Eliades Ochoa is considered one of the most renowned Cuban soneros of all time, a notable defender of traditional Cuban music, and the best Cuban guitarist of his generation. His distinctive cowboy hat and his penchant for wearing black have led some to call him “The Cuban Johnny Cash.”
Born in Santiago de Cuba in 1946, Ochoa at a young age began to play the guitar; his teachers were his parents, who were of peasant origin and self-taught. He also studied with itinerant troubadours. In his walks through guateques (bars, but literally “parties” in English) and zonas de tolerancia (red-light districts), he began to learn the vast repertoire of traditional Cuban music. His musical style represents his place of origin, the Cuban countryside, the anecdotes he heard, los guateques campesinos (peasant parties) and other elements that influenced and made him the artist he is today.
He joined the Septeto Típico Oriental in 1969 and officially entered the Casa de la Trova in 1970, where he began to perform regularly. In 1982, he became part of the Cuarteto Patria as director, arranger, vocalist and lead guitarist. He adapted the repertoire of Cuarteto Patria in his own style, keeping alive the tradition of Cuban folk music. His guitar stylings gave the group a new signature sound.
Also, in the ’80s, he participated with legendary sonero Compay Segundo and Cuarteto Patria in various artistic tours. With Compay Segundo, Ochoa recorded the first version of “Chan Chan,” which would become a Cuban standard. Ochoa’s lead guitar chords for this iconic song continues to inspire troubadours and listeners.
In 1996, Ochoa became one of the founders and star members of the Buena Vista Social Club, a collective organized by World Circuit Records executive Nick Gold, produced by American guitarist Ry Cooder and directed by Juan de Marcos González. The group turned into an international phenomenon and revived traditional Cuban styles and veteran musicians such as Company Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Rúben González, Omara Portuondo and Pío Leyva, some of whom had been forgotten.
The group’s debut disc won a Grammy Award for best tropical Latin performance in 1997; it inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary by acclaimed German filmmaker Wim Wenders and led to spin-off discs for the individual Buena Vista musicians.
Among his albums with Virgin Records are “Sublime Ilusión” with the production of John Wooler and the special participation of American blues great Charlie Musselwhite, David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and Ry Cooder. “Sublime Ilusión” was Grammy-nominated as best traditional tropical Latin album. “Tributo al Cuarteto Patria” recognizes Pancho Cobas, founder of Cuartero Patria, and the troubadours and composers who have inspired Ochoa’s career. For this album, Ochoa was Grammy-nominated for best traditional tropical Latin performance.
In 2010, he recorded the album “Afrocubism,” accompanied by his group Patria and acclaimed musicians from Mali. National Geographic recognized it as the best world music album that year, and in 2012, it was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2012, he released the album “Un Bolero Para Ti,” which won four Latin Grammy Awards.
He has collaborated on record with Latin-music stars Enrique Bunbury, Luis Eduardo Aute, Manu Dibango, Jarabe de Palo, Blof Umoja, Moncho, Armando Manzanero, Descemer Bueno and Pablo Milanés, among others. In 2013, Ochoa was selected to participate in a tribute to Bob Dylan.
In 2018, “Eliades Ochoa from Cuba to the World” was released, a documentary about Ochoa’s artistic career, directed and produced by Cynthia Biestek. This award-winning documentary has been presented at major film festivals worldwide. In 2020, he recorded “Vamos a Bailar un Son,” and in 2021, he collaborated with Spanish rapper C. Tangana for “Muriendo de Envidia,” which appears on the album “El Madrileño.”
His latest disc, “Guajiro,” due for release in May 2023, features songs mostly written by Ochoa and cements his status as a legendary Cuban performer and storyteller.
Please note: Biographies are based on information provided to the CSO by the artists or their representatives. More current information may be available on websites of the artists or their management.