“Cachete” Maldonado was the “Son of the Drum”

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Angel “Cachete” Maldonado turned his curiosity for Latin music into knowledge, which he used to spark musical innovation, which he then used as a platform for advancing our music.

Cachete was able to do this without much fanfare. But he grew a following, from which artists like Giovanni Hidalgo, Richie Flores, Jerry Medina, Chegui Ramos, Anthony Carrillo, and many others flourished.

Cachete’s Musical Curiosity and Knowledge

Angel “Cachete” Maldonado comes from a musical family. His father was a pianist, and Cachete started learning that instrument at an early age. But he naturally gravitated to percussion. He had access to good mentors and his curiosity and talent allowed him to learn quickly. At a young age, he began working professionally in Puerto Rico with groups like Johnny “El Bravo”.

Cachete Maldonado with Gato Barbieri
Cachete Maldonado polished his knowledge in Jazz playing with Gato Barbieri.

As he learned more about the drum, particularly its African origins, he realized that the drum was more than just an instrument. Our African ancestors used it in their religious ceremonies to communicate with their God.

As the Salsa music boom of the 70’s took hold of New York City, Cachete moved there seeking better opportunities. He worked with La Conspiracion, and eventually worked his way to collaborate with the Tipica 73. During this time, he associated with other master drummers, and would eventually join the movement called Grupo Folklorico Experimental Nuevayorkino. This group gathered New York’s cream of the crop in percussion.

An inflection point in Cachete’s musical career came when he traveled to Cuba with the Tipica 73. He had learned just about everything New York had to offer in percussion knowledge. Cuba opened his eyes to a whole new world of knowledge.

Like he would describe it in one of his Batacumbele concerts that I attended, “…at that point, Cuba was rhythmically 20 years ahead of us”.

Beside collaborating with the Tipica 73, by that time Cachete had spend a few years immersed in the jazz world, working with Argentinian saxophonist Gato Barbieri. At the time, Barbieri was one of the hot acts in the jazz scene.

Cachete Joins Luis “Perico” Ortiz

Luis “Perico” Ortiz was another Puerto Rican that, like Cachete, had gone to New York in the 70’s looking for better career opportunities. His talent as a trumpeter and arranger quickly gained him gigs in Latin music as well as in the jazz scene.

Cachete with Tipica 73
Cachete traveled to Cuba with the Tipica 73.

As Perico gained fame within the Fania label, he realized that it was time to form his own band, and sign it with another label. Because of Perico’s reputation not only as a musician but also as a person, he had no problem recruiting great talent. He recruited renown bassist Eddie “Guagua” Rivera, percussionist Jimmy Delgado, singer Rafael de Jesus, and in congas Angel “Cachete” Maldonado.

Cachete brought his expanded knowledge recently acquired in Cuba to his style of playing with Luis Perico Ortiz. When the song allowed, he would change the typical tumbao (for example, think of the start of “Pedro Navaja”), for a more progressive one.

In the below song, “Se Llora y Llora”, you can hear Cachete’s tumbao. Also in this song you can experience one of Cachete’s best attributes as a percussionist. He can fill in and “decorate” the music without over-powering the conga. He carries the rhythm, but very subtly and masterfully.

Cachete Forms Batacumbele

This first version of the Luis “Perico” Ortiz orchestra was, in my opinion, the best of all the other versions he would later have. Perico continued to have a first class band, but never to the same musical level as the one he had in his first two recordings.

The itching to do something different was just too strong in Cachete. By then he had spread the itch to others, like Guagua and pianist Eric Figueroa. The time came in one of Perico’s “One of a Kind” tours to Puerto Rico.

Cachete with Batacumbele
Cachete formed Batacumbele in 1981. The bird in top of his hat is a homage to Luis “Perico” Ortiz.

Cachete had announced that he would stay in Puerto Rico to form a new band. Eddie “Guagua” and Eric would also join the new group. The “muchachos en pimienta” (as they were known inside Perico’s band) were now in Puerto Rico to stay.

Batacmbele, which means “kneel before the drum”, became the band name. Greats like trombonist Papo Vazquez, conga prodigy Giovanni Hidalgo, flautist Nestor Torres, and trumpeter-singer Jerry Medina joined the group.

The group was more than just a “Puerto Rican Irakere”. Of course, they did borrow heavily from that concept, but Cachete molded it to our Puerto Rican music and scene. Just as in Irakere, Afro-cuban and Jazz elements were predominant in the style, but also elements of Puerto Rican rhythms of Bomba and Plena, and the use of a “cuatro”.

Their new concept was a hit, even though it wasn’t focused on dancing music. With Batacumbele, Cachete had elevated the rhythmic level of our music for others to emulate. In other words, Batacumbele became an inflection point in the music of Puerto Rico and beyond.

Cachete’s Legacy

One of the things that Cachete Maldonado did so well with (and without) Batacumbele was to pass his knowledge. Cachete always liked to share his knowledge with others. Take Giovanni Hidalgo as a good example, even before Batacumbele was formed.

Cachete Maldonado, Giovanni Hidalgo, Richie Flores
Cachete Maldonado shared his knowledge with young percussionists Giovanni Hidalgo and Richie Flores.

But Batacumbele gave Cachete a platform to educate. It gave him the exposure that would allow him to start a “school” for young percussionist (i.e., Anthony Carrillo, Richie Flores). He also educated the general public because that is how we influence our culture.

Back in 1980 during Batacumbele’s very first presentation in Tetuan 20 in Old San Juan, Cachete talked between songs about the rhythm of Songo and the other rhythms they were playing. He would educate us of how the music came about. I thought that he would do that only during his first concerts, but he continued doing it, to a greater or lesser extent, in all Batacumbele presentations.

I truly enjoyed this aspect of Batacumbele’s presentations because it enriched the experience of going to see them preform live.

Cachete brought a new musical concept, elevated the percussion technique and conversation, and passed the knowledge of the drum to the current but especially to future generations.
Cachete’s voice is showcased in this song called simply “Batacumbele”.

I had the privilege of seeing Cachete recently at a concert in Puerto Rico. Fittingly, he went to see the return to stage of his star “pupil”. Giovanni Hidalgo was joining Humberto Ramirez in a 20th anniversary concert of their recording “Best Friends” (Note: Read the related blog HERE).

Cachete quietly sat in the back of the concert hall in his wheelchair, and would have passed unnoticed if not for Giovanni pointing him out from the stage and thanking him for all he thought him. The crowd turned around and applauded without knowing we were actually saying “goodbye”.

RIP Maestro and Son of the Drum!

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