Written by Jake Fuller
Can Mambo recapture the glory of its golden days? Can the flashy Cuban dance step find a new following?
The Mambo dance originated in Cuba where there were substantial settlements of Haitians. In the back country of Haiti, the "Mambo" is a voodoo priestess, who serves the villagers as counselor, healer, exorcist, soothsayer, spiritual advisor, and organizer of public entertainment. However, there is not a folk dance in Haiti called the "Mambo."
The fusion of Swing and Cuban music produced this fascinating rhythm and in turn created a new sensational dance. The Mambo could not have been conceived earlier since up to that time, the Cuban and American Jazz were still not wedded. The "Mambo" dance is attributed to Perez Prado who introduced it at La Tropicana night-club in Havana in 1943. Since then other Latin American band leaders such as Tito Rodriquez, Pupi Campo, Tito Puente, Machito and Xavier Cugat have achieved styles of their own and furthered the Mambo craze.
The Mambo was originally played as any Rumba with a riff ending. It may be described as a riff or a Rumba with a break or emphasis on 2 and 4 in 4/4 time. Native Cubans or musicians without any training would break on any beat.
It first appeared in the United States in New York's Park Plaza Ballroom - a favorite hangout of enthusiastic dancers from Harlem. The Mambo gained its excitement in 1947 at the Palladium and other renowned places such as The China Doll, Havana Madrid and Birdland.
A modified version of the "Mambo" (the original dance had to be toned down due to the violent acrobatics) was presented to the public at dance studios, resort hotels, and at night-clubs in New York and Miami. Success was on the agenda. Mambo happy dancers soon became known affectionately as "Mambonicks".
The Mambo craze did not last long and today the Mambo is much limited to advanced dancers. Teachers agreed that this is one of the most difficult of dances. One of the greatest contributions of the Mambo is that it led to the development of the Cha-Cha.
The Mambo is enjoying a renewed popularity due to a number of films featuring the dance as well as a man named Eddie Torres. Eddie is a New York dance pro and Mambo fanatic who has launched a crusade to make sure the dance reigns in the ballroom once again. Torres has become the leading exponent of the style, steadily building a reputation as a dancer, instructor, and choreographer. He has become known as the "Mambo King of Latin Dance". Torres is determined to reintroduce dancers to what he believes is the authentic night-club style of mambo dancing, which in the 1990's is increasingly known as Salsa.
"It's a great time for Latin American dances," says Torres. "The Mambo is hot now, like it was in the '50's. It is a dance with many influences -- African, Cuban, Jazz, Hip-Hop, even some ballet. You'll never run out of steps."
Popular Mambo songs include "Mambo Italiano", "Papa Loves Mambo", "Mambo #5", "I Saw Mommy Do The Mambo", and "They Were Doin' The Mambo". 'Dance City', the superb CD album featuring Hernandez and the Mambo Kings Orchestra, stands on its own as one of the best recordings of its kind in years, an energetic big band-style session that recalls the glory days of Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.
Most people treat Mambo as a very fast dance. In essence, it is a slow and precise dance that doesn't move very much.
Jazz Oral Interview of ISRAEL LÓPEZ "CACHAO"
When the interviewer brought up the controversy about Pérez Prado and the creation of the mambo, Cachao very graciously played it down. He agreed that Pérez Prado should have the title of "King of the Mambo." Israel brought up the analogy of Paul Whiteman being called "The King of Jazz" while he was not the "creator" of jazz. This "Gentleman of the Bass" expressed his gratitude to Pérez Prado for making the mambo known throughout the world. This is very refreshing in this day of petty jealousies and rivalries among musicians.
More History of Dance