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Willy Chirino
Willy Chirino

With a musical catalog of more than 100 songs and 28 recorded albums, Willy Chirino is without a doubt one of the most emblematic tropical music acts of all time. No wonder he is considered one of the fathers of the “Miami sound,” and the master of “Miami salsa.” Many of his hits (“Oxígeno,” Acuraelas del Caribe,” “Zarabanda,” “South Beach,” “Medias Negras” and “Asere,” to name just a few), have immediately reached gold and/or platinum status. And this doesn’t even take into account the sales obtained by the more than 60 artists that have recorded his songs, which, rightly so, have been heard around the world.

As a child, Willy’s only link with music was what his parents heard in the home. In fact, anybody would say he was destined to be a professional in another field. “I don’t come from a musical family,” says Chirino. “My father was a lawyer, my mother a pharmacist. All my uncles graduated from college: lawyers, doctors…I would have surely followed in those footsteps if it hadn’t been for one of the religious parties of my hometown (Consolacion del Sur, Pinar del Río, in Cuba).”

There, he says, different bands would play live every year. Those performances had an almost magical effect over him; the music penetrated his soul and never again could he live without it. His fascination acquired bigger dimensions when he saw the great Benny Moré perform live. Then he knew he had to break the family tradition; his life was in music.

Like more than 14,000 children who left Cuba in exile through Operation Pedro Pan (the largest infant exodus in the Western Hemisphere), Chirino arrived to Miami in 1961. A few years later, when he knocked on the first doors in search of a job, he said he was a musician. There was only one problem: The only stage he had performed on was the imaginary set he built every night inside his head before falling asleep. It’s not hard to imagine how scared he was when the owner of an band called him to play percussion at a party. “I was very scared and very happy,” he remembers now. To his surprise, he played so well that the orchestra—with Chirino as a member—would become the soul of many other parties.

While he was still in high school, he combined his studies with his work as a percussionist and learned how to play other instruments (bass, keyboards, guitar, among others). Not knowing how to read music, he still played in chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, he accompanied operas and zarzuelas. Soon, his name and talent led him to perform with the bands of some of the greatest stars of the 60’s without knowing that his light and star would soon shine as brightly as theirs.

He was the architect of the story of his success because, tireless as always, during the evenings he began to record some of his songs at the studio of a friend, who, fascinated by what he heard, decided to share the recordings with some of his clients. It was Guillermo Álvarez Guedes (responsible for launching the careers of big stars such as Rolando Laserie, Elena Burke and el Gran Combo de Puerto Rico). When he heard the music, he asked, curious: “What’s that band?” He was surprised at the answer: “It isn’t a band. It’s a musician called Willy Chirino. He plays all the instruments.”

Álvarez Guedes offered him his first contract and recorded his first album “One Man Alone.” Willy wrote all the songs and he played nearly all the instruments. Success was so great, it went around the world and the song “Soy” became a classic, first in tropical music, and later in many genres, that today is still covered in many languages, even Japanese.

Since then, the genius and ingenuity of Willy Chirino haven’t stopped impacting the world’s musical landscape. Many of his songs have become hymns of hope for millions of people subjected to political tyrannies. They include “Nuestro Día -Ya Viene Llegando” (Our Day Is Almost Here), inspired on the difficulties faced by the Cuban people. Others, like “Soy Guajiro,” musically paint a rural landscape that is hard to improve, while songs like “LA Jinetera” talk about troublesome social issues.

His music went into soap operas, and he wrote for three of them: “La Zulianita”, “Pobre Diabla” and “Laura Virginia”. Hand in hand with his career as a singer/songwriter, he has shone as a producer, working in major products for world legends like Celia Cruz, Raphael and Oscar D’León.

Among his countless accomplishments it should be noted he has his own star on Calle 8, he has a street that bears his name and organizations such as UNICEF and the U.S. Department of State have given him important awards recognizing his humanitarian work, as, aside from being a successful artist, Willy Chirino is a tireless philanthropist who has his own foundation.

In the Spring of 2008, this mega performer and composer released his new album, “PA’LANTE”. It is a historical recording where he joins forces with some of the greatest musicians, ranging from a collaboration with salsa’s best (Celia Cruz, Víctor Manuel, Issac Delgado, Oscar De León, Gilberto Santa Rosa in “Los Campeones de la Salsa”), Papo Lucca (“Fue La Música”), Alberto Plaza (“Pa’lante”). The album also includes two landmark duets: One with Oscar D’León (“Lo Que Esta Pa’ti”) and another with Daniela Mercury (“Hay Amores”). And, of course, one song of hope and relief for the millions of people that for one reason or another have to live in exile (“13 de Julio- El Mar Nos Une”). It is a topic that is of special interest to Willy and a song he especially dedicates to Cubans in and out of their country.

In “PA’LANTE”, Willy Chirino once again fuses different American, Latin and Brazilian rhythms with social and political messages, love songs, and, above all, songs of optimism, full of that feeling that he is so passionate about and that has become his enormous flag during his lifetime.