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Juan Formell, heart of Cuban big band orchestra Los Van Van, dies at 71

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2001 file photo, Juan Formell, leader of the Cuban orchestra Los Van Van, performs late Sunday in Havana, Cuba during a farewell summer concert. The noted Cuban musican, who for more than four decades was the driving force behind the big band salsa orchestra Los Van Van, has died. He was 71 years old. Formell's death was announced Thursday, May 1, 2014, on Cuban state television. (AP Photo/Ernesto Mastrascusa, File)

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FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2001 file photo, Juan Formell, leader of the Cuban orchestra Los Van Van, performs late Sunday in Havana, Cuba during a farewell summer concert. The noted Cuban musican, who for more than four decades was the driving force behind the big band salsa orchestra Los Van Van, has died. He was 71 years old. Formell's death was announced Thursday, May 1, 2014, on Cuban state television. (AP Photo/Ernesto Mastrascusa, File)

HAVANA - Cuban musician Juan Formell, who for more than four decades was the driving force behind the big band salsa orchestra Los Van Van, died Thursday. He was 71.

An anchor on Cuban state television said Formell passed "suddenly" but did not give a cause of death.

Formell received a Latin Grammy in 2013 for excellence, on top of another one in 1999 recognizing the album "Llego ... Los Van Van."

"My life has been entirely dedicated to music and only makes sense when people make it theirs and enjoy it," he said upon receiving the award last year.

Born Juan Climaco Formell Cortina on Aug. 2, 1942, he was a band director, bassist, composer, singer and producer over the course of his long career.

Slender and quick to smile, Formell first learned music at the feet of his father, Francisco, a flautist and pianist.

As a young man he joined various important musical groups, collaborating with Guillermo Rubalcaba, Carlos Faxas' orchestra and the Reve group in 1967, where he made significant contributions such as the use of the electric bass and keyboards.

In 1969, he created Los Van Van, which became Cuba's most famous big band orchestra and whose danceable tunes attracted a wide following on the island and overseas.

The lyrics of his songs told the social history of the island and reflected Cubans' joys and concerns, always with a sense of humour and a picaresque touch.

Formell also set poems by the poet Nicolas Guillen to music and composed scores for the theatre and cinema.

Many Cuban big bands that followed were heavily influenced by his sound.

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