The Bronx-based Charanga America was one of the premier charangas in New York City during the late '70s and early '80s, and though the group's profile waned over the years as the dance fell out of style, the remained fitfully active on-stage in the decades that followed. Based around bandleader/conguero George Maysonet and his wife Margie, the group was formed in 1977 and recorded albums for El Sonido Records (George Maysonet and Charanga America, 1978; George Maysonet and Charanga America, Vol. 2, 1979), Top Hits (Comiendose a Nueva York, 1980; Charanga America, 1981), Combo (Y Algo Mas, 1983; The Very Best, 1985), and El Abuelo (Siempre con Sabor!, 1989). Their biggest hit was "Ayúdame San Antonio" (1978) while a cover of the Doors' "Light My Fire" (1985) was perhaps their most curious one. With the exception of a few reissues, the Charanga America catalog was more or less out of print for years on end, which, along with the scarcity of the original vinyl releases, left the group's legacy chiefly in the hands of record collectors and historians.
Born on April 19, 1938, in Cataño, Puerto Rico, Maysonet arrived in New York City in 1949 at age 11 and, after a few years in the barrio, moved to the South Bronx, where he grew interested in music, particularly percussion. His first opportunity to play in a charanga -- essentially an orchestra of piano, strings, vocals, flute, and percussion -- came courtesy of Alfredito Valdés, who hired him in the 1950s as a conguero. Maysonet subsequently played in numerous bands throughout New York City, including those of Joe Quijano, Willie Rosario, Willie Bobo, Eddie Palmieri, Charlie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco, Belisario López, Orquesta Novel, and Orquestra Broadway. During the late '60s he returned to Puerto Rico, where he played in the bands of Rafael Brassero, Nacho Sanabria, and Johnny Segui. In 1971 he joined the New York-based Orquesta Novel and also spent some time playing in Orchestra Broadway before forming a charanga of his own, Charanga America, in 1977.
In addition to Maysonet, Charanga America was initially comprised of his Margie (aka Margaret) on vocals, his son George Maysonet, Jr., on tamboura, Eddie Drennon on violin, Frank Bello on piano, Rafael "Felo" Barrio (also a member of Orquesta Broadway at the time) on lead vocals, and Gene Hernández (aka Eugenio Hernández) also on lead vocals. The group reportedly had planned to sign to Tito Rodriguez's TR Records but instead chose El Sonido Records, a short-lived label overseen by Bobby Marín. Released in 1978, George Maysonet and Charanga America was their most successful album, spawning their biggest hit, "Ayúdame San Antonio," written by Rafael "Felo" Barrio, who sung it with Gene Hernández. The group released one further album on El Sonido, George Maysonet and Charanga America, Vol. 2 (1979), before switching to Top Hits for a pair of self-produced albums, Comiendose a Nueva York (1980) and Charanga America (1981), and then to Combo for a pair of Ralph Cartagena-produced efforts, Y Algo Mas (1983) and The Very Best (1985), the latter not technically a best-of compilation despite the billing. Lastly, there was a 1989 album released on El Abuelo, Siempre con Sabor!, that marked the end of the group's recording career, if not the end of the group itself. ~ Jason Birchmeier