A popular Cuban dance and music of the 1940s-1950s. Its fast paced music, a form of son, became popular in the United States and in the rest of Latin America in the post-World War II era. A native of Matanzas, the pianist and bandleader Dámaso Pérez Prado (1916-1989), known as the “King of Mambo,” was the genre’s greatest innovator and exponent, particularly as interpreted in his 1951 classic, Rico mambo.
However, others had paved the way for Pérez Prado’s innovations, beginning with the orchestra of “Arcaño y sus Maravillas” which introduced the ritmo nuevo in the 1930s. One of its composers, Orestes López (1908- 1991), wrote a danzón entitled Mambo in 1939. The López brothers, Orestes and his younger sibling Israel “Cachao” (b. 1918), inserted fast, syncopated motifs from the son. The effect was a more forceful rhythm to which younger dancers responded eagerly. Another eminent musician, Arsenio Rodríguez (1911-1970), set the new standard by emphasizing the percussion and brass sections of the son. Others whose musical arrangements prefigured that of the mambo were René Hernández and Emilio “Bebo” Valdés, borrowing from American jazz and swing and freeing the sounds from the danzón’ s form.
Finally, Perez Prado liberated the final montuno from the ritmo nuevo thereby creating something altogether new. In his words, “all is in the syncopation ···the saxophones accentuate it without respite while the trumpets charge the melody. The bass, in combination with tumbadoras and bongós, take care of the rest. There’s the making of mambo.” Recording his music for the RCA Victor label in Mexico City, Pérez Prado’s style took the musical world by storm. Among his many 1950s hits were Mambo No. 5, Mambo No. 8, El ruletero, La chula linda, and, with vocalist Benny Moré (1919-1963), the King of Mambo, recorded Pachito e‘ché, Bonito y sabroso, and other popular songs in the new genre.
The next major development in Cuban music, the cha-cha-chá, shared common roots with its rival, the mambo. In the United States, Pérez Prado’s greatest success on the charts was Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White (1958). Patricia (1958), another hit, became the theme song of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Though fading, especially in Cuba and Latin America, by the early 1960s, mambo would be an important ingredient in the formation of the salsa genre and retain a loyal following for years to come.