Tag Archives: Mongo Santamaria

Music 4 the Nxt 1, Andresmusictalk III: “March of the Panther” by Mongo Santamaria

 

Mongo Santamaria is the one of the best artists to talk about during Black History Month because the cultural forces behind his music cover such a large part of the African diaspora. A native of pre Revolutionary Cuba, he learned music in his community based on rhythms that had come directly from Africa. It was said one of his grandfathers had in fact been a Yoruba priest. His composition, “Afro Blue”, was considered to be the first jazz standard based on an African “3 over 2” rhythm, and was popularized by John Coltrane. In the ’60s he moved from a straight Afro Latin jazz to a Boogaloo based melange of Afro Latin rhythms interlaid with the popular sounds of Soul and Funk. One album I grew up with during that period was an album he did called “Soul Bag”, that featured an incredible version of “Cold Sweat.” Today’s Black History Month special is a song from his 1970 LP, “Mongo 70”, entitled “March of the Panther.” This song was composed by guitarist Sonny Henry, who was the composer of Carlos Santana’s breakthrough hit, “Evil Ways”, which he originally recorded with Willie Bobo. “March of the Panther” is a funky, strident, striving number with the electric energy of the Black Panther Party in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

The song begins with an old school military march theme, featuring snare drum, tuba, flutes and horns playing in a style straight out of the Revolutionary War period. The allusion is very clear as the song transitions from music for that old school revolutionary army to a groove for the new school revolutionary army, The Black Panther Party, as the drummer plays a snare fill that leads to the groove. Bass Player John Hart plays a funky two note baseline supported by two pickup notes in the classic late ’60s, early ’70s style. There is a call and response relationship between the bass line and the electric piano, as the piano plays a syncopated rhythm chord figure after the bass plays its eighth notes. The drums play two strong kick drum notes in harmony with the bass but besides the cracking snare drum hits the drums are partially obscured by Mongo’s powerful African percussive figures, which are both pattern setting but also communicate in an improvisational way. These provide the setting for the rousing horn fanfare, which is a national anthem type melody that plays long, sustained notes, in the style of marching/military music, but also reminiscent of horn sections in African and Afro Latin bands, playing horn lines in unison. The bass and horn melody goes between two chords, as the bass line walks down to second chord sequence and the horns follow. After playing through that sequence the arrangement goes to a change part where the whole arrangement seems to come together in unity for the chorus, which is then followed by another vamp/statement of the main melody, with more attention paid to the trumpets, followed by another chorus that is again, heavier on the top end of the horns. After that a tenor sax solo is introduced, under which the bass player is given more freedom to improvise funky lines that support the solo. After the solo ends, Mongo’s conga playing becomes more pronounced, as he varies his rhythm and begins to take more of a leadership role, introducing the sections of the song with his drum flurries. The song grooves on and fades out, shifting back to a straight military march at the end.

“March of the Panther” took up the call that was made during the 1960s for new forms of Black art that would be the new symbols of the New Black Nation. In this case, it envisions itself as the theme for The Black Panther Party as the military arm of that nation. Mongo always foregrounded African/Black identity in his music, naming songs after Yoruba Gods and Black figures such as Malcom X. It was amazing for me to discover this funky song that took the idea of a military march and remade it for the age of The Panthers. The song itself is a good example of uptempo, super rhythmic, boogaloo inspired early 70s funk, in fact it would work very well over a montage movie scene about The Panthers or activists set in that time period. It was said that Herbie Hancock played his classic “Watermelon Man” for Mongo after Mongo had said he couldn’t see the connection between Afro Cuban and Afro American music. Upon hearing the funky tune, Mongo immediately got excited and began playing along with it. Of course, in Mongo’s hands, “Watermelon Man” went on to become one of the biggest hits in jazz history. It was this ability to connect the African roots, modern Afro Cuban music, jazz, and the then current funk and soul vibes that gave Mongo the unique place in Black music history and Black culture that he occupies. And that is one reason, along with his excellent musicianship, that a figure like Mongo deserves more consideration when contemplating the bonds of Africans in the Americas. And “March of the Panther” stands tall as an anthem for the Party that is no longer that brings together the energy of the whole African diaspora for the long waged fight for total prosperity and liberation!

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Anatomy of THE Leap Day: “Comin’ Over Me” by Willie Bobo

Willie Bobo has somehow managed to be a huge part of my musical growth. Especially when it came to the transition from adolescence to adulthood. That being said,I haven’t really heard a great deal of his music. My father has two of his albums. One is a  CD of his 1967 release Juicy and the other a vinyl of his 1978 Columbia release Hell Of An Act To Follow,produced by Crusaders’ founder Wayne Henderson. Bobo is better known to me as a session man,playing on dates such as Herbie Hancock’s Inventions And Dimensions in 1963. As well as being a regular part of the house band on Bill Cosby’s short lived 1976 variety show called ‘Cos.

Born William Correa in NYC’s Spanish Harlem with Puerto Rican ancestry, Bobo began his career while in his late teens studying with fellow percussionist Mongo Santamaria. As well as acting as Mongo’s translator. Gigs with Tito Puente,George Shearing and Cal Tjader led him to begin recording as a band leader during the early 60’s. All the while maintaining his session work,which always seems to be good for percussionists. He had two Columbia albums in the late 70’s. The second of which was simply entitled Bobo. While I regretfully passed up a vinyl copy of this not too long ago,one song from it caught my ears online. It is called “Comin’ Over Me”.

A rolling drum is assisted by Bobo’s percussion,which of course is the base of the song itself. The rhythm is accompanied by a ringing rhythm guitar and slap bass interaction-both of which are accompanied by horn charts that brightly expand on the melody with an intense amount of joy. Along with occasional bursts of electric piano. This repeats over two choruses-the second of which scales up with a rock guitar solo on the end. The bridge of the song features an instrumental break showcases a trumpet solo-before going back to the songs second chorus. The song concludes with those two percussive choruses repeating themselves until it fades out.

This is a strong,chunky Afro-Latin funk jam with a very strong pop/soul melody. It’s very much in the vein of some of what Carlos Santana (whom Bobo had done session work for) was doing at the time. It showcases how much Bobo’s Afro-Cuban percussion has extended itself up to the late 70’s funk era and even after. In fact his son Erin wound up becoming a percussionist for the hip-hop crew Cypress Hill. That idea of keeping a musical legacy in the family when it comes to Afro-Latin rhythm is very meaningful in terms of keeping the strength of the groove alive. And this song represents some fine funk from what turned out to be Willie Bobo’s final album.

 

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