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Mambo Years

Paquito Hechavarria misses Perez Prado

The collapse of the Beach and the lapse in mainstream appreciation of Latin music never affected Hechavarria's ability to find work. When Emilio Estefan revved up the Miami Sound Machine, the pianist's hands were primed to launch the second great Latin-pop crossover, contributing to the MSM breakout hit "Conga" what may be the most famous Latin solo ever coaxed from 88 keys: "GUNG-gung-gung-gung, GUNG-gung-gung-gung."

"They had the whole song recorded, but something was missing. Joe Galdo was a producer working with Emilio back then, and he suggested, “If a tumbao comes in here, it will save the song. The man to call is Paquito Hechavarria!'" Estefan has been calling the pianist to the studio ever since, as have other Latin artists as diverse as Argentine rockero Fito Paez and Dominican York rapper Mangú.

Paying homage to the King: (clockwise from left) Luis M. Legra, German Pifferrer, and Paquito Hechavarria
Steve Satterwhite
Paying homage to the King: (clockwise from left) Luis M. Legra, German Pifferrer, and Paquito Hechavarria

For all his popularity in the studio today, Hechavarria would not mind returning to the days of Perez Prado. "You don't need an elegant shirt or a tuxedo to play today," he laments. "You need to wear clothes for the gymnasium -- and everything sounds almost the same." He waves his arms in the air and shakes his legs in mock hip-hop stance. "There's no music anymore. I'm glad that we're having this concert, especially so young people can come who might have heard the name Perez Prado, but don't know how the music sounds. I want them to come just to hear the kind of music we used to hear."

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