Rafael Antonio Cortijo
|Born||December 11, 1928|
|Died||October 3, 1982 (aged 53)|
Santurce, Puerto Rico
|Occupation||Musician, Orchestra leader, and Composer|
|Children||Rafael Cortijo "Timbe", Zoila R. Cortijo|
Rafael Antonio Cortijo (December 11, 1928 – October 3, 1982) was a Puerto Rican musician, orchestra leader, and composer.
As a child, Cortijo became interested in Caribbean music and enjoyed the works of some of the era's most successful Bomba y Plena music musicians. Throughout his life, he had a chance to meet and work with some of them, and learned how to make his own congas and pleneras, the handheld drums used in bomba y plena music.
Salsa composer and singer Ismael Rivera met Cortijo when both were youngsters, as they both grew up in the Villa Palmeras neighborhood of Santurce; they became lifelong friends. Rivera was impressed with Cortijo's conga-playing skills and was asked to join his orchestra, which played at Fiestas patronales all over Puerto Rico.
Rafael Cortijo became well known across Latin America. He attributed his success to the sound of his percussion, according to Cortijo, Afro-Caribbean music was known worldwide. A member of the Conjunto Monterrey, based in Monterrey, Mexico, he later toured with Daniel Santos' orchestra and worked on radio.
By 1954, Cortijo was a member of "El Combo". His big break at the time came when El Combo's leader and pianist, Mario Román, left the band to Cortijo expecting to return to the band after a New York gig with Myrta Silva. Román never returned to the band in pursuit of other interests in New York's Latin music scene. Ismael Rivera, then the lead singer of Lito Peña's Orquesta Panamericana, joined Cortijo's orchestra known as Cortijo y su Combo in 1955. From then until 1960, his orchestra played live on Puerto Rican television shows (sometime in the 60s, they became the house band at "La Taberna India").
The orchestra virtually disbanded in 1962 when Ismael Rivera was arrested for drug possession in Panama. According to later reports, various band members concealed illegal drug shipments regularly since they were rarely intervened with at Customs; in this particular occasion an inspection was indeed made, and Rivera willingly took the bulk of the rap for the entire group (including Cortijo, who was deeply affected by Rivera's plea and regretted it through the rest of his life). Rafael Ithier and other bandmates went on to found Puerto Rico's salsa group, "El Gran Combo".
Later on, Cortijo created another orchestra, "El Bonche", where he was joined by his adopted niece, Fe Cortijo. Fe then became a well known singer on her own. Marvin Santiago became part of Cortijo's lineup around this time.
Cortijo and Rivera went on to live in New York City. Cortijo, however, soon returned to Puerto Rico, where the composer, Tite Curet Alonso, forged a friendship with the impoverished star and helped Cortijo produce a comeback album. In 1974, Coco Records reunited all the former members of "Cortijo y su Combo" orchestra for a one-time-only concert and a subsequent studio recording issued a few months afterwards.