chekereLatin Percussionist Newsletter Issue 13 Winter 2001-02

Juanito Márquez

Arrímate pá ca

Trevour Salloum Latin Percussionistby Trevor Salloum

Juanito Márquez was born in Holguin, Cuba and the son of Juan Gómez Márquez, a famous conductor and guitarist. Juanito is a brilliant arranger, composer, producer, and guitarist. He has worked with Orquesta Riverside (Cuba), Orquesta Casablanca Juanito Marquez(Venezuela), and Caesar Concepción (Puerto Rico) to name a few.

Probably his most famous composition is the bolero "Alma con Alma" (1956) which was performed at the time by Elena Burke, Tito Gómez, and Omara Portuondo. Subsequently it was recorded by Machito, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, and numerous others thus becoming a Latin standard. His rhythm pá ca, was adopted by many groups and was made especially popular with the tune "Arrímate pá ca" performed by Orquesta Aragón.

Juanito left Cuba in 1969 for Madrid, Spain. There he worked with many of the popular Spanish groups such as Julio Iglesias, Paloma San Basillo, Mari Trini, and José Luis Perales. In addition, he worked with symphonies and rock groups.

In 1976 he settled in Miami working with R&B groups and with popular stars like José Feliciano and Jon Secada. In 1993 he arranged and contributed songs for the award winning Mi Tierra by Gloria Estefan. Recently I had the opportunity to speak to Juanito Márquez about his highly complex and captivating rhythm called pá ca.

∞ Interview ∞

Trevor Salloum: When did you create the rhythm pá ca?

Juanito Márquez: The original idea was around 1956-57. I did a trip with a local orchestra from my hometown (Holguin) to Venezuela. I really liked some of the rhythms they have which are the joropo and one similar to the merengue from Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic). Those rhythms have a very nice rhythmic pattern but what caught my attention especially in the merengue, is that it is written in 4/4, with a slight feel of triplets. In Cuba we use that feel once in a while so, I saw some kind of common ground. I didn't develop the idea until the around 1966-68. I had a show at the Hilton Hotel in Havana where I took elements of the joropo rhythm from Venezuela and added different sorts of patterns with a Cuban brass approach. I developed a sort of a combination with a Cuban feel. Note: Dr. Cristobal Díaz Ayala in his book, Música cubana del areyto a la nueva trova describes it as "joropo venezolano cubanizado".

TS: Is there a specific dance that goes with the pá ca?

JM: Well, it was a different one. I didn't design the dance. It was designed by a choreographer named Maricosa Cabrera. She did the dance specifically for the show. Actually, in the balls and parties, people danced it in different ways. They mixed what they saw on TV with traditional ways of dancing and sort of invented their own thing.

TS: What does the name pá ca mean?

JM: Pá ca is a contraction from the Spanish words "para acá" meaning "this way". The name started with the first song I wrote using that rhythm. The title is "Arrímate pá ca"...meaning, "get closer". That is what it is. Even the orchestra that played it for the first time started to call it pá ca. So, that became the name. TS: I first heard this rhythm being played in Cuba with Miguel "Anga" Díaz teaching it at ENA (Escuela Nacional de Artes). He was using three congas. Is this the original way you taught it? JM: Not actually. In the show, I would have liked to have one thing played by one player and the conga separate. By doing so, the conga player would have more room to improvise and be a little freer. But in the show we had very limited percussion so what I did was use the same thing that Venezuelans do. They play with a stick on the side of the conga and the rest of the pattern on the congas with the other hand.

TS: So the left hand would have the stick and right hand would play two or three congas?

JM: On two congas. Sometimes at concerts or when we could afford it, I would have someone play maracas and güiro. I would also have this guy play the stick on some hard piece of wood and then the conga would be freer to improvise and play more complex. TS: Isn't there a specific bongo pattern to go with it also? JM: Yes, there is a clave pattern in Cuba; a two bar pattern (son clave) but pá ca is only a one bar pattern. TS: So we don't worry about 2/3 or 3/2 in this pattern? JM: Right...although in a certain way we are used to the two bar pattern at times of phrasing. I used to keep the two bar pattern but not with the clave in mind. The bongos would be the same clave part but reversed. The clave was a pattern sort of like and the bongo part was and together it sounded like tookateek...tookatok...tookateek...tookatok. TS: Like a call and response? JM: Yes, later on I started changing things because at the beginning it sounded very good, but later on, I found it was a little rigid. Then I started to give the percussionist a little room within the pattern.

TS: Was there a timbale part also?

JM: Yes, usually there was some kind of cascara but usually I would ask the percussionist to play irregular cascara, not the regular one. He could also do both or simply eighth notes. They would sometimes play irregular things, improvise, and change accents giving it a little groove. I used more or less the same format as usual Cuban music.

TS: What was the original recorded version of pá ca?

JM: "Arrímate pá ca". I recorded it myself but strangely enough it didn't get airplay due to those characteristic situations in Cuba. Then there was Orquesta Aragón. They really made it very popular. They were in my hometown with other local orchestras and they heard me play "Arrímate pá ca" with a local orchestra called Hermanos Aviles. Members of Orquesta Aragón asked me if they could play it. I sent them a copy and they made their own arrangement for their charanga format that was a seven key flute, three violins, and two guys singing in unison. The percussion section was one conga, güiro, and timbales. "Arrímate pá ca" was getting very popular but then there was another orchestra called Pello El Afrokán. Pedro Izquierdo, the leader, heard the song and he made a special arrangement for his orchestra using his rhythm called the Mozambique. Then the radio stopped playing the Aragón version that was an original pá ca. So, the tune became a Mozambique (laughs). Most people believe that was the original rhythm for that song but it wasn't. The melody and the lyrics were the same but they added some of their own ideas.

TS: Did you create other rhythms also?

JM: Yes, it was in vogue in those days to have different kinds of rhythms but I usually tried to innovate on the current rhythms of Cuba.

TS: I appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions. Thank you very much.

JM: It's okay...Good-bye.


  • Orquesta Aragón: La Charanga Eterna, Lusafrica CD 362112;
  • Jesús Alemañy's: Cubanismo! Hannibal Records HNCD 1390
  • Pello el Afrokan: Mozambique en Paris TM 1007


Ayala, Dr. Cristobal Díaz, Música cubana del areyto a la nueva trova, Editorial Cubanacan, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1981, pp. 274- 296.

Trevor Salloum is a percussionist and clinician. He is author of Fun with Bongos, The Bongo Book, Bongo Drumming: Beyond the Basics, and Afro-Latin Polyrhythms (Mel Bay Publications)