Jazz Caliente: Latin Jazz Starts With 'Tanga'

Feb 17, 2017

This week on Saturday Jazz Caliente, we'll hear the theme song of the orchestra known as Machito and his Afro-Cubans.  The piece is called "Tanga," composed by trumpeter and arranger Mario Bauzá.  This "Tanga" had nothing to do with skimpy underwear; the song title was derived from an African word for marijuana.

Cuban-born Mario Bauzá was in Cab Calloway's orchestra when he decided that he would put together his own classy, sophisticated big band to play original jazz arrangements over Afro-Cuban rhythms.   

Fronting the band was Bauzá's brother-in-law, the charismatic singer and maraca player Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, who was known in Cuba as "Macho."  That nickname was a little too strong for American audiences, and an agent suggested that he soften it down to "little macho," or Machito.  He and the band were wildly popular in the dance and jazz venues of New York's Spanish Harlem neighborhood.

Machito and his Afro Cubans

"Tanga," composed in 1943, was the first original American jazz piece written "en clave;" that is, in a specifically Afro-Cuban rhythm.   It became the band's theme song.

The band's name, the Afro-Cubans, was the first acknowledgement in the U.S. that the so-called "Latin" rhythms that were making their way into American music actually originated in Africa.

Here's Machito and his Afro-Cubans with Ritmo Caliente.  Tune in to Saturday Jazz Caliente this week to hear the the historic "Tanga."

Jazz Caliente airs Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. The program is hosted by Robin Lloyd and produced by KNKX Public Radio.