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Havana-based group Sierra Maestra is one of the foremost bands performing the Cuban son style, which enjoyed its height of popularity in the '20s and '30s. Though son experienced significant revival and renewed international interest thanks to the late-'90s Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, Sierra Maestra gave the music a new lease on life as early as the late '70s. Headed by Juan d'Marcos González, the nine-piece outfit came together in 1976 for a performance at the University of Havana, the musicians' alma mater. Utilizing traditional instrumentation including tres, guitar, bongo, guiro, trumpet, and voice, joined by congas, maracas, and electric base, the musicians named their group after the mountain range where son was born. Band leader González was joined by Daniel Ramos Alayo (trumpet), Carlos González (bongo), Carlos Pisseaux (guiro), Alberto Valdés (maracas and voice), Luis Bárgaza (voice), José Antonio Rodríguez (guitar and voice), Eduardo Himely (bass and conga), and Alejandro Suárez (clave and voice). Through regular performance and television appearances, Sierra Maestra became a national favorite, winning national awards in their first three years in operation. The band's debut recording, Sierra Maestra Llegó con el Guanajo Relleno, earned silver status in the year of its release, 1981. Popular critical reception and widespread popularity opened doors for international touring in the early '80s. Following their sophomore release, Y Son Así (1982), Sierra Maestra toured all over Europe, appearing at important festivals in Sweden, France, Germany, and Spain. Starting with their 1994 release Dundunbanza!, Sierra Maestra's recordings soon became available to international audiences. Their discography grew significantly throughout the '90s and 2000s, including better than a dozen titles by 2006's Son: Soul of a Nation. The musicians' commitment to the repertoire of artists such as Arsenio Rodríguez and the compositions of their own members earned them a reputation as both artful custodians of a tradition and brilliant innovators as well. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez