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Los Zafiros

Biography

Though they lived and died just 90 miles away from U.S. shores, most Americans have never heard of los Zafiros. But this group knew of America intimately: conceived in the early 1960s, the band followed in the footsteps of doo-wop acts like the Coasters and the Platters and ended up not only reproducing but in many ways exceeding the vocal talents of their heroes.While they started out singing just doo-wop, pretty soon they added boleros, bossa novas and tumbaos to their repertoire with sublime results. Headed by four singers and accompanied (unusual for the time) on guitar by arranger Manuel Galban, the fresh-faced group became an international sensation, making a splash at Paris's Olympia Theater and going on to meet the Beatles and performing in exotic locales like Russia and Poland. But for all their talent, los Zafiros embodied both the promise and pitfalls of pop music: alcohol abuse consumed three of the four lead singers, and the group began destroying their hotel rooms as they fought each other. As a result, their international gigs dried up as their reputation preceded them. Galban left the group and immigrated to Miami in 1972, and by 1975 it was all over, thanks in part to changing musical tastes and in part to the group's self-destructive behavior. Ignacio Elejalde died in 1981 at age 37, Leonicio "Kike" Morua died a year later of cirrhosis and Eduardo Hernandez ("El Chino") died in 1995 after years of blindness and alcoholism. Nonesuch released Bossa Cubana in 1999, reviving the band's fortunes a bit, and in 2003 producer/director Lorenzo Destefano released a documentary about the group.
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