An Unauthorized Biography of a Cuban Dancing Music Orchestra based in Milan, Italy
Originally written by Alex Henderson
Edition, adaptation and comments by Toni Basanta from Fairfax, Vermont, USA
Havana Mambo isn’t the only Salsa Afro-Cuban Band that is based in Italy, but unlike other Salsa outfits one might find in cities like Milan, Rome, Palermo, Venice, or Florence, Havana Mambo isn’t dominated by Italians — because the band’s founders are originally from Cuba.
This aggregation was in fact formed in Havana in 1994 by ten Cuban musicians who had been members of the New Pérez Prado Orchestra — a so-called “Ghost Orchestra” that was modeled after the bands of the seminal Mambo King who was among the most influential Cuban artists of the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s and died in Mexico in 1989 at the age of 73.
Although CUBA is the birthplace of the many genres, rhythms and styles that comprise what is now known as Salsa Music — let’s think of Danzon, Danzonete, Son, Cha Cha Cha, Mambo, Bolero, Guaguancó, Rumba, Guaracha, Columbia, Guajira, Pa’ca, el Ritmo Batanga, el Batun Bata, among others — Havana Mambo members realized that there was also a thirsty audience in Europe about these array of intoxicating music and embarked on an extensive European Tour in 1996.
They found audiences especially receptive in northern Italy and spent several months at a Club in Turin called Sabor Latino, which is one of the Top Salsa Clubs in that part of the country and has attracted major Salseros and Soneros like Willie Colón, Adalberto Alvarez, La India among many, many others.
In 1997, HAVANA MAMBO was asked to perform at Umbria Jazz — which is Italy’s most famous Jazz Festival, which also includes Latin Music.
After the success at Umbria Jazz, they decided to remain in Italy permanently and settled in Milan.
Although the name Havana Mambo implies that they are Mambo-oriented orchestra, the musicians don’t play Mambo exclusively and are quite capable of embracing a variety of the aforementioned Afro-Cuban styles.
They have been influenced by the Classic ’40s and ’50s work of Cuban favorites like Beny Moré, Machito, Xavier Cugat, and, of course, Pérez Prado – who is known as the King of Mambo and did more than anyone to popularize that style back in the ’40s and ’50s, but they are also hip to the New York City-style Salsa that Fania Records made popular in the ’70s, and the impact of La Timba, the Buena Vista Social Club and La Afro Cuban All-Stars at the end of the 1990s.
Even though Afro-Cuban Music is the band’s primary focus, Havana Mambo occasionally detours into the festive Dominican Merengue which also has an audience in Italy and other European countries and appreciates influential merengue stars like Wilfrido Vargas, Johnny Ventura, Juan Luis Guerra y La 440.
Havana Mambo has recorded some albums for the Italian Tauri label, including Ula Ula and 2002’s Havana Mambo Hasta el Amanecer. The group also has a self-titled release on Max Music.
In 2003, Putumayo World Music included one of their songs on the compilation Salsa Around the World, which was meant to demonstrate diversity – that not all Salsa or Salsa-influenced bands are based in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Miami, or New York City.
ahora sumate a mi actividad, porque tenemos una vibrante actuacion de LA HAVANA MAMBO ORCHESTRA en vivo en Marsella, Francia en el 2005, que muy pronto vamos a presentar en nuestro nuevo programa de television HAVANA FAIRFAX CONNECTION en LCATV Canal 15 en Colchester, Vermont, EUA.
LCATV = LAKE CHAMPLAIN ACCESS TELEVISION