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"El Sonero Mayor", Ismael Rivera.File image.
'El Sonero Mayor,' Ismael Rivera. Photo: Ismael Rivera Foundation

The salsa world celebrates the 90th birthday of the 'Sonero Mayor'  

On Tuesday, Oct. 5, salseros remembered and celebrated the 90th birthday of the emblematic Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera.

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Puerto Rican singer Ismael Rivera 'El Sonero Mayor', would have turned 90 years old on Oct. 5. In tribute to his career and his legacy in the world of salsa, his followers and other musicians remembered him and celebrated the life of the man who became the benchmark of the Afro-Antillean rhythm born in New York City.

"For me today was born the most important singer of Afro-Antillean and tropical music, and the reference of this genre we call salsa," Moncho Rivera, nephew of 'Maelo,' told EFE.

Rivera began his musical career at the age of 17, when in 1948, he was invited to be a "bongosero" in Conjunto Monterrey, led by Monchito Muley. In 1955, he made his debut as a singer in the Orquesta Panamericana, led by Puerto Rican director Lito Peña. A year later, he joined Cortijo y su Combo, with whom he recorded songs like "El bombón de Elena," "El negro bembón," "Con la punta del pie," "Saoco," and "Tambores africanos," which later became emblematic songs of the genre.

After spending some time in prison in Lexington, where he served four years for drug possession, 'El Brujo' rejoinded Cortijo's group and recorded the albums Bienvenido (1966) and Con todos los hierros (1967). Later, Rivera created the group Los Cachimbos, with whom he recorded 12 albums and continued to reap international success.

'Maelo,' who died of a heart attack at his home on May 13, 1987, left an endless and invaluable legacy for the salsa world and larger music industry.

"Ismael is important because he was a singer who was a reference for those who are still here and for those who have left us," said Moncho, who's been performing his uncle's hits since 2001.

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