“Suavecito” - Malo
“Café” - Malo
The success of the band Santana in the late 1960s led to numerous young musicians in the San Francisco area to experiment with combining elements of rock, blues, funk, soul, salsa, and African rhythms. Listen to “Café” by Malo: after the percussion introduces the fast chachachá rhythm, we here a searing pair of electric guitars playing in harmony, played by Abel Zarate and Jorge Santana, Carlos Santana’s younger brother. The horn section that sounds like a New York salsa band.
Taking pride in their Latino identity, the Malibus changed their name to Malo, which means “bad” in Spanish. They scored a nationwide hit with the soulful love song “Suavecito” written and sung by Richard Bean, a Tejano whose family had moved to the Bay Area. Malo’s use of bilingual lyrics in many songs appealed to both Latino and Anglo audiences. “Suavecito” —smooth—gentle—it’s a slow-groove chachachá featuring timbales, congas, and cowbell. If you don’t know the original of this song, you might recognize that it was sampled by the band Sugar Ray in 1999(?) for their song “Every Morning.”
“Ain’t Got No Special Woman” - Azteca
The Escovedo brothers Pete and Coke were among the most active percussionists in the Bay Area for over 20 years, playing with numerous bands including Santana and Tito Puente. In 1972, their large band Azteca released an album that combined rock, jazz, salsa and song lyrics in both English and Spanish. The song “Ain’t Got No Special Woman” begins as a chachachá with a pop-jazz horn arrangement, and then turns into a mambo with a furious guitar solo from Neal Schon (of Santana, later Journey). Then, there is a dramatic change of groove to an Afro-Cuban 12/8 rumba, guided by a timeline played on the cowbell. Eventually all the instruments except the conga drums drop out as the singing starts, suggesting the sound of the drum ensembles that gathered in Bay Area parks to jam.
“You’re Still a Young Man” - Tower of Power
But not all Latino musicians in the Bay Area played Afro-Caribbean rhythms. One example is saxophonist Emilio Castillo, a founding member of the soul/funk band Tower of Power. Their mellow Latin soul tunes were hugely popular, especially with Chicano audiences in California. “You’re Still a Young Man” was treated like an inspirational anthem among lowriders.
“What is Hip? - Tower of Power
Tower of Power is regarded as one of the tightest funk bands ever. Listen to the tight horn arrangements on their hit “What is Hip?”
Since the late 1960s, Latinos in the San Francisco Bay Area have continued to fuse elements of rock with Latin percussion, funk, and other styles.