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The Making of Mariposas Cantan

By modernizing and modifying the elements of  the Mongo Santamaria charanga sound we created Mongorama.  In the attempt to preserve that classic Mongo sound of the 1960's and adding our own flavor we created something new....Mariposas Cantan.  


 Here is a little background information on each of the tracks on this CD.


"Mambo Mindoro" is a Cal Tjader original from his 1980 Grammy winning album "La OndaVa Bien". It features the versatile instrumental attack of violinist Dayren Santamaria and conguero Joey De Leon.


"Mariposas Cantan" translates to' butterflies sing'. The story relates that "butterflies sing inside my heart when I see you walk, when I hear your voice as you open that door and enter the room".Young James Zavaleta proves that he has become a top-notch 'sonero' on vocals. Master tenor saxophonist Justo Almario masterfully gives the title track exactly what it needs with his superb phrasing.


"Helen of Jazz" was composed in honor of the late KJazz 88.1 FM (Los Angeles) disc jockey,  Helen Borgers. When I mentioned to Helen that I was working on this original, she first felt honored, and then she requested that Danilo Lozano perform the flute solo. Sadly, she never had the opportunity to listen to "Helen of Jazz". She would've absolutely loved Danilo's excellent flute rendition. Alfredo Ortiz was solid on bongo, and I also invited the very talented young vocalist Darynn Dean to perform some beautifully creative vocal colors.


I asked Danilo Lozano if he would allow us to use one of his 1970's originals, "Fiesta de Charangueros" recorded by his family band "Tipica Antillana". Alfredo Ortiz was impressive as lead vocalist on this tune, improvising lyrics describing the rich charanga history, and acknowledging the legendary icons of the Cuban charanga music style. Stellar solos abound with Dayren Santamaria (violin), Joe Rotondi (piano), Joey De Leon (congas), Justo Almario (tenor sax), Danilo Lozano (flute) and George Ortiz (timbales). Danilo's original was a very strong addition to this album.


"A little Dab'll Do Ya" comes from a 1962 live recording at the Blackhawk in San Francisco. It was never released, until this forgotten live session was added as bonus tracks to the 1998 Mongo compilation CD "Watermelon Man". The depth and space on this song provided ample room for master tenor saxophonist Justo Almario to spin his magic and Joe Rotondi's soft touch reveals how great of a pianist he really is, along with Alfredo Ortiz's tasty bongo patterns. My intent was to capture some of the 1960's romantic vibe of Mongo Latin Jazz. Hopefully we did.


"Quiero Menudo" is a reminder that if you took too many tequila shots last night, menudo is the ultimate hang over (cruda) cure. It's a fun tune that hit me during a family/friend Thanksgiving hangout a few years ago. The story tells about a person that wants to go into the city and hang out with buddies and not drink very much ..... well his mischievous friends had other plans. He couldn't remember if he sang, danced, or where he parked his car. In the morning he was longing for that crucial cure ..... menudo. Danilo Lozano plays some wonderful flute and lead vocalist James Zavaleta was fantastic in his vocal delivery.


"Mongorama" is the title of the Mongo Santamaria original composition that I chose as the name for this band. Mongo contributed this tune to a Cal Tjader session in 1957 -"Los RitmosCalientes". Justo Almario displays some exciting "Chombo" echoes and Ramon Banda gifts us with his very last powerful recorded solo.


"Quindimbia" is an early Mongo Santamaria composition that features lead vocalist James Zavaleta entertaining you with a very joyful, contagious vibe enhanced by the traditional flute work of Danilo Lozano. We tried to investigate what quindimbia meant, but to no avail. It appears as though it might have been some early form of Cuban street game, like stick-ball.


In early 1962, young pianist Herbie Hancock recorded an original on his debut album "Takin' Off" titled "Watermelon Man", inspired by a childhood memory of a Chicago street vender selling watermelons. Later that same year he subbed for Chick Corea on a Mongo Santamaria gig. His mentor, trumpeter Donald Byrd, attended the performance and asked Herbie to play his new tune for Mongo. Herbie started playing the piano part, Mongo added congas, then the bassist joined in, then the others in the band followed, and before you knew it , most of the audience got up to dance yellin', "It's a hit!". Mongo asked Herbie if he could also record it and Herbie responded, "Absolutely!". Mongorama laid out a deep funky groove under the funkier Justo Almario tenor solo, Joe Rotondi's eloquent piano feel and Joey De Leon's multifaceted conga deliberation. Young vocalist Darynn Dean added additional tasty vocal improvisations.


It took us over two years to complete this album because we sadly lost our 'Mongorama' brother, timbalero Ramon Banda. Ramon did record on the 6 tracks."Mariposas Cantan" is Ramon's very last recording session. His passing was a huge loss to the band. Beyond our great friendship, he was our musical brother. Ramon Banda recorded with Poncho Sanchez, Cal Tjader and organist Joey D'Francesco. Ramon was one of thee very best timbaleros on the planet! This CD is dedicated to Ramon. On "Descarga Ramon Banda" I wanted everyone in the band to pay a farewell tribute in their own musical way. It was an emotional experience to say the least. Francisco Torres gave us a wonderful arrangement, transcribing a Ramon

Banda solo that our percussionists performed. "Descarga Ramon Banda" poured out exceptional solos by Justo Almario (tenor), Joe Rotondi (piano), Francisco Torres (trombone), Dayren Santamaria (violin), Danilo Lozano (flute), James Zavaleta (lead vocals), Joey De Leon (congas) and George Ortiz (timbales). George Ortiz is now taking on the enormous challenge of Ramon's seat on timbales.


One of the most memorable boleros recorded by my favorite sonero of all time, Beny More, was "Como Fue". Since female recordings of this standard-bolero-classic are not very common, I felt that Yoshigei, my daughter-in-law, could give us a soothingly-dynamic, fresh and modern version. She can really sing and I am glad to include her as part of this album. Familia! Pianist Joe Rotondi added a gorgeous soft touch to make the song sound even more elegant.


"East L. A. Meets Napa" is a fantastic annual fundraising event produced by AltaMed, honoring the many hard-working, critically-acclaimed, Mexican-American wine makers based in the Napa Valley. They all began their journeys as farm workers, 'campesinos', working the land, growing the vines and eventually owning their vineyards and wineries, producing amazing world-class wines. As a bonus track to this CD, I wanted to compose a fun acknowledgement to the event and to all of these hard working wine makers and their achievements. Danilo Lozano is phenomenal on flute and James Zavaleta gives us an exceptional performance on lead vocals.

The artwork on the album cover was painted by my beautiful and truly talented wife, Leticia (Saungu Records co-owner). Familia! "Mariposas Cantan" is our 3rd Mongorama CD (5th Saungu Records release) and it's exciting to hear our sound and band concept continuing to evolve. The versatility of our musicians, incredible arrangements by Francisco Torres and Oscar Hernandez, and Danilo Lozano's producing expertise and great knowledge of charanga music have made the Mongorama recordings exceptional. We hope you all enjoy "Mariposas Cantan".

Jose Rizo
Mongorama- founder & bandleader co-producer, Saungu Records co-owner

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