Catalino “Tite” Curet Alonso (1926-2003) was a prolific Puerto Rican composer who wrote around 200 salsa hits including 50 salsa classics. So many salsas that you know from the bands and singers were actually written by Tite.
The Soul of the Caribbean is the Soul of a Poet
We tend to associate songs with a singer and a band, but Tite is the composer of an incredible number of your favorite salsas. His work has been covered by most of the stars of the salsa.
- His breakout song was “La Gran Tirana” (1968). That’s one of La Lupe’s signature songs, but that’s Tite.
- Hector Lavoe is known for “El Periodico de Ayer.” That’s Tite.
- Ismael Rivera is known for “Las Caras Lindas.” That’s Tite.
- Cheo Feliciano is known for “Anacoana.” That’s Tite.
- Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez is known for “La Esencia del Guaguancó.” That’s Tite.
- El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico is known for “Brujeria.” That’s Tite.
- Roberto Roena is known for “Tu Loco y Yo Tranquilo.” That’s Tite.
Alonso was tricked into signing a contract with a music publisher who basically stole his music and even blocked performances in Puerto Rico and New York City for decades. The father of Puerto Rican salsa got very little for his work.
Catalina “Tite” Curet Alonso
Alonso’s legacy is a lot of great music about the lives and struggles of Black communities.
He was born in Guayama, one of Puerto Rico’s more African towns in the south on February 12, 1926. Tite was raised in Barrio Obrero, a famous working class neighborhood in Santurce, San Juan. As a kid, he hung out with friends like, Puerto Rican bomba and salsa legends Rafael Cortijo and Ismael Rivera.
Alonso said he was inspired a lot by Brazilian samba, saying they were the masters of the half-tone. Brazil is the biggest African country outside of Nigeria.
The half-tone is a blue note, an Arab and North African tradition that came to the Americas from West Africa. Muslim traders ran the coastal trade around much of Africa so some of their traditions became African, even far from Arab lands.
In Brazil, the blue note might have also arrived from Central Africa. It’s more Kongo. Anyway, these traditions are the root of the blues, which is in turn the root of the popular music of the United States.
We love Bobby Valentin’s version of Tite’s “Huracán.” It’s about a young man who wants to tell his “ex” that he doesn’t want her any more. You can hear the blueness in it. Every time the emotion gets strong, the song sounds oriental, it’s blue.
Tite worked as a postman. He moved to New York City in 1960 where he was a sports columnist for “El Diario La Prensa,” the oldest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the United States. He also wrote for “VEA,” a Puerto Rican celebrity gossip magazine.
Traditional Caribbean music themes are about falling in and out of love, and making fun of arrogant people. By writing about the inner lives of Black and Indigenous communities, Alonso brought a level of social consciousness into the tradition.
New York City in the 1960s and 70s was the crucible for what spread around the world as salsa, and Tite wrote many of its most famous songs.
Alonso died of a heart attack in Baltimore, Maryland in 2003. He was buried with state honors in Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, the famous cemetery next to La Perla in Old San Juan.
We love you Tite and will never forget you. Your Caribbean spirit and humor live on en el periodico de siempre como un desfile de la melaza en flor…