For eight decades, Cachao was a driving force in the evolution of Cuban popular music. Cachao’s pioneering efforts transformed the staid danzón, Cuba’s national dance, into the beloved mambo, which itself was the foundation for all Afro-Cuban music that followed, including salsa and Latin-inflected rock & roll. Cachao also pioneered the “descarga,” a late-night Havana jam session that blended Afro-Cuban styles, jazz, and traditional song forms with a potency and passion that influenced generations of jazz and salsa musicians. While long lionized among musicians, Cachao toiled much of his career without the international critical recognition he deserved. Thanks in part to the efforts of actor Andy Garcia, a major proponent who sponsored recordings and documentaries, Cachao’s later years found him justly recognized as an enduring global treasure.
Born in 1918 in Havana, Cachao came from a large musical family boasting over 30 bass players. At age eight his public career began on bongos, but by 13 he had switched to bass and was performing with the Havana Symphony Orchestra. Coincidental to his orchestral career, Cachao began working in nightclubs with Cuba’s most popular dance orchestras, including that of flautist Antonio Arcaño in 1937. During the 30 years he worked as a musician in Cuba, Cachao played with some of the world’s most celebrated symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, and New York’s Metropolitan Opera. During his stint with Arcaño y Sus Maravillas, Cachao—along with brother Orestes Lopez, a noted cellist, bassist, pianist, and composer—began arranging and composing danzones for the group. Their compositions evolved into the spunky mambo style, which ruled dance floors throughout the ’50s and ’60s. By 1962 Cachao had left Cuba, first emigrating to Spain and then New York, Las Vegas, and Miami, where he mostly worked as a sideman. A 1990 tribute concert and subsequent recording sessions led to a Grammy award and career renaissance. From then until his death, Cachao busily traveled the world, performing to packed houses, winning numerous awards, mentoring younger musicians, and most important, making uniquely beautiful music.
For the complete Cachao interview, please see the March 2008 issue of Bass Player or read the feature online at: www.bassplayer.com/article/cachao/mar-08/33745
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