Thursday, March 27, 2008


Israel "Cachao" López, the great Cuban musician, died this past weekend.

Cachao, as he was universally known, transformed the rhythm of Cuban music when he and his brother, the pianist and cellist Orestes López, extended and accelerated the final section of the stately Cuban danzón into the mambo. “My brother and I would say to each other, ‘Mambea, mambea ahí,’ which meant to add swing to that part,” he said in a 2006 interview with The Miami Herald. The springy mambo bass lines Cachao created in the late 1930’s — simultaneously driving and playful — became a foundation of modern Cuban music, of the salsa that grew out of it, and also of Latin-influenced rock ’n’ roll and rhythm-and-blues. For much of the 20th century, Cachao’s innovations set the world dancing.

In the late 1950’s, he brought another breakthrough to Latin music with descargas: late-night Havana jam sessions that merged Afro-Cuban rhythms, Cuban songs and the convolutions of jazz. The mixture of propulsion and exploration in those recordings has influenced salsa and jazz musicians ever since...

“His phrasing and his attack and how he functioned in the orchestra was unique to Cachao,” the actor Andy Garcia, who reinvigorated Cachao’s career by producing albums and documentaries in the 1990’s, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “He always played bass with the bow in his hand. He would go back and forth. And as he was strumming with his fingers, he always had the bow in his hand and the bow would strike the bass percussively.”

Cachao played with abandon. You hear it. This isn't pleasant, lopingly structured salsa and mambo, or the watery, bleached "world music" version. It's rough and aggressive at times, fast, the musicians - some of the best of Afro-Cuban music - absorbed into their craft. It's joyful.

WFMU has a nice set of downloads. Captain's Crate has another nice set.

No comments: