Arsenio Rodríguez [1911-1970]
Born in Cuba and blinded at a young age when he was kicked in the head by a mule, Arsenio Rodríguez went on to become an influential tres player and bandleader known as “El Ciego Maravilloso” (the marvellous blind man).
As the leader of his own son group in the 1940s, Arsenio brought a more African approach to the Cuban son montuno, expanding the percussion to include congas and extending the call and response section of the performance (called the coro or montuno) to emphasize polyrhythm and improvisation. He incorporated these innovations into a new style called mambo which was quickly taken up and developed by other musicians.
In 1952 he emigrated to New York where he performed regularly at the Palladium Ballroom and other venues during the height of the mambo’s popularity. While Arsenio’s music proved an important influence on the younger generation of New York salsa musicians, he struggled to maintain his career even as the genre caught on. He died poor in Los Angeles in 1970.