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Mambo was the predominant Latin popular music and dance style in the Americas throughout the 1950s. Although the term, coined about 1946, refers specifically to a syncopated rhythm, mambo was a cultural phenomenon, its influence evident in literature, film, modern dance, and classical music as well as popular music and dance. Most historians agree that the Cuban charango (an ensemble of piano, strings, flute, percussion, and vocals) Arcaño y sus Maravillas was the first to experiment with established rhythmic and formal structures toward a danzón-mambo style. The group's 1940 recording Rarezas features these developments.

By 1943 Cuban conjunto leader Arsenio Rodríguez had recorded son music, which featured similar structural and rhythmic innovations. Cuban musicians and arrangers René Hernández, Bebo Valdés, and Dámaso Pérez Prado quickly followed, implementing syncopated figures in specific sections of their arrangements for various Cuban big bands. Of these early figures, Prado, known as the "King of Mambo," became by far the most internationally well-known mambo stylist and bandleader. In 1949 he moved to Mexico City, where he recorded with RCA, releasing records such as Mambo No. 5 that established him and his style as the personification and quintessence of the mambo among international audiences. Prado's appearances and the use of his music in Mexican films contributed to the dissemination and popularization of his music. As mambo music and dance garnered popularity throughout the Americas, local and regional styles also formed, the most significant of which was in New York City. Important purveyors included Machito and His Afro-Cubans, Tito Puente, and Tito Rodríguez.

See alsoMachito; Music: Popular Music and Dance; Pérez Prado, Dámaso; Puente, Tito; Rodriguez, Tito; Son.


Garcia, David. Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

Giro, Radames, ed. El Mambo. La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1993.

                                      David F. Garcia