Guitarist Manuel Galban, a member of the Cuban supergroup Buena Vista Social Club and the pioneering doo-wop act Los Zafiros, died of a heart attack July 7 in Havana. He was 80.
Galban, who began his professional career in 1944, joined Los Zafiros in 1963. Patterned after such American acts as the Platters and Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the vocal group, which prominently featured Galban’s liquid guitar work, became wildly popular in Cuba, and toured internationally. The hard-living act broke up in 1975; its history was recounted in Lorenzo DeStefano’s 2004 documentary “Los Zafiros: Music From the Edge of Time,” which featured Galban.
After a 1972-75 stint as leader of Cuba’s national music ensemble Direccion Nacional de Musica, Galban formed the popular unit Batey, which he led for 23 years. He later joined the group Vieja Trova Santiaguera for two years.
In 1996, Galban’s international profile rose after he was drafted by American guitarist Ry Cooder as a charter member of Buena Vista Social Club, formed to document the work of Cuban performers such as Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Omara Portuondo and Ruben Gonzalez. Galban recorded and toured with the Social Club and its individual members, and appeared in Wim Wenders’ 1999 feature about the group. In 2003, he recorded an instrumental duet album, “Mambo Sinuendo,” with Cooder; it won a Grammy Award as best pop instrumental album.
Galban’s final album “BlueChaCha” is awaiting release.