Was known as 'the master of the Congo drums'

Latin jazz artist Francisco Aguabella, known as “the master of the Congo drums,” died May 7 of cancer in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Aguabella also played the bata drums. Over a career that spanned six decades, he performed and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra, Lalo Schifrin, Peggy Lee, Nancy Wilson, Poncho Sanchez and Bebo Valdes, among others.

He was most famously featured in Paul Simon’s 1990 album “The Rhythm of the Saints.” But he also recorded with rock artists such as Carlos Santana, Three Dog Night and the Doors.

He left Cuba in the 1950s to perform with choreographer Katherine Dunham in the Shelley Winters movie “Mambo,” shot in Italy. After touring with Dunham, he came to the U.S. and performed and toured with Lee for the next seven years.

He performed all over the world: Europe, Australia, Asia, South America and the U.S., including a special appearance at the White House. Aguabella also led his own Latin jazz ensemble for over a decade.

He was featured in Les Blank’s doc “Sworn to the Drum”; another, called “Aguabella,” directed by Orestes Matacena, is in production.

Aguabella received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Durfee Foundation’s Master Musicians’ Fellowship, and he was recognized by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

Survivors include two sons, two daughters and seven grandchildren.

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