Led by pianist and musical director Rafael Ithier, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is one of Puerto Rico’s greatest dance bands. Four decades after their inception, the 13-piece salsa group continues to inspire dancers with its horn-punctuated Latin rhythms and lush vocal harmonies.
Officially named “Ambassadors of Our Music” by the Puerto Rican Senate, El Gran Combo’s many hits include such classics as El Menu and Timablero. Their 1978 album, En Las Vegas, sold more than one million copies, and its follow-up, In Alaska: Breaking the Ice was nominated for a GRAMMY. A longtime member of popular Latin band, Cortijo y Su Combo, Ithier formed El Gran Combo in 1962 with eight of his bandmates, including percussionist, dancer, chorus singer, and salsa bandleader, Roberto Roena.
El Gran Combo continued to expand its following in the early ’60s, performing to enthusiastic crowds in New York, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, and Venezuela. In Puerto Rico, they appeared regularly on the popular television show, El Show de Las 12.
El Gran Combo has gone through numerous personnel changes, but Ithier and alto saxophonist Eddie Perez remained as members of the original group and have been constantly evolving ever since. Over the course of the past decades, they added a trombone player and additional vocalists. Today, the vocalists are accompanied by two trombone players, a saxophonist, a bassist, a rhythm section on congas, timbales, and bongos.