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Perez Prado Perez Prado

“The Mambo King”

The word mambo comes from the nañigo dialect spoken in Cuba. It probably has no real meaning, but occurs in the phrase “abrecuto y guiri mambo” (”open your eyes and listen”) used to open Cuban song contests. In the Bantu language of West Africa, mambo means “conversation with the gods” and in nearby Haiti, a Mambo is a voodoo priestess.

The mambo as we know it today is actually a rhythm whose tempo may be slow or fast, and almost any standard tune can be set to its tempo. The saxophone usually sets the rhythm pattern and the brass carries the melody.

Perez Prado was a giant in the world of post-war popular music. Dubbed “The Mambo King,” he reigned supreme as one of the most influential pop orchestra leaders of the early 1950s. As the mambo rhythm spread across the continents, a society emerged from the dark years of World War II to shed its inhibitions and embrace the frenzy of this Afro-Cuban beat.

The son of a schoolteacher and a newspaper worker, Dámaso Pérez Prado was set upon a musical path early in his life, training in classical piano techniques at the Principal School of Matanzas while still a young child. His earliest professional work was found playing organ and piano in local cinemas and nightclubs, but by the age of 26 Prado had relocated to Havana to seek out better opportunities. After a period spent performing with various small bands, he took a position as pianist and arranger with the Orquesta Casino de la Playa (the leading Cuban orchestra at the time) in 1943; this marked the beginning of both his explorations into the emerging style of mambo and his subsequent rise to fame.

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