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- Posted on May 9th 2010 6:15AM by Liz Colville
Aguabella, known mostly as a conga drummer, got his big break performing with the dancer Katherine Dunham in the 1954 film 'Mambo' starring Shelley Winters. After filming 'Mambo', Aguabella came to the United States from the Santiera area of Cuba in the early 1950s and resided here until his death, performing often and teaching at UCLA and elsewhere.
Aguabella was best known as a jazz percussionist, working with the likes of Gillespie and Puente, as well as with the group Jazz on the Latin Side All Stars alongside flutist Danilo Lozano. Interviewed in the Los Angeles Times, Lozano said Aguabella "was not a man of many words...He was always teaching us through the drum, through the music."
Aguabella was born on Oct. 10, 1925 in Matanzas, Cuba, and began playing the drums at age 12, beginning with the sacred drum the bata. By his early 20s he had moved to Havana, where he began to perform a variety of Afro-Cuban drums at a popular nightclub. Dunham first encountered Aguabella there, and invited him to Italy for the filming of 'Mambo.' The Hollywood scene helped expose Aguabella to a new audience, and he went on to perform with a wide range of well-known musicians.
The percussionist received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992 and was the subject of the 1995 documentary 'Sworn to the Drum.' He was also a well-known and respected teacher, important especially because, according to UC Irvine professor Raul Fernandez, he was "the only person in the U.S. who learned [the sacred drums] from Cuban masters."
Aguabella appeared on the 1971 Doors album 'Other Voices' and Paul Simon's 1990 release 'The Rhythm of the Saints.' He also performed in the group Malo with Santana.
Aguabella continued to perform into his 80s, and was in fact scheduled to perform at a cafe in Fullerton, CA on Saturday. The concert was transformed into a tribute concert, according to AP.
Aguabella is survived by his sons Mario and Marco Aguabella, his daughters Martica Jenkins and Menina Givens, and seven grandchildren.
Watch an interview and performance with Aguabella and Santana taken from 'Sworn to the Drum':
Francisco Aguabella on AOL Music