Francisco Fellove: Charismatic soul singer

 

Francisco "el Gran" Fellove, who died in Mexico on 15 February at the age of 89, was a Cuban soul star regarded as one of the pioneers of the genre known as "filin". One of Cuba's most charismatic performers, he was celebrated for his tropical music on songs like "El Jamaiquino" and "Mango Mangue" – which he wrote when he was 16 or 17 and was recorded by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and the flautist Johnny Pacheco, among others.

The actor Matt Dillon had recently worked with Fellove on a forthcoming documentary on Afro-Caribbean music. He said, "He was a great artist and he left a great musical legacy... It was a privilege for me to be able to work and spend time with him."

Filin was an American-influenced, popular song style which flourished from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The word is derived from "feeling", and was also known as "el feeling". It survived the first few years of the revolution, but didn't fit in with the new mood in the country and it gradually withered, leaving its roots in jazz, romantic song and the bolero.

Francisco Fellove Valdes was born on 7 October 1923 in the Barrio Colon in Havana. As a child, he would walk through the streets of downtown Havana singing and drumming. "I played the guitar and sang with Niño Rivera," he recalled – he wrote "Mango Mangue" in Rivera's house. Fellove was a long-time resident of Mexico, where he first travelled by boat from Havana in the 1950s. Soon after his arrival, the Mexican director and producer Mariano Rivera Conde dubbed him "El Gran" ["The Great"].

He later performed in New York with orchestras led by Tito Puente and Machito at the height of the city's Latin dance scene; he also toured throughout Latin America. In 1999, he made an album with the Cuban trumpeter Alfredo "Chocolate" Armenteros and the pianist Osmany Paredes. He also recorded a tropical version of Sting's "Walking on the Moon".

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