To properly attempt to write a profile on such a colorful and significant character as Chano Pozo, we must go to Africa, where it all began.
The Niger River Delta, in the Africa Bend, more specifically the area of Calabar, was one of the premier sources of slaves during the heightening sugar production era in Cuba in the early 1800’s. The Calabar male natives, had an Egbo leopard society, which in Cuba was reborn under the name Acuabatón, conjuring up the myth of Abakuá, manifesting itself in a ritual of ancestor and deity worship, and secret initiations of brotherhood. The Abakuá in Cuba were also called ñañigos, and created a high standard as dancers and drummers, as well as for their flamboyant dress and behavior. They also were also feared and reputed to be a sort of underworld gang.
The influence of the Abakuá in the Cuban world of drumming has been profound since its presence in the traditional rumbas. In Cuba, a rumba was/is a social gathering of drumming with dancing, its origins in the cane fields, streets and barrios. A cultural diffusion with the Lucumi (Yoruba) style of drumming has evolved into the classic Afro-Cuban percussive style of guaguancó, yambú, and columbia that is eminent today. There were/are many Cuban rumberos that were members of both the Abakuá and Santeriá (Yoruba) societies.
Chano Pozo was one of these rumberos, mentioned above. He would influence jazz and popular Latin music well into the next century!!
Luciano Pozo Gonzalez was born in the Vedado section of La Habana, Cuba, on January 17, 1915. His mother would die when he was 8 years old, and his father moved to the area of Cayo Hueso, in the sector known as El África, which was a very poor and tough neighborhood. There he became step brother to Felix Chappottin, by way of his father and Chappottins mother. He did a short stint in the reform school of Guanajay, where he would meet Miguelito Valdés, as fate would have it, Chappottin, Valdés and Pozo would go on to forge a personal and musical alliance that would take them out of the streets into studios and stages around the world.
He became initiated into the Abakuá sect of Müñanga, since this society is shrouded in secret ceremony and reveal nothing, very little is known about this except for the fact that Chano was a proud member, and he also practiced Santeriá. This would manifest itself in his style of conga drumming that would be his musical identity. He worked primarily as a boot black, and played the congas whenever possible with the local comparsas, which were street musicians, mostly ñañigos, parading on patron day saints and other social activities.