September 24, 2021- Today's Topic: Chano Pozo
Chano Pozo was born in Havana in 1915 and grew up in the El Africa Solar neighborhood which was poverty stricken and extremely dangerous. He began playing the drums early on and was a participant in the Afro-Cuban religious ceremonies that took place in the neighborhood. The streets were so dangerous that he had to learn to survive even if that meant getting involved in criminal activity. He did some time in a reformatory and spent his free time dancing and playing the drums.
He also began doing choreography and writing music. He was big and muscular and often was hired as a bouncer in the various nightclubs. Before long his dancing and percussion skills
made him famous throughout Havana. Chano's reputation grew among the people each year, not only because of his physical prowess as a dancer, drummer, but for the compositions he wrote for Carnival, during the nightly celebrations of which neighborhoods formed highly competitive comparsas, or street troupes. They consisted of singers, dancers, musicians, and the rumberos. Rumberos were integral since they provided throbbing, sensuous rhythms regarded as the base for all AfroCuban music. In a few years Pozo was the most well-known and sought after rumbero in Cuba, and was regularly winning top cash prizes for his compositions.
Chano elevated the status and reputation of rumbero to near mythic proportions with his swaggering attitude as he led his own comparsa through the streets and with increasing successes became a hero to Havana's poor people. Pozo and some of his fellow musicians wrote a conga music composition that earned them first prize in the city of Santiago de Cuba's carnival of 1940: "La Comparsa de los Dandys," a composition that some consider an unofficial theme song of Santiago de Cuba, and a familiar standard at many Latin American carnivals.
In 1947 he came to New York and was immediately embraced by a who’s who of the music and dancing community including associations with Miguelito Valdez and Katherine Dunham.
Not long after his arrival, Mario Bauza introduced him to Dizzy Gillespie and their collaboration led to the birth of Afro-Cuban Jazz.
As Dizzy fondly recounted, Chano had the power to mesmerize the audience as he stripped to the waist performing long conga solos and singing sacred Afro-Cuban chants.
It all came to a tragic end in December of 1948 when Chano was shot to death at the El Rio Bar which was at 111th and Lenox Ave. in Harlem.
Even though he was only on the scene a short time his impact was immense and still felt today.