24 March 2006

Remembering Cuba's Pio Leiva

Pio Leiva, the oldest surviving member of the Buena Vista Social Club, died in Havana yesterday at the age of 88. Known by the nickname “Montunero of Cuba” for his performances of traditional Cuban “son montunos,” Wilfredo “Pio” Leiva is also famous for composing the song “Francisco Guayabal,” which became a big hit for singer Beny More.

The Cuban singer was one of the prominent members of the Buena Vista Social Club, which was immortalised in the 1999 film by Wim Wenders in 1999. Several of the group's members have passed away in recent years, including singer Campay Segundo and Ibrahim Ferrer, and pianist Ruben Gonzales.

Leiva began his career as a bongo player in the Siboney orchestra and, after singing in trios and other ensembles, made his professional debut in 1932 as a singer with Juanito Blez’s group, Caribe. Last year, Leiva contributed to the recording of the tribute album to Spanish singer-songwriter Joan Manuel Serrat – titled Cuba le canta a Serrat (Cuba Sings to Serrat) – with his interpretation of the song “Me gusta todo de ti” (I Like Everything About You).

Leiva released his last recording album, La Salud de Pio Leiva in May, 2005. He also released a live album/DVD in January of a concert he performed in Amsterdam (Pio Leiva y los Mentirosos - Live in Amsterdam) at the age of 87.

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