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Originally published Monday, March 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Cuban musical legend, Israel "Cachao" Lopez, dead at 89

Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday. Known simply as Cachao...

The Associated Press

MIAMI — Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music, died Saturday.

Known simply as Cachao, the Grammy-winning musician had fallen ill in the past week and died surrounded by family members at Coral Gables Hospital, spokesman Nelson Albareda said. He was 89.

Cachao left communist Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s. He continued to perform into his late 80s.

Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia, who made a 1993 documentary about the bassist's career, credited Cachao with being a major influence in Cuban musical history and said his passing marked the end of an era.

Cachao was born in Havana in 1918 to a family of musicians. A classically trained bassist, he performed with the Havana symphony orchestra during his nearly 30-year career with the orchestra. He also wrote hundreds of classic Cuban-style songs for bands and orchestras.

He and his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes Lopez, created the mambo from their improvisational work with the danzon, an elegant musical style that lends itself to slow dancing.

"The origins of mambo happened in 1937," Cachao said in 2004. "My brother and I were trying to add something new to our music and came up with a section that we called danzon mambo. It made an impact and stirred up people. At that time our music needed that type of enrichment."

The mambo was embraced early on, and Cuban composers and jazz musicians have tweaked it over the years. It also influenced the development of salsa music.

Cachao left Cuba in 1962, relocating first to Spain and soon afterward to New York, where he was hired to perform at the Palladium nightclub with the leading Latin bands.

In the United States, he collaborated with such Latin music stars as Tito Puente, Tito Rodrigues, Machito, Chico O'Farrill, Eddie Palmieri and Gloria Estefan.

He fell into obscurity during the 1980s after he moved to Miami, where he ended up playing in small clubs and at weddings.

But his career enjoyed a revival in the 1990s with the help of Garcia's documentary "Cachao ... Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos" (Like His Rhythm There Is No Other) and the release of several albums, including the Grammy-winning album "Ahora Si!" in 2004.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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