Afro-Cuban Hall of Fame – A tribute to Machito

By: Natasha Archary 



There are so many “urban legends” about how Latin music became embedded in America’s cultural mainstream. Perhaps the most common thread was in 1930 with Mario Bauza who introduced “Machito” to the New York jazz scene.

Latin rhythms were not new to New Yorkers, it was no secret that the Conga had revolutionized ballroom & dance-halls in the 1930s. Bauza switched from the clarinet to trumpet & played for the legendary Cab Calloway. The beat of Cuba was embedded in his music however and he began to recruit talented musicans to join his dream band. His first member would be his brother-in-law, Machito.

The son of a cigar manufacturer, Fransciso Raul Gutierrez Grillo, aka Machito, grew up in Havana’s heavily black neighbourhood. He entered New York in 1937 & in 1940 formed the Afro-Cubans where he was the front man while Bauza directed.

The Afro-Cubans had many firsts at the centre of one of their most significant compositions “Sopa De Pichon” and they were the first band to explore jazz arranging techniques with authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms on a consistent basis, a sound that had its distinct and identifiable beat.

It was after the introduction of the Afro-Cubans on the New York music scene that Latin music became firmly fixed in American mainstream culture. Machito went on to include his son and daughter in his band and won a Grammy Award in 1983, a year before his timely death.



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