Mambo (music)

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Mambo is a Cuban musical form and dance style that achieved popularity in Havana, Mexico and New York City. The word mambo means conversation with the gods in Kikongo, the language spoken by Central African slaves taken to Cuba.



Modern mambo began with a danzón called "Mambo" written in 1938 by Orestes and Cachao López. The song was a danzón, descended from European social dances like the English country dance, French contredanse and Spanish contradanza, but it used rhythms derived from African folk music. The dance to go along with the song was invented by Perez Prado in 1943

Origins (Contradanza and charanga)

Contradanza arrived in Cuba in the 18th century, where it became known as danza and grew very popular. The arrival of black Haitians later that century changed the face of contradanza, adding a syncopation called cinquillo (which is also found in another contradanza-derivative, Argentine tango).

By the end of the 19th century, contradanza had grown lively and energetic, unlike its European counterpart, and was then known as danzón. The 1877 song "Las alturas de Simpson" was one of many tunes that created a wave of popularity for danzón. One part of the danzón was a coda which became improvised overtime. The bands then were brass (orquestra tipica), but was followed by smaller groups called charangas.

The most influential charanga was that of Antonio Arcano, who flourished in the late 1930s. Arcano's group, Arcano y Sus Maravillas, was the first to call a part of a popular Cuban dance a mambo. His group was already saying vamos a mambear, which translates to "let's mambo", in the mid to late '30s.[1] It was Arcano's cellist, Orestes Lopez, whose "Mambo" was the first modern song of the genre. However, the first mambo that was actually recorded was called "Rarezas" by his brother, bassist and composer Cachao López, who is often described as "the inventor of mambo."[2]

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