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Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

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The Obituary of Gregorio "Goyo" Diaz:
a founding member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas

by Ned Sublette

Gregorio ("Goyo") Diaz Alfonso, percussionist and rumbero, founding member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas, died in Matanzas, Cuba, on May 8, 1996, of cardiac arrest after a prolonged illness.

Born in Matanzas on December 24, 1929, Goyo was one of a group of young men from Matanzas's barrio La Marina who in 1952 co-founded Guaguanco Matancero, a group dedicated to performing the fast-paced style of rumba known as guaguanco.

In 1953 the group recorded a series of sides for the Puchito label which are considered milestones of rumba. One song, "Los Muñequitos," which told of the adventures of comic-strip characters in the Saturday papers, became so popular that people began to call the group "Los Muñequitos," which subsequently became the group's name. Over the years the group expanded its repertoire, first to include other styles of rumba besides guaguanco, and then Afro-Cuban religious music.

Beginning in the late 1980s, they began to tour abroad, performing three tours in the United States to great popular and critical acclaim in 1992, 1994, and 1995, and traveling twice to Brasil and to England.

Goyo played the tumba, the deep-voiced drum at the center of the three drums that play the rumba. His distinctive style is best documented on Los Muñequitos' 1995 Qbadisc release "Vacunao," which also includes his composition "Ese Señor."

At the time he became ill, Goyo was the only founding member still performing with the 13-person group. His last performance with Los Muñequitos was in a workshop given by the group in December 1995 in Matanzas under the auspices of San Francisco-based Caribbean Music and Dance Programs.

A resident of Matanzas's barrio La Marina, he was a member of Cuba's Yoruba religion as a son of la Caridad de Cobre and was a member of the Abakua society Uriabon Efik #1.

His funeral was attended by a large number of Matanceros and included heartfelt performances by Los Muñequitos, including retired members Hortensio "Virulilla" Alfonso and Esteban "Chacha" Vega. Yoruba and Abakua ceremonies were performed.

He is survived by his wife Silvia and eight children, including his son Agustin, who is a member of Los Muñequitos de Matanzas.

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