Morales show is song of love to mambo king
By Joel Tannenbaum
Special to The Advertiser
By Joel Tannenbaum
Damaso Perez Prado was to mambo what Turkmenbashi is to Turkmenistan: the king, baby! The influence of the Cuban-born bandleader upon Latin American music and culture was so great that, almost two decades after his death, a socially astute conceptual artist like San Francisco-based Julio Cesar Morales has made Prado the subject of an entire show at thirtyninehotel.
The only real complaint to be made about Morales' "Que Rico el Mambo" is that there isn't enough of it: three enlarged video stills; looped clips from Mexican films, mostly from the 1960s, that Prado scored and/or appeared in; a turntable equipped with headphones, spinning Morales' homemade breakbeats; and some hubcaps, mounted and shaped into steel drums, a nod to Prado's use of urban bric-a-brac in his live performances.
The gallery environment invariably favors the visual, of which there could have been more: The film loops run without sound, an odd choice considering Prado's line of work. Whether this was deliberate on Morales' part — a quip about the pastiche element inherent in all multimedia exhibits — or an unresolved logistical blip, is unclear. Like all good art, however, "Que Rico el Mambo" contains an argument, one that reads loud and clear.
The show argues that Prado anticipated the sampling culture of hip-hop, not through the use of protean sampling technology, but by dragging an unprecedented mixture of musical forms and elements into his live performances and then cuing them from his musicians with his signature cry of "Dilo!" ("Say it!"), just like he dragged hubcaps onstage with him.
Of course, there is more to it than the simple equation "Prado=Hip-Hop." Arguing that what Prado did is akin to what DJs do today allows Morales to argue, generally, for all things urban: change, rapidity, struggle, crowds, uncertainty, poor people. If a hubcap can be a musical instrument, if Prado can be a proto-DJ, if mambo can be hip-hop, if the experience of young Cuban musicians in the 1940s can be like the experience of young black Americans in the 1980s, then a whole lot of people can do a whole lot of things they may have thought impossible otherwise.
None of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with Morales' previous work as an artist and educator, which has taken him to public schools, probation programs and public transit stations from the San Francisco Bay Area to Tijuana, Mexico.
Through collaborations with institutions such as the San Francisco-based Creative Growth Art Center, Morales has developed a body of work that takes accessibility across traditional class and social boundaries as a serious priority and not merely a posture.
"Que Rico el Mambo" is an exciting new part of the whole. Complaints that there is not enough of it to go around are a good thing.