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.
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.