Wednesday, June 15, 2005


"I am a collector of cries and noises"

Pérez Prado, Pianolo.
Pérez Prado, Mambo No. 5.

Mambomania! During the hot summer of 1951, Pérez Prado, the mambo king of kings, was touring the United States for the first time. Wherever he went--to Sweet's Ballroom in Oakland, the Palladium in Manhattan and the Puerto Rico Theater in the Bronx--crowds were turned away at the doors. The musicians Prado used were mainly Americans, who had had to be drilled in Prado's music in just a few hours; they griped about Prado's 'book': chord changes scrawled in a half-decipherable hand.

Born in 1916 in Matanzas, Cuba, Dámaso Pérez Prado essentially created the mambo. From the excellent web biography devoted to Prado:

"...four, five, and sometimes six musicians would often play after hours jam sessions on the tres (a small Cuban guitar) and the resultant cross rhythms and syncopation give him the idea...[Prado] talked about the mambo being an Afro-Cuban rhythm with a dash of American swing. According to Prado, the mambo is "more musical and swingier than the rhumba. It has more beat."

Both "Pianolo" and "Mambo No. 5", early Prado singles for the American market, were collected on Prado's first 10-inch LP, Mucho Mambo for Dancing, released in fall 1951. They both can be found, along with much more mambo, on this compilation.

In 1951, Congress enacted Public Law 78 (you need Adobe to read), designed as a Korean war "emergency measure" that, like most government-ordered emergency measures, long outlasted the crisis to which it was meant to respond. Public Law 78 enabled employers to import a vast amount of Mexican contract workers, primarily agricultural workers, into the United States. In 1957, 192,000 workers were brought into California alone, and by 1960, Mexicans were about 25% of the agricultural labor force. The program would continue until 1964, utterly transforming the U.S., especially California--in its wake would come Cesar Chavez, NAFTA and today's self-appointed border sentinels.

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