Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heavy, Again: Machito!

There is some dispute about the exact date of his birth, but in all likelihood 2008 is the 100th birth year of Machito.

Frank "Machito" Raúl Gutíerrez Grillo
came to New York from Havana in 1937 and founded the Afro-Cubans in 1940. He was a talented maraca player as well as a great sonero (as is his sister Graciela, who is still kicking today in her 90s). Mario Bauzá soon became his musical director and together they crafted the early New York mambo sound, which combined Cuban rhythm section and dance music with jazz arrangements and horn section (trumpets and saxes) modelled after the top American bands.

This is the first Latin band to use the term "Afro-Cuban" or any allusion to African descent in its name. Notably it was not only mentioned, it was emphasized: Machito and His Afro-Cubans. The term "Afro-Cuban" is of course, now in standard use to mean any and all styles of music with Afro-Cuban roots.

Machito was one of the three top bandleaders who dominated the mambo dancehalls such as the Palladium, and who therefore were referred to as the "Mambo Kings" or "The Big 3": Machito, Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez. Today, children of all three bandleaders perform together in a big band called The Big 3 Palladium Orchestra.

Machito died on April 15, 1984 after collapsing during a stage performance in London. He did some very tasty albums in the 80s with his "Salsa Big Band" (no longer called mambo, but essentially still an Afro-Cuban big band) and won a Grammy in 1982 for Live at the North Sea.

Here's a little more information as told by his son, Mario Grillo. The video was made by LP (Latin Percussion) founder and music documentarian Martin Cohen. Mario demonstrates a bit of timbale at the end.

How Afro-Cuban Is It?

You be the judge. This brief piece of video from a concert (not sure where or when, I'm guessing sometime in the late 70s or early 80s) features Candido, Ray Barretto, Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie AND Machito (whew!). Machito comes in at the end, singing orisha songs to Yemaya and Ochun:

After 40 years living outside Cuba, Machito still greets the African gods in their native tongue. Now THAT'S Afro-Cuban culture with deep roots.

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