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Havana Mambo

Havana Mambo isn't the only salsa/Afro-Cuban band that is based in Italy, but unlike other salsa outfits one might find in Milan, Rome, Palermo, Venice, or Florence, Havana Mambo isn't dominated by Italians -- the band's founders are originally from Cuba. Havana Mambo, in fact, was formed in Havana, Cuba, 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 Pérez Prado, who was among the most influential Cuban artists of the '40s, '50s, and '60s and died in 1989 at the age of 73. Although Cuba is the birthplace of the many rhythms that comprise what is now known as salsa music -- son, cha cha, mambo, guaguancó, and danzon, among other things -- Havana Mambo realized that there was also an audience for salsa in Europe and embarked on an extensive European tour in 1996. They found audiences to be 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 like Willie Colón, Adalberto Alvarez, and La India (among others). In 1997, Havana Mambo was asked to perform at Umbria Jazz -- which is Italy's most famous jazz festival but also includes some Latin music -- and it was also in 1997 that the bandmembers decided to remain in Italy permanently and settled in Milan. Although the name Havana Mambo implies that they are mambo-oriented, the musicians don't play mambo exclusively and are quite capable of embracing a variety of 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 even though Afro-Cuban music is the band's primary focus, Havana Mambo occasionally detours into Dominican merengue (which also has an audience in Italy and other European countries) and appreciates influential merengue stars like Wilfrido Vargas and Johnny Ventura. 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 that not all salsa or salsa-influenced bands are based in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Miami, or New York City. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi
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