Rafael Cortijo – Remembering the Maestro’s Dream


This past October was the anniversary of the permanent departure of Puerto Rican and Latin music legend Rafael Cortijo, joining a constellation of past Latino music stars.

Cortijo El Sueno del Maestro
Cortijo “El Sueño del Maestro”

It’s hard to mention Cortijo without mentioning Rivera. It’s like “arroz con habichelas”. And rightly so, we remember Rafael Cortijo mostly for the outstanding contributions he made to Latin music with lead singer Ismael Rivera.

Cortijo’s Dream – “El Sueño del Maestro”

Yet in his later career, many years after the breakup with Ismael Rivera, Rafael Cortijo recorded one of his most precious gems. “El Sueño del Maestro” quietly became a great Latin music album. During this time, Ismael Rivera was doing his thing with his band “Los Cachimbos”. Meanwhile, Cortijo recruited Ismael Rivera Jr., to share singing duties along his nephew Fe Cortijo.

The 1980 Salsa album “El Sueño del Maestro” (The Maestro’s Dream) resulted in one of Cortijo’s best recordings. By 1980, Rafael Cortijo had evolved his sound to be that of an orchestra and not just a “combo”. Ismaelito Jr. was very effective in his recording debut. Additionally, Fe Cortijo, even though with her excessively high pitch voice, was able to make a great match with Ismaelito’s low pitch voice, very similar to his dad’s.

The selection of songs for “El Sueño del Maestro” was well thought. This resulted in serveral songs becoming radio hits. The biggest of these hits, was “Gotas de Veneno”, where Fe Cortijo and Ismael Rivera Jr. share singing duties. The song has what I a call a Salsa music “mainstream” sound. It has a slow, melodic tempo, which attracts those Latin music fans that are not “hard-core” Salseros. Besides “Gotas de Veneno” , the album had a great backing of other songs. These include “Elena, Elena” and “Cirilo Sanchez”, along with “Estanislao” and “Ella Hablaba de Amor”. This last song had singer Carlos Santos, from Roberto Roena’s Apollo Sound, as guest artist.

Here’s a YouTube video of the song “Gotas de Veneno”.

Seeing Rafael Cortijo Perform “Live”

I had the great opportunity to see in-person the Latin music maestro Rafael Cortijo and his band around the time he released this album. I had a summer job in a government office in Santurce, where then Canal 11 TV station was located. At lunch time, I used to grab a sandwich and walk to Canal 11 to see the Alfred D. Herger “Cambia, Cambia”, co-hosted by Alfred, Awilda “La Mimosa”, and ex-El Gran Combo great Pellin Rodriguez.

Alfred D’ Herger always brought great bands to the show, and Cortijo was one that he brought on several occasions. It was mesmerizing to see Ismael Rivera Jr. with Rafael Cortijo’s band. I could almost imagine the old days of Ismael and Cortijo.

If you want a piece of history, that is so much more than just a “collector’s item”, I would highly recommend “El Sueño del Maestro” as a great Latin album to add to your Latino music library.

Final Note: Rafael Cortijo died about 2 years after the release of the album. He was 52. “El Sueño del Maestro” was arguably his best recording after the Ismael Rivera era. 

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  1. David Noriega says

    What do you mean by Fe Cortijo’s “…excessively high pitched voice…?” I remember the high-pitched voice, (falsetto?) in the chorus behind Ismael Rivera on the early songs with Cortijo y su Combo (see Perico, Las Ingratitudes, etc. Could you elaborate? Thanks.

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Hi David,
      Fe Cortijo, nephew of the great bandleader Rafael Cortijo, does have high pitch singing voice. I’m not saying or even suggesting that is a bad thing. I’m just stating a fact; some people have deep low voices, Fe’s is a high soprano. I think she and Ismael Jr. make a great singing duo.
      Now, on your comment about the chorus on Cortijo’s old records with Ismael Rivera, that is the voice of sax player Eddie “La Bala” Perez. Eddie continued making chorus in the first recordings of El Gran Combo, but then, perhaps to separate themselves from the Cortijo sound, Ithier stopped using Eddie on chorus (at least on the recordings). EGC started using Paquito Guzman on chorus for recordings, then replaced him with Yayo El Indio until they brought in Luis “Papo” Rosario.
      You can read all of this on my blog series History of El Gran Combo!

  2. Jason Cortjio says

    Fe Cortjio, is my Aunt and Rafael Cortjio is my Uncle

    1. Hector Aviles says

      Great! Hope you enjoyed the blog post!

  3. […] even before then. Along with Rafael Ithier, Roena remained the only remaining members of Cortijo y su Combo of the ’50s and ’60s. After Cortijo he joined El Gran Combo and later formed his famous […]

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