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Francisco Aguabella

One of the most important Cuban percussionists of the past half-century, Francisco Aguabella has had a diverse and productive career. Born in Cuba in 1925, he started on the Bata drum when he was 10, gradually learning the other percussion instruments. Dropping out of school when he was 12, Aguabella worked with his father on the docks while playing music at night. A few years later he was a fulltime musician, moving to Havana and working at increasingly high-profile jobs. In 1953 Katherine Dunham hired him to play percussion for her dancers. He spent four years in Italy working with Dunham’s shows and appearing in the 1954 film Mambo. In 1957 Aguabella moved to the United States, working with Tito Puente.

During periods spent living in New York, Oakland and Los Angeles, he appeared with many major groups including with the Duran Brothers, Rene Lopez, Rene Touzet, Perez Prado, Mongo Santamaria and Dizzy Gillespie (with whom he recorded The New Continent in 1962). Aguabella also worked with Peggy Lee during 1963-70, Frank Sinatra, the Latin rock group Malo (1971-74), Don Ellis, Joe Henderson, the Jazz Crusaders, Rosemary Clooney, Eddie Palmieri, Cal Tjader, Barney Kessel, Machito, Cacho, Nancy Wilson, Weather Report, Louie Bellson, Poncho Sanchez and Bobby Hutcherson. In addition, Aguabella teaches at UCLA and has participated on many movie soundtracks and TV scores. Regularly honored as a living legend, Francisco Aguabella appears now and then with all-star bands and regularly with his own Afro-Cuban jazz group.