A brief conversation with Mazacote; Los Angeles Latin music pioneer.

Author:Tamargo, Luis

Better known nowadays as Mazacote and currently based in Mission Viejo, the seasoned percussionist/composer/bandleader Orlando López (not to be confused with the eponymous Cuban bass legend), was born in Havana in 1939 and acquired his hand drumming skills at an early age, during his frequent visits in the early 1950s to the home of the Vergaras (the island's preeminent pre-Castro percussion manufacturing dynasty), where he met many Cuban percussive icons, such as Tata Guines and Patato Valdés.

After paying his dues with various trumpet-led Cuban conjuntos (Gran Habana, Casino Juvenil, Tejedor y Luis, Tropikabana, Orlando Contreras, Musicuba, etc), and the big bands led by Luisito Valdés and Pello el Afrokan, Mazacote escaped from his native land in pursuit of freedom, back in 1964. Since his arrival in the U.S.A., he has performed and/or recorded with innumerable Latin/Caribbean and North American artists, from Willie Bobo, Celia Cruz, René Touzet, Miguelito Valdés and Joe Torres, to Abby Lane, Connie Stevens, and Thelma Houston.

During the last four decades, Mazacote's L.A.-based bands have accompanied many prominent Latin singers (Vicentico Valdés, Daniel Santos, Cheo Feliciano, Armando Manzanero, Roberto Ledesma, et al), while employing the top vocalists and percussionists in town (Tata Rainos, Rudy Calzado, Perico, Luis Conte, Francisco Aguabella, Rolito Soto, Victor Pantoja, etc), as illustrated in countless (mostly self-produced) Mazacote recordings.

The following conversation took place at Havana Mania, a Redondo Beach restaurant that offered the ideal setting for my encounter with the gentleman nicknamed "Dick Tracy" in the early days of his career, long before he acquired a new pseudonym in the City of Angels ...

LUIS TAMARGO: You got a big break, back in the 1950s, when you joined the conjunto led by pianist Javier Vázquez, featuring Tejedor and Luis on vocals.

ORLANDO LOPEZ: Yes, we toured through the entire island, from one end to the other, and we appeared every month with Tejedor on at least two television shows, including Jueves de Partagas, El Show del Mediodia, and El Casino de la Alegría. I also played with Tejedor at certain famous venues in Havana--Johnny La Puntilla, El Rocco, and Cabaret Sierra.

LT: Back in those days, you only played one tumbadora (conga drum). Who was the first to play more than one?

OL: Patato was the first to play two tumbadoras. He served as my greatest inspiration.

LT: When did you arrive in...

To continue reading