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Cuban Music Lesson: Perez Prado

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

We are not big fans of remakes here at Tu Vez. Sure, sometimes a well done reboot like “The Dark Knight” or “X-Men: First Class” are good, but for the most part if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Same thing with music. Some remixes are OK, but most don’t so much re-mix as ru-in a song. Such was the case with Perez Prado’s “Mambo #5” and the scourge that is Lou Bega. He took this classic by the greatest mambo bandleader of all time and turned it into annoying poppy schlock. If you want to listen to sheer awesomeness, look no further than the original: Perez Prado.

Damaso Perez Prado was born in Matanzas, Cuba in 1916. His dad delivered newspapers for a living, but young Perez was destined for greater things. He started taking piano lessons when he was little and by the time he was in his teens, he was playing in small clubs around Matanzas.In true country guajiro fashion, he rode a sugar cane truck all the way to Havana. There he became immersed in the decadent awesomeness of 1930’s Havana. He soon managed to land a gig as a piano player and arranger for La Sonora Matancera, which was Cuba’s biggest band at the time. That’s like if some dude from Nebraska got on a bus and immediately managed to find a job playing for Justin Bieber, (a fate worse than death). Perez formed his own band called, creatively enough, The Perez Prado Orchestra. He fused traditional son with the new music coming out of the United States called swing. The result was mambo.

Mambo blew up around the world as one of the most popular dance crazes of the time. Mambo clubs like the Paladium in New York opened up across the planet. Perez Prado and his band toured everywhere in the 40’s and 50’s spreading the gospel of el mambo. His infectious sound, D’artagan goatee, and signature scream were known in even the whitest of places. (This author’s grandfather used to say that he auditioned for the job of sticking his thumb in Perez Prado’s ass to make him scream, but didn’t get the job). In 1948, he settled in Mexico City, where he’d live the rest of his life. His biggest hits were “Mambo #8”, “Patricia”, “Guaglione”, and of course “Mambo #5”. We remember in the summer of 1999, when Lou Bega was ear raping our tympanic membranes with his crappy version of “Mambo #5”, going around telling everyone that the original song was great in direct proportion to how much Lou Bega’s version sucked.

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