The King of the Congas, Tata Güines was a shoe-maker and a bassist before he became one of the most prestigious and important percussionists in Cuban music. After some early study with Chano Pozo, his professional career took off in the '50s, playing in Havana with the likes of Arsenio Rodriguez, Bebo Valdés, Chico O'Farrill, Peruchín, Cachao, Frank Emilio Flynn and others.
In '52 he toured South America with Jose Fajardo. In 1957 he went to NYC, where he worked with Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Josephine Baker and others. He became a featured soloist on the NYC scene, helping ignite interest in Afro-Cuban percussion Stateside. He could sing and play five congas.
In 1959, in full support of Fidel Castro (including, they say, financially) he went back to Cuba after the Revolution, citing racist hostilities in the States as a big reason. While his political persuasion alienated him from much of the "exiled" community, he continued to record in Cuba and tour with the state's blessing in Latin America and Eastern Europe. In 1979 he participated in the Estrellas de Areito sessions, as well as the infamous Havana Jam with US and Cuban musicians playing the festival, leaving a completely awestruck Jaco Pastorius completely giddy. He was mentor to future master Angá Díaz. He worked with Cubanismo, Ruben Gozalez, Diego el Cigala, Jane Bunnett and others, with a busy schedule right up until his death from kidney failure at 77.