Born in Camagüey, Cuba in 1944, multi-percussionist Orestes Vilató is one of the most influential figures in the world of Latin percussion. His unique style on the Cuban timbales is one of the most emulated in the genre, and his artistry has graced the stage and recording studios with a Who’s Who of musical legends, from Aretha Franklin to Carlos Santana.
As a pioneer of the East Coast Salsa phenomenon, Vilató played a seminal role with such musical institutions and artists as the Fania All Stars, Ray Barretto, Rubén Blades, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco and many others. After 25 years in New York, Orestes found new musical opportunities in Northern California as a member of the Santana band, forging a road into the Latin Rock genre, and as a result, his virtuoso percussion work would become a main fixture with numerous national and international artists, covering a range of styles from authentic Cuban music to Latin jazz, Salsa, Rock and beyond
In 1995, Orestes earned a Grammy nomination for the groundbreaking album Ritmo y Candela alongside fellow Cuban percussion legends Carlos “Patato” Valdez and José Luis Quintana “Changuito,” and has graced the Grammy-winning albums of Cuban bassist/composer and original Mambo King Israel “Cachao” López. Since relocating to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1981, Orestes maintains his place as one of the most in-demand percussionists on the planet.
As a young boy in Cuba, Orestes was encouraged by his father to pursue his passion for music, turning his first instrument — a guitar — upside-down and playing it like a drum. After receiving his first bongos, a young Orestes immersed himself in studying the music of his homeland, inspired by the many greats he heard on the radio as well as in person.
During the 1950s, the Vilató family moved to New York, and soon Orestes began playing his first timbales. As a teen he honed his skills alongside many pioneers of the Cuban and Jazz music scenes, including Chico O´Farrill, Belisario López, José Fajardo, Lionel Hampton and others. His legacy as founding member of the Fania All Stars would place him at the center of the Salsa explosion of the 1970s, where Orestes would participate in the various seminal recordings and performances of the genre.
After a stint with the acclaimed Ray Barretto and Típica ´73 orchestras, Orestes formed his own group – Los Kimbos – alongside legendary singer Adalberto Santiago, recording four albums as a leader while remaining one of the most in-demand percussionists on the circuit. His many recordings with diverse artists and musical genres reflect his ever-reaching craft and musicianship, and his unique style soon became well known throughout the globe.
During his twenty five years as a New York City resident, Orestes participated in multiple recordings with fellow Latin music giants including The Fania All Stars (including appearances on film and television), Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Johnny Pacheco, Rubén Blades, Carlos Patato Valdez, Cheo Feliciano, La Lupe, Joe Cuba, Rolando La Serie and many others.
Over the decades Orestes would expand his musical tapestry, particularly through the high visibility of his nine year-stint with the Santana Band, lending his percussion sound to recordings and performances by Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Herbie Hancock, Linda Ronstadt, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, McCoy Tyner, Dave Valentin and Paco De Lucia, among others. He has made numerous appearances as a guest artist at such renowned festivals as the Heineken Jazz Festival (Puerto Rico), San Francisco Jazz Festival, Monterey and San José Jazz festivals, and has been the recipient of several tributes and awards.
In addition, Orestes continues to share his musical talent as a clinician for several prestigious music institutions such as Stanford University, UCLA, The Berklee College of Music and the University of Anchorage. He has also recorded on the soundtracks for several highly acclaimed films, including The Mambo Kings, Our Latin Thing and Dance With Me.
Considered one of the most influential timbales players north of Cuba, Orestes Vilató maintains one foot in the rich tradition of his homeland, and the other in the vast exploration of musical fusion in North America and beyond.