Miguel Chappotin, Chapo, lived in the midst of the rumba atmosphere in Belen neighborhood. His voice, one of the most amazing in the genre, gave luster to several groups, among them Yoruba Andabo.
Music was as its height. Acknowledged players and singers all brought their talent into play. In a corner, Cacha La Jaba danced with Platanito, an eccentric, Uncle Tom was writing a guaguanco he was sure would be successful on an old grocery bag, and Chavalonga was displaying spectacular steps. Suddenly, someone announced: “Guys, this will really get going now. Chapo is here.” Happiness seized all those present, who surrounded the musician and big man in the comparsa.
Miguel Chappotin, Chapo, was born in a Havana tenement house in Picota and Merced Streets. His last name was well known in music circles: his father was an acknowledged player of son and rumba and nobody would dream to play the trumpet better than his uncle Felix, very well known in son orchestras because of the style he had been able to create.
According to what Chapo told me, his father, whose name was Miguel too, had a group, Los Dandys, from Belen neighborhood:
That group became famous because of its original choreography, the way they dressed and their catchy music. They paraded for the first time in 1938. My old man, Tata and Julio Lastra, who people into rumba called Patica, created it. Drummer Chano Pozo was in Los Dandys since its beginning. He had lived for quite a while with my family, perhaps until he was twelve of fourteen years old. And, of course, I took part in that comparsa everyone in Belen loved; we danced through the neighborhood with this song:
Health, The Dandys toast for you
Health with all our heart.
Girl, don’t be so prissy, come on,
Get down from the sidewalk
These are Los Dandys from Belen,
Get down from the sidewalk
These are Los Dandys from Belen.
Another very nice one had to do with the way we dressed and which characterized us. When the carnival was close, we knocked at the door of the wealthiest businessmen and they contributed money for us to dress with more elegance and be on a par with the others. The song went:
What a surprise
What great happiness, mommy,
Is to be dressed in fashion
Like the dandies.
Mom, I’m going to live it up…
Chappottin was with Las Estrellas Amalianas, together with the Izquierdo brothers – they called them The Pellos – and singers like Julio Embale and Roberto Carrillo. This was in 1949 and they frequently played in La Tropical outdoor bars, which were patronized by the best dancers.
Then came Clave y Guaguanco, which he led after Mario Alan’s death. The group was formed by Agustin Pina, Flor de Amor, Gustavo Martinez, Gloria Mora, Malanga and Mercedes Alfonso, a dancer.
It was a wonderful idea by Argeliers Leon, who was able to recreate the most authentic music of the gender. Very old compositions were part of the repertoire. We made multiple presentations with this group which had a high quality, because most of its artist were really connoisseurs of the various types of rumba and even of the Nanigo code. Recordings can still be found, perhaps in not a too good condition and without the great technical quality we have today, but nevertheless very valuable.
When Chapo was very young, he worked in the Havana port in various tasks. There he met many people who liked rumba: Chan, Chori… They gathered to play and this is how the Guaguancó Marítimo Portuario Zona 5 (Area 5 Sea Port Guaguanco) came to be. The soul of the group was Calixto Callava, who would later belong to the Yoruba Andabo.
Chapo sang beautifully all the modalities or rumba although his favorite was guaguanco, perhaps because it sounded more urban. He was one of the best voices in the gender, which he developed with groups like Yoruba Andabo. His recordings include, among others, La rumba es cubana. Su historia (Rumba is Cuban. Its History), Tributo a Gonzalo Asencio (Tribute to Gonzalo Asencio). Tío Tom (Uncle Tom), El callejón de los rumberos (The Rumba Dancers’ Alley). and Del Yoruba al son (From Yoruba to Son). He took part in the DVDs Lo mejor de Yoruba Andabo (Yoruba Andabo’s Best) and Rumba en La Habana (Rumba in Havana). This outstanding musician died on September 30, 2010.