IN THE TRUNK: “O Mi Chango” by Mongo Santamaria (Audio)

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I first heard this gem of a record on a mixtape by Dj Djinji Brown. I remember pausing and rewinding it several times to understand what I was hearing. “O Mi Chango” is a tribute and celebration for the Yoruban/Santerian saint Chango (Shango), and the musician playing it is none other than conguero Mongo Santamaria. Born in Havana Cuba in 1922, he began playing the conga at an early age, apprenticing with Clemente “Chicho” Piquero in Cuba and Mexico, moving to New York to play with fellow Cuban congeros and artists like Tito Puente. Mongo began recording in the early1950’s as a band member and band leader and continued to record until 1998. He played with musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Francisco Aguabella, Cal Tjader, La LupeDizzy Gillespie, Wille Bobo, and Armando Peraza. With over 35 records as a band leader, a Grammy, and an influence in Jazz and world music that is unmistakeable that Mongo is a legend.“O Mi Chango” was recorded in 1977 for the album Sofrito on Vaya Records.

When I listen to the song I feel “dance”. Plain and simple. A celebration, Mongo calls out the foods that are to be given or offered to the saint or god Shango. The drum being central to the song sets the table and all of these delicious sprinkles of sax, drums, bass, and keys come in creating an aromatic blend of sound that is medicine when you dance to it. The players on this record are Angel “Cachete” Maldonado (Bata), Armen Donelian (Piano/Keys), William Allen (Bass Guitar), Al Williams (Saxophone), Julia Collaro (Bata/Trap drum), and Mongo (Conga Drum). In this jam you hear Jazz, you hear Guaguancó, Rumba, Salsa, Boogie, Charanga, Tipico, House, Cuba, New York, West Africa, etc. Essentially a mixture. In the song he says “La Comida pa Chango” or food for Shango, “Harina” which means flour, “Mofongo” which is a delicious dish made of Platano. Hopefully some of our listeners can translate some more of the Yoruban or Español Carribeño in this song, but don’t worry too much. Just dance!

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Parent, illustrator, author, owner of Come Bien Books, muralist, activist, and self-proclaimed believer in the power of music and its infinite sonic vibrations. Follow him @RobertTres

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