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Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban dies at 80

HAVANA -- Manuel Galban, a Grammy-winning Cuban guitarist who rose to international fame as a member of the Buena Vista Social Club, has died of a heart attack in Havana. He was 80.

An article in Communist Party newspaper Granma on Friday noted Galban's passing the previous day and called him a "master of the guitar."

"It is a very sad day for Cuban music and fans of Cuban Music," said Daniel Florestano, longtime manager of both Galban and the Buena Vista Social Club, in a statement issued by Galban's publicist. "Galban's enormous impact worldwide with his unique guitar sound and warm smile will be missed by many."

Born in 1931 in Gibara, Galban made his professional debut in 1944, according to the statement. In 1963 he joined Los Zafiros, Spanish for "Sapphires," which fused styles as varied as bolero, calypso and rock with Cuban "filin" music, which comes from the word "feeling."

The group became one of the island's most popular until it disbanded in 1972.

Galban spent the next three years as head of Cuba's national music ensemble. He then formed a group known as Batey, which performed throughout the world "representing Cuba in numerous acts of solidarity," the Granma article read.

In the 1990s he became part of the Buena Vista Social Club project, a group of elderly, sometimes retired, musicians who were living quietly in Cuba before U.S. guitarist and producer Ry Cooder brought them together.

The album was an international smash hit and later the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Wim Wenders.

In 2003 Galban teamed up with Cooder to record "Mambo Sinuendo." It won a Grammy the following year for best pop instrumental album.

Galban follows others from the Buena Vista Social Club who have already died, including Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez, Cachaito Lopez and vocalist Pio Leyva.

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