One of the most influential Cuban musicians of the Castro era, Juan Formell formed Los Van Van in 1969 after developing Afro-Cuban meldings with the changui sound of Elio Reve's Orchestra. From there he did more to influence the sound of Cuban music than anyone else during the '70s and '80s.
Born in Havana in 1942, Formell was taught both by his father and the bassist Orestes Urfe. By the age of 17 he was a member of a military band (playing bass as well); several years later, he moved to the nightclubs and began working on the new sound of Cuban dance, with Elio Reve as well as Elena Burke. After forming Los Van Van, Formell introduced the songo sound, which became one of the most popular forms during the '70s. The birth of the '80s brought a new sound, that of buey cansado, and unsurprisingly, the new form proved just as popular as songo. Los Van Van released several high-selling LPs and toured most of South and Central America, as well as Asia and the then-Soviet Union. Formell has recorded several solo albums, though Los Van Van appears on all of them. He passed away in the spring of 2014. In 2015, Los Van Van released La Fantasia: Homenaje a Juan Formell through Egrem in Cuba. The band, led by Samuel Formell claimed that Juan had already chosen all the songs for the album. He wrote five of the set's compostions and his voice appears on the title track—orignally composed for Luna Manzanares. The album, billed to Juan Formell y Los Van Van—was not only a critical success but a commercial one as well. Sony picked it up for release internationally and issued it in North America in early 2016. ~ John Bush