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Israel "Cachao" López (September 14, 1918 – March 22, 2008), often known just as "Cachao" (pronounced kah-CHOW) was a Cuban mambo musician, bassist and composer, who has helped bring mambo music to popularity in the United States of America in the early 1950s. He was born in Havana, Cuba. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, won several Grammy Awards, and has been described as "the inventor of the mambo". He is considered a master of descarga (Latin jam sessions).

* 1 Legacy and influence
* 2 History
* 3 Awards
* 4 References
* 5 External links

Legacy and influence

He was, in his last years, the most important living figure in Cuban music, on or off the island. And according to Cuban-music historian Ned Sublette he was "arguably the most important bassist in twentieth-century popular music", innovating not only Cuban music but also influencing the now familiar bass lines of American R&B, "which have become such a part of the environment that we don't even think where they came from".


López played the acoustic bass with his late brother, multi-instrumentalist Orestes López. The brothers composed literally thousands of songs together and were heavily influential on Cuban music from the 1930s to the 1950s. They introduced the nuevo ritmo ("new rhythm") in the late 1930s, which transformed the danzón by introducing African rhythms into Cuban music, which led to mambo.

A possibly more important move took place in 1957, when Cachao gathered a group of musicians in the early hours of the morning, energized from playing gigs at Havana's popular nightclubs, to jam in front of the mikes of a recording studio. The resulting descargas, known to music aficionados worldwide as Cuban jam sessions, revolutionized Afro-Cuban popular music. Under Cachao's direction, these masters improvised freely in the manner of jazz, but their vocabulary was Cuba's popular music. This was the model that would make live performances of Afro-Cuban based genres, from salsa to Latin jazz, so incredibly hot.

In the early 1960s, according to the documentary film La Epoca, expected in theaters in September 2008, Cachao was one of two of the most in-demand bassists in New York City (the other being Alfonso "El Panameno" Joseph, who was the bassist of legendary Cuban tres player Arsenio Rodriguez for eight years until Arsenio's death in December 1970). Joseph and Lopez substituted for each other over a span of five years, performing at New York City clubs and venues such as the Palladium Ballroom, The Roseland, The Birdland, Havana San Juan, and Havana Madrid. Mentioned in the film, La Epoca, while Cachao was performing with Machito's orchestra in New York, Joseph was recording and performing with Cuban conga player Candido Camero. When Joseph left Candido's band to work with Charlie Rodriguez and Johnny Pacheco, it was Cachao who took his place in Candido's band. Cachao was recently scheduled to be interviewed by Executive Producer Josue Joseph of the film in New Haven, CT where Cachao and Palladium-era dancer Cuban Pete were scheduled to perform at Yale University. The film is about the evolution of Latin music and dance during the Palladium-era to present day, and Cachao was scheduled to discuss his contribution of the mambo rhythm, which he derived from Arsenio Rodriguez, documented in the film.

Cachao was born into a family of musicians, many of them bassists – around 40 and counting in his extended family.

As an 8-year-old bongo player, he joined a children's septet that included a future famous singer and bandleader, Roberto Faz. A year later, already on bass, he provided music for silent movies in his neighborhood theater, in the company of a pianist who would become a true superstar, the great cabaret performer Ignacio Villa, known as Bola de Nieve.

His parents made sure he was classically trained, first at home and then at a conservatory. In his early teens he was already playing contrabass with the Orquesta Filarmónica de La Habana, under the baton of guest conductors including Herbert von Karajan, Igor Stravinsky and Heitor Villa-Lobos.

For a while, he had two distinct musical personae. In the New York salsa scene he was revered as a music god, with homage concerts dedicated to him, and records of his music produced by Cuban-music collector René López. In Miami, he was an ordinary working musician who would play quinceañeras and weddings, or back dance bands in the notorious Latin nightclubs of the Miami Vice era.

In the '90s, actoer Andy García produced the recordings known as Master Sessions and big concerts honoring his legacy. Since then, Cachao became again a household word among Cubans and his reputation continued to grow.

His nephew, Orlando "Cachaíto" López became one of the mainstays of the famed Buena Vista Social Club group.

Cachao has played with artists such as Celia Cruz, Bebo Valdes, Tito Puente, Willy Chirino, Paquito D'Rivera, Willie Colon, and his music has been featured on movies such as The Birdcage, and on the Grand Theft Auto: Vice City soundtrack. Andy García produced two documentaries about this music, Cachao … Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos ("With A Rhythm Like No Other") (1993) and Cachao: Uno Más, which premiered in April 2008 at the San Francisco International Film Festival. The inspiration for Cachao: Uno Más, made by San Francisco State University's DOC Film Institute, came largely from from a concert Cachao played at Bimbo's 365 Club in San Francisco, and the film's premiere was followed by a tribute concert with the John Santos Band at Yoshi's Jazz Club SF.

Lopez died on the morning of March 22, 2008 in Coral Gables, Florida at the age of 89. He died from complications resulting from kidney failure.

His recording of "La Guajira" was used in the film "The Birdcage" (1996).


Lopez has won several Grammy Awards for both his own work and his contributions on albums by Latin music stars, including Gloria Estefan. In 1994 he won a Grammy for Master Sessions Volume 1. In 2003 he won a Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album together with Bebo and Patato Valdés for El Arte Del Sabor.

Lopez won a further Grammy in 2005, again for his own work, ¡Ahora Si!.

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