Latin music has long been recognized as one of the most diverse, influential and exciting genres of music. It has the ability to unite musicians and listeners of all ages, races, languages and nationalities. The origins of the rhythm come from traditional African music that, along with its people, made its way to New Orleans, Havana and eventually drifted to New York City.
In the 1940’s and 1950’s, a large wave of Latinos migrated to Brooklyn, the Bronx, and East Harlem, and with them, a new sound began to take form. This music was a fusion of traditional Cuban rhythms and colorful big band arrangements with Machito and his Afro-Cuban Orchestra at the helm. Machito’s orchestra, who was the first to use the term “Afro-Cuban,” was also the first multi-racial band in the United States and the first Latin band to play south of Manhattan’s 96th Street. In 1943, Machito’s trumpet player, bandleader, and brother-in-law, Mario Bauzá, composed Tanga, which was the first big-band song to be written in “clave”. “Clave” refers to the complex, five-stroke rhythm pattern that originated in Sub-Saharan Africa and made its way to Cuba with the arrival of African slaves.
Latin music is inherently dance music. From 1948-1966, The Palladium Ballroom on 53rd Street in New York City became the genre’s epicenter and was most famous for staging legendary bands and hosting elaborate dances. Initially a dance studio that had restrictive race policies during the time of segregation, The Palladium needed money to stay afloat. They eventually opened their doors to Blacks and Latinos and became “the most important venue for the development of Latin music and dance throughout the 1950s.” Also home to the “Big Three” — the Tito Puente, Tito Rodríguez, and Machito orchestras -- regular patrons included Marlon Brando (often seen playing his bongos with Machito’s orchestra), Marlene Dietrich, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Frank Sinatra.
At present, Afro-Cuban musicians are struggling more than ever to make a living. Lacking fair compensation during the peak of the music’s popularity, these living legends have been forced to hold fundraisers or play gigs to raise money to pay for healthcare, housing, and even funerals.
Many of them still perform and tour around the world.
Gracias y Buenas Noches will uncover the story of the clave from the musicians who helped pioneer the sound and culture of Afro-Cuban Jazz. Through interviews, verite footage, archival film, and live performance, this memoir-style documentary is equal parts love letter and history lesson on the roots of Latin Music.
Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez, Jr.
Featuring: Mario Grillo, Giovanni Hidalgo, Jerry Madera, Yeissonn Villamar, and the members of The Mambo Legends Orchestra.