Israel “Cachao” Lopez [1918-2008]
Israel “Cachao” López was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1918, in a family of musicians. At the age of nine he began playing bass professionally, accompanying silent movies at a local theater. He received classical music training and joined the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Habana, where he played from 1930 to 1960, eventually becoming principal bassist.
In 1937, Cachao and his brother Orestes (who played bass, cello, and piano) also began playing popular dance music in a charanga (a sort of miniature orchestra with piano, violins, flute and percussion) called La Orquesta Maravilla de Fernando Collazo. Shortly after they joined the group, flautist Antonio Arcaño became its musical director and Arcaño y sus Maravillas went on to became one of the most popular and influential charangas of all time. In Arcaño’s charanga, Cachao and Orestes helped develop a more energetic rhythmic approach, which they first called danzón de nuevo ritmo and which later became known as mambo.
Cachao is also known for popularizing a kind of improvised jam session known as descarga. In 1957 Cachao assembled musicians to make a series of recordings on the Panart label that included Cuban Jam Sessions In Miniature: “Descargas,”which sold over a million copies. The descarga grew into a new genre of Cuban music, characterized by repetitive rhythmic groove, improvisation, and high energy.
In 1962 Cachao left Cuba for the U.S., where he became one of the pre-eminent Latin bassists in New York. His first steady gig was with Charlie Palmieri, followed by stints with Johnny Pacheco, Tito Rodríguez, Cándido, and Eddie Palmieri. He later made his home in Miami, where he kept a lower profile, playing in local clubs and events. Cachao returned to New York for several concerts in his honor in the 1970s and 80s, and to make recordings such as Cachao y su Descarga ’77, Vol. 1 and 2(1977, Salsoul).
In 1994 actor Andy Garcia sought to honor Cachao’s legacy by making a movie about his life and re-issuing some of his early recordings on Master Sessions vols. 1 & 2 (Crescent Moon 1994, 1995), which won a Grammy award. The pioneering bassist experienced renewed fame and attention during the last decade of his life. He died in 2008.