Despite José Antonio Rodríguez’s diminutive size, he had a huge voice and was affectionately known in his native Cuba as ‘El Pequeño Gran Sonero’. His death, aged just 52, is a shock to many and a loss to all.
Since founding Sierra Maestra over 26 years ago, the band has released countless albums and toured extensively all over the world.
Despite a punishing tour schedule and their role as guardians of the son sound, Sierra Maestra never seemed to hit the big time in the way that those more directly involved with the Buena Vista experience did. I suspect this lack of major commercial success was as mystifying to them as it is to me.
Seeing José Antonio Rodríguez play just a couple of weeks ago in London, it is very difficult to imagine that he is now dead. These pictures of his London gig may well be some of the last of him alive and doing what he loved most, playing. He died just a few hours after coming off stage at a gig in Copenhagen on November 6 and it would appear a severe asthma attack may have been the cause.
Fly reporter Rayme Samuels also interviewed the band a few days before this sad event.
Here is the message sent out to his fans from his fellow band members:
“José Antonio Rodríguez died on Saturday night November 6, in Copenhagen aged just 52. Singer with Sierra Maestra since the beginning 26 years ago, and considered one of the best soneros, or singers of the son style, in Cuba. José Antonio (or Maceo as he was known to his friends and admirers) was born in the Holguin province of Cuba and from early childhood dedicated himself to music. He was the co-founder and the soul of the Sierra Maestra group. He was baptised by the Cuban people as ‘EL PEQUENO GRAN SONERO’ , the little big sonero , a reference to his small stature. He was an excellent musician, singer, guitarist and above all an excellent person. A modest man whose talent never diverted him from being extremely straightforward.
Apart from performing on all 14 or so Sierra Maestra albums, he also sang amongst others on the first Ruben González CD, the first Afro-Cuban All Stars CD, and both of Ibrahim Ferrer’s solo CDs.
On the new Sierra Maestra album “Son-soul of a nation”, he interprets melodies highly respected by all Cuban singers for their level of complexity, resulting in an excellent legacy of son for future generations
On our previous CD ‘Rumbero Soy’ he sang with Ibrahim ferrer and Omara Portuondo with whom he was great friends. . He also sang with such Cuban greats of as Miguelito Cuní, Tito Gómez, Carlos Embale and Joseito Fernández (author of Guantanamera)
Like Ibrahim just recently, who died singing which for him was his life, so has José Antonio, just an hour after performing in Copenhagen. Cuban music will always have reason to thank him for helping it reach the level it has.
His death will bring sorrow to Cuban music, and he is a huge loss. For us in Sierra Maestra it is the loss of a brother and from now on every note played by Sierra Maestra will be played to his memory”