One of the most exciting new voices in Cuban music is singing traditional ballads, stuff like "Quiereme Mucho" and "Dos Gardenias." Armando Garzon, dubbed "The Black Angel with the Velvet Voice" by the Mexican press, is a countertenor who performs spare renditions of the classics with rare sensitivity and emotional directness. Backed by an acoustic band, the Quinteto Oriente, Garzon manages to sound both profoundly traditional and contemporary. His voice is unusually high, climbing the octaves at the end of tunes. His ability to sing sentimental songs without sounding sentimental also seems novel in a genre dominated by the likes of Luis Miguel and Julio Iglesias.
Garzon was born in 1948 in Santiago de Cuba, where he still lives. Nearly everyone in his family sang, particularly his grandmother and great aunt, who serenaded him with traditional Cuban songs. While studying engineering at the University of Oriente, Garzon sang as a principal soloist with the university choir, where he grew to admire European music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, composers such as Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, and John Dowland. In 1978, Garzon joined the Orfeon de Santiago, one of Cuba's great choirs, touring Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. Garzon next recorded an album of popular ballads, which included Simon and Garfunkel and Beatles hits, and was only released in Cuba. Garzon looked for inspiration to the English countertenor Alfred Deler and others who sang Irish ballads and traditional songs; he then decided to sing Cuban standards in the same fashion. In late 2000, Corason Records released an album of Cuban-based romantic music titled Escalando. ~ Spencer Harrington