist Aurora Flores sums up Tite Curet’s career. “Tite Curet helped father the nascent salsa movement that was marking time in clave through the streets of Puerto Rico and Latin New York. Through news events, music, and lyrics, his words inspired hope, faith, solace, and joy during a time of social upheaval. In more than 2,000 tunes, Curet was the musical narrator of current events and national pride, romance, and religion. He wrote when the social reality of the poor was in direct opposition to the political power line, leaving music as the life-support of optimism. Tite Curet reflected the face of a community in need of answers.”
Tite Curet received approximately 44 honors, prizes, and recognition ceremonies in and outside Puerto Rico for his meritorious contributions to Puerto Rican music and culture. In 1996, the University of Turabo awarded Curet an honorary doctorate in letters. In the words of Dr. Dennos Alicea Rodríguez, “Tite Curet Alonso continues the commitment of our university to the preservation of our most fundamental cultural values.”
He is survived by his wife, Hilda, daughter, Hilda de Los Angeles, and two grandchildren and a son, Eduardo, and three half-sisters.
In 2011 Banco Popular’s yearly holiday television special titled Sono, Sono … Tite Curet! Paid tribute to the iconic songwriter. Also, a life-size statue of Curet sits on his favorite bench in San Juan’s Plaza de Armas. Despite the trials and tribulations, Tite Curet’s spirit can take solace in the fact that not a day goes by in Puerto Rico, Latin America, or elsewhere, where his music is not played.
- Flores, Aurora – Tite Curet Alonso: A Man and His Music Liner Notes (E Music)
- Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks! A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Digital Domain, 2005)
- Vargas, Toro Cirilo – Tite Curet Alonso biography (Güiro y Maraca, Spring 2004)
- Wikipedia – Tite Curet Alonso biography
© 2020 Tomas Peña ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Tribute to the Masters: Mario Rivera
Mario Rivera was a gifted musician, composer and arranger that played more than 15 instruments, which included piano, vibraphone, drums, trumpet, timbales, congas, flute, and piccolo. But Rivera was known for how he kissed and caressed the tenor, soprano, alto and baritone saxophones. He could play all of the family of saxophones on a virtuosic level as a soloist and section player and was one of the very few saxophonists who also mastered of the flute in the Cuban charanga style. Unlike most musicians, Rivera played all these instruments at an exceedingly high level of musicianship. Rivera dominated the “straight- ahead” jazz and Latin Jazz, Salsa and many other genres.
Mario was born July 22, 1939 in Santo Domingo, The Dominican Republic. After he arrived in NYC in 1961, he worked with Puerto Rican vocalist Joe Valle. His most significant musical associations through the years include Tito Rodríguez (1963-65), The Machito Orchestra, Sonny Stitt, Charlie Palmieri, Eddie Palmieri, Típica 73, The George Coleman Octet, Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nation Orchestra, Slide Hampton’s Jazz Masters, the Afro Blue Band, Giovanni Hidalgo, Chico O’Farrill’s Orchestra and especially Tito Puente’s Orchestra and Latin Jazz Ensemble with whom he worked for on and off for decades.
Even though Rivera was one of the hardest working sidemen in the jazz and Latin music business he also led two groups of his own Salsa Refugees and The Mario Rivera Sextet. Although having appeared on virtually hundreds of recording, Mario recorded only one disc as a leader named after his sobriquet, “El Comandante.” It has fine examples of combinations of the native rhythm of his homeland, merengue from the Dominican Republic and jazz improvisation. Indeed it can be considered not only a tribute to his homeland and his mastery of jazz harmony but an homage also to one of his inspirations and yet another unsung hero, fellow Dominican saxophone master, Tavito Vásquez.
Rivera’s passing has been felt very hard in the Latin music and jazz community and he is sorely missed. But we have his stories, music recordings, photos, and videos to remember this grand musician because what he left us makes him truly immortal.
We leave the readers with these final thoughts from Mario himself: “In my case, the day becomes the night and the night becomes the day. There are no vehicles on the street; there are no sirens at night. There is nothing that could block the inspiration. My home is like a musical laboratory because I have to accomplish so many things, I have to learn to play so many instruments. I spend all of my free time at home, practicing like a maniac, refining my chops. This is why I play 24 instruments. When it comes to music, one must be actively militant. Music demands your entire attention and dedication. If a musician is not willing to make that commitment, he will end up floating on a sea of turds, along with the other idle and mediocre characters.”
Mario Rivera passed in August, 2007, may he play on.
Content source: James Nadal
Photos from the Facebook Tribute Page: Mario Rivera “el Comandante”
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