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A Master on a Masterwork: Machito's 'Kenya'

Throughout his childhood and teen years, percussionist Bobby Sanabria was introduced to the masterworks of Latino musicians who would become his musical heroes — among them Tito Puente and bandleader Chico O'Farrill.

Scott Simon last spoke to percussionist Bobby Sanabria in August. The two discussed Sanabria's newest CD, Big Band Urban Folktales — which was just nominated for a Grammy Award — and his diverse musical upbringing in the South Bronx.

Today, Sanabria wants listeners to meet another Afro-Cuban music legend: Francisco Raul Gutierrez Grillo, better known as Machito.

"The Machito Afro-Cubans were the leaders," Sanabria says. "They were the first band to successfully use the complex and rich harmonic style of jazz-arranging technique and also featured great virtuosic jazz improvisers, with authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms that we inherited from West Africa and crystallized into new forms on the island of Cuba."

Machito's music is especially demanding, Sanabria says, because of the interplay of multiple sections: saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section amplified by Afro-Cuban percussion. He also notes that Machito's group was the first truly multiracial band.

"This was an example of the great musical and cultural interchange that was happening at the time between the jazz community and the Latino community in New York City, and still exists to this day," Sanabria says.

Sanabria singles out Machito's 1957 album Kenya for both its creation and its impact on Latin music.

"Everything we do has some root with this orchestra," Sanabria says.

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