Mambo Pioneer Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez Dies at 89

Cuban bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" Lopez, died Saturday at Coral Gables Hospital in Miami of kidney failure. He was 89.

Cachao was a Grammy-winning musician the Cuban bassist and composer who is credited with pioneering the mambo style of music. The Recording Academy and The Latin Recording Academy released the following joint statement: "Cuban American bassist and composer Israel "Cachao" López was one of the most important figures in Latin music," said Neil Portnow (The Recording Academy) and Gabriel Abaroa (The Latin Recording Academy). "A GRAMMY winner and two-time Latin GRAMMY winner, he is credited with creating mambo music and bringing it to popularity. His larger-than-life spirit revealed itself every time he performed and his unadulterated love and passion for music was evident as he remained active until very recently. The music industry has lost a true pioneer, but his contributions to Latin music are everlasting. His sense of humor and beatific smile will be sorely missed, and our deepest sympathies go out to all who knew and loved him and his music."

Cuban bassist Israel “Cachao” López, once a forgotten man in Miami’s music scene, re-emerged as one of the most important musicians in Cuban music. He is credited with being one of the founding fathers of the hypnotic sound of the mambo, which was responsible for bringing great fame to Cuban music.

At the age of 12, Cachao had made his debut with the Havana Philharmonic, standing on a wooden box playing the contrabass alongside his brother Orestes, a founding member of the orchestra. By the age of 19, he had joined Arcano y Sus Maravillas, one of the most popular danzón orchestras in Cuba. Little did Cachao and his brother know that they would change Latin music and create a rhythm called mambo.

Cachao and his brother, experimenting with this type of music, added a nuevo ritmo part and called the result "mambo." This happened in the late 1930s, and it revolutionized Latin music. There are those who like to credit Pérez Prado for inventing the mambo, but he did not. Prado did popularize it because he was at the right place at the right time – in Mexico in 1948. A musicians’ strike in the U.S. prevented recordings in the United States. Prado, who was under contract to RCA Records, which at the time was one of the biggest record labels in the world, recorded a tune titled "Que Rico el Mambo." It swept the country. The mambo craze had begun.

After Castro took over Cuba, Cachao left the country for good. He first moved to Spain and later he arrived to New York, where he started playing with such artists as Charlie Palmieri, Tito Rodriguez and the Alegre All-Stars with Tito Puente. Throughout the late 1960s and ’70s, he was all over New York City. In the late 1970s, Cachao moved to Miami, where he virtually went into obscurity, relegated to playing small clubs and weddings.

It wasn’t until 1989, when a young and talented Cuban actor named Andy García came into López’s life, that the world would know who this great master musician was. García wanted a taste of his beloved Cuba and its music for "The Lost City," a movie he wanted to produce. The two artists collaborated and the end result was the highly acclaimed documentary, Cachao… Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos in 1993. The film caused such a stir that Cachao was asked to perform at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Cachao is survived by a daughter, Maria Elena López, and a grandson.