Mainly danzón with arrangements of son montuno and swing
1940s in La Havana, Cuba, drawing on Haitian-Cuban influences
Conga cajon bongo timbales with cowbell and jam block claves upright bass piano trombone trumpet saxophone
Mambo is a musical genre and dance style that developed originally in Cuba. The word "Mambo", similarly to other afroamerican musical denominations as conga, milonga, bomba, tumba, timba, samba, semba, bamba, bamboula, tambo, tango, cumbé, cumbia and candombe, denote an African origin, particularly from Congo, due to the presence of certain characteristic combinations of sounds, such as mb, ng and nd, which belong to the Niger-Congo linguistic complex. In modern Swahili language, the word "mambo" corresponds to the English word "things" The Oxford Online Dictionary gives "mambo" as Haitian-Creole from Yoruba meaning "voodoo priestess".
The earliest roots of the Cuban Mambo can be traced to the "Danzón de Nuevo Ritmo" (Danzón with a new rhythm) made popular by the orchestra "Arcaño y sus Maravillas" conducted by famous bandleader Antonio Arcaño.
Antonio Arcaño was the first to denominate a section of the popular Cuban Danzón as a "Mambo." In 1910, José Urfé added a montuno (typical Son improvised closing section) as a final part of his El Bombín de Barretto. This was a swinging section consisting of a repeated musical phrase, which introduced some elements of the son into the Danzón. During the mid-to-late 1930s, some members of the Arcaño group were saying vamos a mambear (let's mambo), when referring to the Montuno or final improvisation of the Danzón. It was Arcaño's cellist, Orestes López, who created the first Danzón called "Mambo" (1938). In this piece, some syncopated motives, taken from the Son style, were combined with improvised flute passages.
Antonio Arcaño described the "Mambo" as follows: "Mambo is a type of syncopated Montuno that possesses the rhythmic charm, informality and eloquence of the Cuban people. The pianist attacks the mambo, the flute picks it up and improvises, the violin executes rhythmic chords in double stops, the double bass inserts a "tumbao", the "timbalero" plays de cow-bell, the güiro scrapes and plays the "maracas" rhythm, the indispensable "tumba" (Conga drum) reaffirms the bass "tumbao" and strengthens the ‘timbal’."
Mambo in Mexico
Pianist and arranger from Matanzas, Cuba, Dámaso Pérez Prado (1927) established his residence in Havana at the beginning of the 1940s and began to work at night clubs and orchestras, such as Paulina Alvarez's and Casino de La Playa. In 1949 he traveled to Mexico looking for job opportunities and achieved great success with a new style, to which he assigned a name that had been already utilized by Antonio Arcaño, the "Mambo."
Perez Prado's style differed from the previous "Mambo" concept. The new style possessed a greater influence from the North-American Jazz band music, and an expanded instrumentation consisting of four or five trumpets, four of five saxophones, double bass, drum set, maracas, cowbell, congas and bongoes. The new "Mambo" included a catchy counterpoint between the trumpets and the saxophones, that impulsed the body to move along with the rhythm, stimulated at the end of each musical phrase by a characteristic deep throat sound expression.
Because his music was dedicated to a foreign audience that lived outside the Cuban nation, Pérez Prado always utilized in his arrangements a large number of international elements of style, and especially from North America. That characteristic becomes evidente in his arrangements of songs such as Mambo Rock, Patricia and Tequila, where he utilizes a triple meter "swing" American rhythm, fused with elements from Cuban rumba and son. Pérez Prado's repertoire included numerous international pieces such as: Cerezo Rosa, María Bonita, Tea for two, La Bikina, Cuando calienta el sol, Malagueña and En un Pueblito Español, among many others.
Beny Moré also lived in Mexico between 1945 and 1952; it was there where people started calling him Beny or Benny instead of Bartolo. He composed and recorded some Mambos in Mexico, with Mexican orchestras, especially with the one directed by Rafael de Paz; they recorded Yiri yiri bon, La Culebra, Mata siguaraya, Solamente una vez and Bonito y Sabroso, a song where he praises the dancing skills of the Mexicans, and claims that Mexico City and La Habana are sister cities. Also in Mexico, Benny and Perez Prado recorded several mambos including "La múcura", "Rabo y oreja", and "Pachito E'ché" . At this time Benny also recorded with the orchestra of Jesús "Chucho" Rodríguez. El "Chucho" was so impressed with Benny's musical ability that he referred to him as "El Barbaro del Ritmo".
Prado's recordings were meant for the Latin American and U.S. Latino markets, but some of his most celebrated mambos, such as "Mambo No. 5" and "Que Rico el Mambo", quickly crossed over to the United States.
Mambo in New York City
In the 1950s, various publications in New York City began to run articles on an emerging "mambo revolution" in music and dance. Recording companies began to use mambo to label their records and advertisements for mambo dance lessons were in local newspapers. New York City had made mambo a transnational popular cultural phenomenon. By the mid-1950s mambo mania had reached fever pitch. In New York the mambo was played in a high-strung, sophisticated way that had the Palladium Ballroom, the famous Broadway dance-hall, jumping. The Ballroom soon proclaimed itself the "temple of mambo", for the city's best dancers—the Mambo Aces, "Killer Joe" Piro, Augie and Margo Rodriguez, Paulito and Lilon, Louie Maquina and Pedro "Cuban Pete" Aguilar—gave mambo demonstrations there and made a reputation for their expressive use of arms, legs, head and hands. Augie and Margo were still dancing 50 years later (2006) in Las Vegas.
Some of New York's biggest mambo dancers and bands of the 1950s included: Augie & Margo, Michael Terrace & Elita, Carmen Cruz & Gene Ortiz, Larry Selon & Vera Rodríguez, Mambo Aces(Anibal Vasquez and Samson Batalla), Killer Joe Piro, Paulito and Lilon, Louie Maquina, Pedro Aguilar ("Cuban Pete"), Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Jose Curbelo, Akohh, and Noro Morales.