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Pello el Afrokán

Pello was a legendary percussionist and composer in Cuba. He died 9/11/00 of cancer and was buried 9/12 with full Abakuá burial rites and the sound of the mozambique performed by grandson Omar and his group.  Though no source says so, it is quite possible the death can be counted as another effect of the embargo as many medicines and anti-cancer X-ray machines are unavailable in Cuba.  To those who say that the Cuban government would not be able to purchase them, we can only point to Canadian and other firms who have been told not to donate equipment to Cuba or risk being barred from the lucrative US market. 

PELLO AND THE MOZAMBIQUE: A rhythm that galvanized Cuba, 9/25/00

Será sepultado hoy Pello el Afrokán, 9/12/00

PELLO AND THE MOZAMBIQUE: A rhythm that galvanized Cuba
BY RAFAEL LAM (Special for Granma International)
September 25, 2000

IN 1963, Pedro Izquierdo, known as Pello el Afrokán—who recently passed away—created the mozambique, one of the hottest and most debated modern rhythms on the island.

In the wake of Eduardo Davidson’s pachanga rage, like a wizard or African griot Pello produced a primitive or more authentic sound of tom-tom and metal drums. It was like a call from the earth which scandalized many academics, but won public acclaim. It was a renewal of the conga lines dating back to the colonial period, and had the crowds dancing down the streets.

El Afrokán was born in 1933, a time of hunger and desolation for Cuba with the toppling of dictator Machado. He was the grandson of Mandingos who reproduced the drumming and rhythms of Africa on the island. "That’s the blood running through my veins," Pello told me when we met in his musical enterprise, named after Ignacio Piñeiro. "My father was one of the first percussionists in Belisario López’ band. I’m a cousin of Mongo Santamaría and the kings of percussion used to visit my house."

The creator of the mozambique started playing wherever he was needed, as well as working as a stevedore on the docks in his Havana barrio of Jesús María. He did commercial jingles for CMQ radio and in 1959 founded his own group, playing at the Havana’s mecca of cabaret, the Tropicana.

In 1962 he was already experimenting with the great tribe which would be the talk of that decade. Meanwhile, he also imparted his musical knowledge at the National Art Instructors’ School.

"The mozambique is played with 12 conga drums, two bass drums, three bells, a frying pan, four trumpets and three trombones. An innovation. The percussionists were exceptional, that’s my specialty. I created a set with five conga drummers."

The rhythm is an Afro-Cuban fusion that Pello called a stew: Abakuá, Yoruba, Congo, Carabalí and Jiribilla. Naturally, the rhythm is linked to a dance whose steps were devised by El Afrokán himself and later stylized by choreographer Guanari Amoedo. "The mozambique is walking, walking in time," its inventor defined it.

"I sang in Pello’s tribe," composer Evelio Landa recounts, "and I know the way in which he put together his compositions, without arrangements, with a drummer’s sensibility. But the whole thing worked."

Pello introduced the mozambique at the University of Havana and it had an enthusiastic response from the youth. It had its television debut in July 1963, when the Beatles were invading the world without permission. With great daring, Pello served up the mozambique as a wall of contention before the avalanche of pop music.

In the Radio Progreso studios and at that year’s carnival, the mozambique was an explosion only comparable to the Cuban salsa boom. Surviving film footage reveals that the mozambique carried away a sea of people. The legend began and is still resonant.

With Pello, the mozambique traveled as far as Paris’ Olympia Theater in 1965, touring half the world. In 1979 it slipped into the Carnegie Hall and Japan. Stars like Eddie Palmieri, Carlos Santana, Issac Delgado and many others recorded cover versions.

Pello was laid to rest on September 12 with full Abakuá burial rites and the sound of the mozambique performed by grandson Omar and his group.

Será sepultado hoy Pello el Afrokán, 9/12/00

El destacado compositor y maestro de la percusión Pedro Izquierdo —Pello el Afrokán—, creador del Ritmo Mozambique, será sepultado hoy en la necrópolis de Colón. Su cadáver partirá a las 9:00 a.m., de la Funeraria de Calzada y K (Vedado). Pello falleció ayer lunes, a las 9:30 a.m., a la edad de 67 años víctima de un cáncer. Había nacido en La Habana, el 7 de enero de 1933.

Criado en el rumbero barrio de Jesús María, Pello, quien se había dado a conocer como percusionista, saltó a la popularidad en 1963 con una modalidad en la que se mezclan distintos elementos musicales, destacándose en ellos la conga y ciertos bailes de origen africano: el Mozambique.

En 1959 había fundado un conjunto y tiempo después fue llamado para impartir clases como percusionista en la Escuela de Instructores de Arte. Con el Mozambique causa tal impacto que el ritmo se convierte en atracción de los Carnavales de La Habana y otras ciudades del país. Durante cuatro años mantiene un programa fijo en la Televisión Cubana (Ritmos de Juventud).

En 1965, en pleno apogeo del Mozambique, lo pasea con el Gran Music Hall de Cuba por Francia (Teatro Olympia, de París) y otros países de Europa. Números de su autoría, como María Caracoles, alcanzaron ventas millonarias en versión de Eddie Palmieri y otros artistas.

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