Cuban band leader Juan Formell dead at 71

Fri May 2, 2014 6:01pm EDT
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By Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban band leader Juan Formell, a Grammy-winning singer and bass player for Los Van Van orchestra whose mixture of son and salsa earned the group the nickname "the Cuban music train," died in Havana on Thursday. He was 71.

The cause was liver disease, his family said.

Thousands of tearful mourners, many singing Formell's most popular songs, attended a public wake in central Havana on Friday.

Havana-born Formell created Los Van Van in 1969 and won a Grammy in 1999 for the album "Van Van is Here." He also won a Latin Grammy last year for musical excellence.

Los Van Van mixed son with salsa in a musical style known in Cuba as songo.

Among the group's hits were "El negro no tiene na'," "Te traigo" and "Yuya Martinez."

    An urn with Formell's cremains was put on display at a theater, where musicians, politician and fans paid their respects.

"To me, he was a master, a friend, a brother and even a father," said the musician Cesar "Puppy" Pedroso, 69, a Los Van Van band mate for 35 years.   Continued...

Juan Formell, band leader and bassist of Cuba's salsa band Los Van Van, performs during a concert in Havana January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer