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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mambo?

By Aristides Raul Garcia, AKA El Intruso
Excerpted from Town Dancer blog.

Mambo’s popularity and longevity has been blown out of proportion, for commercial reasons. It has been taken out of context since the book and the movie, "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love", and gave high hopes, to some dinosaurs, of a Mambo comeback. The Mambo’s Golden Age lasted at the most 5 years - from 1955 to circa 1960. That is really nothing compared with the decades after decades of dancing to Latin Music.

Are we not formed, as notes of music are,
For one another, though dissimilar?
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Fania All Stars (nobody was talking about Mambo during their time) were on a roll for almost 10 years. The Mambo was only one of the musical expressions attracting NY born Latinos, yes mainly NY Puerto Ricans, or NuYorkricans. For those Latinos, the musical innovations of people like Chano Pozo, Mario Bauza, and Chico O’Farril, to mention a few, provided an outlet to express their biculturality.

Those great Cuban musicians came to the United States to learn Jazz. The best example of them is the late Mario Bauza who became a Jazz master as a musician, composer, and arranger. One could disagree with his contention that he was the "inventor of Latin Jazz", but he was certainly a pioneer of the gender.

"La Botella" por El Coronel
 
In any case, New York born Latinos could relate to this fusion of Afro Cuban rhythms and Jazz; they could culturally identify with both idioms. The Mambo in NY was able to take elements of Jazz, and became, perhaps, the first ever Latin Pop Musical expression with cross-over possibilities; it was also taken up by other New Yorkers, mainly by the up and coming Jewish middle class, but also by Italians, Irish, and Afro Americans.

One of the main characteristics of the New York Mambo was its lyrical simplicity, and many times its total lack of any lyrics. That is one of the reasons why it was never popular in Latin America. The main thing for Mambo lovers in NY was the instrumentation, the solos, the virtuosity of the musicians and arrangers. Some of those Mambos are classic pieces, in every sense of the word. It was a time of experimentation without the taboo's which usually accompany village life. This was New York, and the sky was the limit, they went for it.

"Sea Mi Condena" por Pandora

Speaking of demographics, race, and economics, the end of the Mambo Era coincides with the flight of the white ethnic middle class from Manhattan to suburbia. In reality, during the dying days of the Mambo rage, if you wanted to dance Mambo you were better off going to the Catskill Mountains, which had become an almost all Jewish "enclave" and resort area.

Back to the Palladium. In his essay "Is it Mambo or Salsa? Only the Clave Knows" Mike Bello claims to have been at the Palladium. He is not really lying; he is telling a half truth, and that is the problem in dealing with this "slippery cat", they don’t really lie; they just tell you the part of the truth that fits their purpose.

Of course Mike Bello probably went to the Palladium which opened in the 80’s on East 14th Street as a normal North American Disco, and as time went by introduced Salsa Nights (not Mambo nights, by the way) on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, I really don’t remember. But Mr. Bello was never at the Palladium of Mambo fame; the one I'm going to describe ....

Pub's Side Note; We are not going to dance Mambo on the Waianae Coast. What are we going to dance socially?