“Descargarará” by The John Santos Sextet

The John Santos Sextet
The John Santos Sextet. Standing L–R: John Santos, Saul Sierra, Marco Díaz, Melecio Magdaluyo, Orestes Vilató, John Calloway, Jeff Cressman, Juan Gutierrez. Kneeling L–R: David Flores, Rico Pabon, Pedro Pastrana, Tito Matos. Photo by Tom Ehrlich

The John Santos Sextet: The Art of The Descarga
[Arará Descarga] 6:48
Marco Díaz, piano, trumpet; Saúl Sierra, acoustic bass; Dr. John Calloway, flute; Melecio Magdaluyo, baritone saxophone; David Flores, drum set, campanas; John Santos, congas, batá, chékere.

Descargarará is an homage to the immortal Cuban virtuoso bassist and composer, Cachao (Israel López 1918-2008), one of the founding fathers of two of the world’s greatest musical forms that happen to come from Cuba: The Mambo and the Descarga. Cachao and his cohorts who were all among the top tier of Havana’s musical elite, utilized all types of Cuban rhythms and musical devices to unleash their unbridled improvisations. I had the tremendous honor of hosting Cachao as a guest with my band, The Machete Ensemble, through the San Francisco Jazz Festival in 1989 and 1990. We also brought him to the studio and recorded several pieces at that time. He subsequently invited me to tour with his band in the early 90s and I accompanied him on congas in NY, Washington DC, the North Sea Jazz Festival (Netherlands), several locations in Spain and Paris!  In this piece, the rhythmic point of departure in the call-and-response intro is an adaptation of music that originates in the old West African kingdom of Dahomey (Daomé – 16th through 19th centuries), present day Togo, Benin, Ghana and Western Nigeria. This tradition is known as Arará in Cuba, Rada in Haiti, and Ketu in Brazil (not to be confused with the Indigenous Brazilians known as Arará). But Descargarará is also a rhythmic rollercoaster, featuring a banquet of additional Afro-Cuban forms and influences such as batá, rumba, chekeré and the carnavalesque conga de comparsa, all focused on inspiring the respective soloists: bass (bowed and pizzicato), trumpet, bari, piano, timbal/drums, and flute. Marco Díaz does a wonderful job switching between trumpet and piano!”
– John Santos
“The Spanish word descarga, if taken literally, might have no relation to music for it means “discharge”. But the word was appropriated by the musicians who invented the improvised jam session based on variations of Afro-Cuban music forms – primarily son montuno – but also guajira, bolero, guaracha and rumba. The music – strongly influenced by jazz – first exploded in Havana in the 1950’s. Some of the pioneers and greatest exponents were Cachao, Julio Gutiérrez, Bebo Valdés, Peruchín and Niño Rivera in Cuba [and Tito Puente, Machito and Mario Bauzá in New York]. John Santos brilliantly exploits the descarga, something that has become as de rigueur in Latin-Jazz as montuno throughout this recording Art of the Descarga. In a rich and many-splendoured transmutation, each of the twelve tracks is an artistic variation of the form. This song “Descárgarará” is unique, it  pays homage to the form in the grand manner of Cachao’s “Descargas” [a 1957 recording by Cachao y su Ritmo Caliente], but with a diabolically beautiful twist. As the title suggests Mr Santos’ song forges his “Descarga” in the volcanic rhythms of Arará.”
– Raul Da Gama

Danilo Navas
Founder, Editor, Webmaster: Latin Jazz Network, World Music Report, Toronto Music Report. A passionate and committed communicator with a sensibility for the arts based in Toronto, Canada.

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  1. Chico Alvarez just hipped me to your wonderful site. Congratulations. I was an Afro-Cuban/Afro-Haitian dancer at the Katherine Dunham School of Dance in Manhattan in 1950-51 and performed a solo on live television’s WNBT (The Startime Kids) in November of 1951 at 12 years of age. Stay safe and keep informing. Ira Goldwasser – Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


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