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Andy Montañez: “EL Niño de Trastalleres”

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ANDRÉS MONTÁNEZ RODRÍGUEZ (born May 7, 1942), better known as Andy Montañez, aka El Niño De Trastalleres” is a Puerto Rican singer (sonero), songwriter, bandleader and political activist. 

(Trastalleres, means “Backyards in Spanish. It is derived from the mechanic’s shops built to service the San Juan Trolley in Santurce, Puerto Rico, in the 19th century). 

EARLY YEARS

“Aside from making seventeen children, my father liked to sing. I attribute my musical bent to him,” said Andy in an interview with author Mary Kent in 2005. “My mother used to take me to sing at an amateur radio program when I was 12 years old. With neighbors, we started a trio for serenades.”

Andy’s school was at bus stop 18, and musicians gathered at bus stop 12, in front of a radio station that broadcasted live music. “I’d change my school shirt so they could not identify me, and I would watch Ismael Rivera sing. I used to skip school to see Raphael Ithier, Martin Quiñones, all those guys. But I never imagined I would sing that kind of music one day.”

Andy’s break came when he auditioned for Noro Morales’s brother, Luis, at a nightclub called El Esquife. As fate would have it, the lead singer did not show up, and Andy was asked to fill in as a “bolerista” (ballad singer). He was a member of the group for six months.

EL GRAN COMBO

In 1962, on the recommendation of Sammy Ayala, Rafael Ithier (founder of the highly successful El Gran Combo) sought Andy out. Ithier tested Andy’s sense of rhythm, ability to sing in tune and taught him how to sing dance music. Six months later, Ithier invited Andy to join El Gran Combo. To this day, Andy cites Ithier as the person responsible for the strength of his voice.

For a taste of Andy Montañez with El Gran Combo I recommend Los años de Andy Montañez con el Gran Combo de Puerto Rico (1969) and hits such as Hojas Blancas, Un Verano en Nueva York, El Barbara Loco, Julia, Ponme el Alcolado, Juana, Vagabundo and El SwingAndy was with El Gran Combo for fifteen years. During his tenure he recorded thirty-seven albums.

 LA DIMENSION LATINA (VENEZUELA)

Andy gained popularity and made a good living with El Gran Combo, but he wanted to test himself and make it on his own. When the Venezuelan group Dimension Latina invited Andy to join them, he jumped at the chance. Still, Andy describes this period in his life as “walking in the dark.” The split caused a feud between El Gran Combo and Dimension Latina, who traded barbs. In the end, Andy not only survived but succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS AS A SOLOIST, LEADER

In a career that spans sixty years (and counting) Andy Montañez is part of a short-list of soneros whose voices are intact and have the wherewithal and courage to reinvent themselves without compromising their values or selling their souls to the recording industry.

  • In 1981, Andy made his acting debut in the film “La Boda” (The Wedding). The same year, he signed with the record label LAD (a subsidiary of TH Rodven) and released Salsa Con Cache, his first as a soloist.
  • Between 1981 and 1990 Andy released released “La Ultima Copa” (1981), “Hoy … Y Ayer” (1982), “Solo Boleros” (1982), “Versatil” (1984), “Andy Montanez” (1985), “El Eterno Enamorado” (1988), “Oscar (De Leon) and Andy” (1988),” Todo Nuevo” (1990), “El Swing de Simpre” (1992). Also, Andy appears on numerous compilations and recordings as a sideman and guest.
  • In 1992 Andy recorded his last album for Rodven and took a three-year hiatus. The same year he represented Puerto Rico at the 1992 World’s Fair in Seville, Spain.
  • In 1993, 1994 Andy reunited with El Gran Combo and toured Japan and Colombia.
  • In 1995 Andy, La Dinastia Montañez and La Dimension Latina were the guests of honor in Venezuela.
  • In 2004 Andy teamed up with fellow salsa singer Ismael Miranda and released the acclaimed Romanticos de Nuevo.
  • In 2006 Andy won his first Latin Grammy for AM PM Lineas Paralelas with the Cuban icon, Pablo Milanés. 
  • The same year Andy broke with tradition and released Salsatón – Salsa con Reggaetón, produced by Sergio George, featuring reggaeton artists Daddy Yankee, Julio Voltio, La Sista, and John Eric.
  • In 2007, Andy filmed a series of public service announcements on nutrition for the Puerto Rico Department of Family Affairs, including one announcement where he dances with a carrot!
  • In 2015, Andy appeared on Puerto Rican singer Ivy Queen’s album Vendetta, wherethe duo breathe new life into the 1988 hit, Case Te Envidio.
  • In 2018, author Daniel Nina published the book “Hojas Blancas” (Pasila del Sur Editores, Spanish Edition), a fictionalized account of Andy Montañez’s life intertwined with Puerto Rico’s history.
  • In 2020 Andy appeared on Orquesta Failde’s Failde Con Tumbao (2020) and drummer Henry Cole and Villa Locura’s Atiende.
  • In 2021, The Lehman Center for the Performing Arts kicked off its 2021-22 season with Andy Montañez as the headliner, Colombian songstress Patty Padilla, and the Mambo Legends Orchestra.
HUMINATARIAN AND ACTIVIST

In this writer’s view, Andy Montañez has not received the credit he deserves for his activism and standing up for his principles.

Andy’s long-standing relationship with Cuba, which exists to this day, is a source of pride and frustration. In 1989 he was one of three artists banned from performing at Miami’s Calle Ocho Festival for embracing the Cuban singer, songwriter Sylvio Rodriguez and “consorting” with Communists. To his credit, Andy’s response was, “I am not a communist, I am a musician, and I admire the music of everyone. Music is a blessing from God.” Three months later he performed a concert in Florida’s Broward County.

In 2008 Andy participated in the benefit concert, Somos Haiti, to support the island after it was devastated by a hurricane.

In 2020 Andy blasted Washington’s blockade of Cuba as “criminal” and demanded its lifting as the island waged a war against COVID-19. Andy’s activism is ongoing.

PRESENT DAY

At 80, Andy is still going strong. “It’s a privilege to be a singer. I’m thrilled and blessed by God. I think my way of singing is passionate and expressive. It’s about singing with feeling as if it were happening to me. That’s part of the secret to my success.” Anyone who has seen Andy perform live will attest to the fact that when “El Niño de Trastalleres” is on the bandstand, he gives it his all! 

SOURCES
  • Kent, Mary – Salsa Talks! A Musical Heritage Uncovered (Digital Domain, 2005)
  • Andy Montañez Biography – Enciclopedia PR.Org

 

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