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Manny Oquendo

Manny Oquendo - timbales, latin percussionist

Latin Bandleader Manny Oquendo, is a veteran of the days when Latin bands crowded into a studio to polish off a recording in an all-night session. Oquendo’s musical education consisted of the old-school, "just play" approach, and he was in the right place to learn. He grew up on Kelly Street in the Bronx, New York, not far from the great Cuban tres player, Arsenio Rodriguez and famed pianist Noro Morales. And a lot of kids who’d later make their names in Latin music-such as Joe Cuba, and the Palmieri brothers, One floor down from the Oquendo apartment was the Almacenes Hernandez record shop. "There was music constantly coming out of that store, and that was my education," Oquendo recalls. He became an expert on Cuban rhythms and began playing bongo and timbales with a sucession of New York’s top bands-with Jose Curbelo and Vicentico Valdes before moving into the orchestras of Tito Puente and Tito Rodriguez.

In 1963, he joined La Perfecta, the conjunto organized by pianist Eddie Palmieri. "La Perfecta was struggling at that time, trying to compete with all the other bands at the Palladium," says Oquendo. "I’m talking about big bands with 15 people in them. Eddie’s was a small conjunto group. But what made us different was the music and the playing-we were looser, more free."

Oquendo’s alliance with trombonist Barry Rogers resulted in the driving, imaginative arrangements that made La Perfecta a dance hall favorite. Oquendo settled in with Palmieri's influential La Perfecta in 1963, about the same time that a rhythm known as the Mozambique was being popularized in Cuba by Pello El Afrokan. In Cuba, the Mozambique was a complex carnival rhythm (a "camparsa") played by a large ensemble of percussionists. Oquendo heard recordings of the Mozambique, and adapted it for timbales by "playing the comparsa with one hand and the basic drum beat with the other." He persuaded Palmieri to incorporate his new Mozambique and other Cuban rhythms into La Perfecta's dance numbers, thereby introducing the hypnotic beats to North America. The Oquendo-style Mozambique is now part of the repertoire of timbal players everywhere.

La Perfecta eventually disbanded, and in 1974 Oquendo co-founded Libre (originally Conjunto Libre) with Perfecta's bassist Andy Gonzalez. Their musical concept was to maintain Latin roots, but to be free ("libre") to incorporate jazz, Afro-Cuban, and alternative influences. Libre's rugged sound drew devoted fans across Europe, South America, Africa, and the US. Their notable albums include "On the Move" and "Mejor Que Nunca," The band kept a solid schedule of performances and records releases ever since their formation and has built up a loyal fan base especially within the New York Latin community.

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Album Review

Manny Oquendo & Libre: Ahora

Read "Ahora" reviewed by Dave Hughes

First of all, let me admit a bias. As a trombonist, there are few sounds more beautiful to my ears than an ensemble of trombones. Combine this with another passion, the seductive throbbing of cuban percussion, and you have a combination that's tough to beat. Manny Oquendo and Libre live up to this potential on their latest Milestone outing, Ahora. Most of the program is spirited yet polished. While it's not the most extroverted Cuban dance or party music you'll ...

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Manny Oquendo, Latin Band Leader and Stylistic Innovator, Dies

Manny Oquendo, Latin Band Leader and Stylistic Innovator, Dies

Source: Michael Ricci

Manny Oquendo, the Latin band leader, timbale player and percussionist who was an expert with the tpico Cuban rhythmic style and later infused it into Latin jazz, died on March 25 in the Bronx. He was 78.

The cause was complications from a kidney operation, said Andy Gonzlez, his musical director of 35 years in their band, Libre.

Mr. Oquendos involvement with Cuban rhythms on the timbales and bongos dated back to his childhood. Born in 1931 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ...



Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Los New Yorkinos

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Fantasy Jazz




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