Pérez Prado
Mambo Mania





King of the Mambo Pérez Prado (1916–1989) brings the swinging daylights into both the Latin and Exotica genre, but with the constant stream of releases and the establishment of the genre, chances are that not each and every offering is the gem one is hoping for. To be perfectly frank right from the get-go: it is not necessarily clear whether Mambo Mania belongs to the group of ultimately successful albums either, though the reasons for this are few and far between, luckily so.


Released in 1955 on RCA Victor and sporting an iconic front artwork of Vincent Price-like dimensions, 12 tracks, five of them originals as envisioned by Prado himself, Mambo Mania is considered the inferior album of 1955 if you ask the dedicated Exotica fan, for Voodoo Suite entered the scenery with its mighty side A and exciting magnetotails, drums and eclecticism. The aural cinematography of that release is rounded off with a selection of short ditties, and granted, this is exactly what Mambo Mania is all about: short estuaries and rivulets in the summer sun, with the occasional tropicism, drum diorama and city life thrown in for good measue. Prado’s orchestra is fully equipped with brass instruments, no surprise there, but there is one instance where the bandleader shows his skills on the piano. Otherwise, chants and sermons fill the mephitic air, and the gyration between good vibes and unexpectedly versatile polymers make for a great albeit constrictive genre-focused ride which is covered below.


A feinted uptempo anacrusis of just a few seconds leads to a moderate and tempered Cha Cha Cha/Mambo synergy: welcome to Antpoine Leonardi’s and Louis »Louiguy« Guglielmi’s Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White whose famous melody is surprisingly toned down and almost hidden in fusillades of brass blasts and bongo undergrowth. Chris Smith’s and Jim BurrisBallin’ The Jack meanwhile features muted trumpets aplenty whose granular recalcitrance merges with their screeching counterparts and quite a few chants. Its principal aorta comprises of a mellifluous punctilio, but the side areas are ultimately in the center.


While Pérez Prado’s own Tomcat Mambo features a mixture of rotoscoping show tune staccatos and histrionic spy fanfares four till six years before archetypal films hit the scene, José Galhardo’s and Raúl Ferrão’s April In Portugal enchants with a somnolent-ophidian lead guitar amidst timbale tentacles. Prado drops Mambo A La Kenton afterwards, a metropolitan highlight with warped brass pitches and a lachrymose aura of romance before Dimitri Tiomkin’s and Ned Washington’s famous The High And The Mighty is maintained flawlessly, with its melody fully intact but now emblazoned with ultramafic brass flares towering above the Mambo surfactant.


Side B is no different in delivering its stratiform brass focus: Prado’s own Marilyn Monroe Mambo is a stellar masterstroke due to its fast-paced horn fibroblasts and ligneous percussion. It is not too starstruck and cosmopolitan, keeping both the balance and pace by singing the superstar’s name just to make sure everyone gets the message. William Christopher Handy’s adjacent St. Louis Blues Mambo keeps a lower profile tempo- and melody-wise, but resurrects the multinucleate layers and grafts a big city atmosphere with fluttering summer gusts onto a salubrious soothingness (were it not for the lavabo blasts, that is).


August Musaruwa’s Skokiaan is next, a skit-scatting stop-and-go brass verbiage that eventually leads to Prado’s Mambo A La Billy May which augments its principal physiognomy with gorgeously hollow bongos and screeching trumpet gridlocks. Harry Stone’s and Jack Stapp’s Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy is transformed into Mambo De Chattanooga, a piano-backed conga telomere with warmhearted brass momentums. The finale is delivered in the shape of Mambo En Sax. Prado’s final composition is unuspectedly aqueous, what with its blebs and bubbles, and offers a great dualism between brazen saxes and viscid apprehension.


Mambo Mania is but one gem of a vast battery, not just by the composer himself… there’s humongous amounts of like-minded artists and gemstones to consider, and truth be told, Mambo Mania isn’t necessarily on the cutting edge and leading them all. What it lacks in distinction and truly outrageous arrangements, it certainly gains through its uplifting core. The most parochial chants possible are sewn into a lot of the material, giving it a humorous as well as an energetic edge and, more often than not, a humane vibe that is needed amidst all the spiky-scything metallicity and retrosternal attack rates.


On a greater scheme, the album doesn’t emanate a huge surprise level, for the listener knows what he or she gets and deserves when listening to Pérez Prado. On a per-song base, however, there are moments of genius and apoplectic visions: Tomcat Mambo foreshadows the rise of the spy genre, and while it has existed way before the 60’s alright, the bandleader shuttles efficiently between danger and leeway, temptation and conniption. Likewise, Handy’s St. Louis Blues Mambo evokes an afternoon vignette – in lieu of a nocturnal festivity – and therefore condenses mirages, heat and calorific warmth in a great homage to the original. Mambo Mania might be outshone by even greater productions, most certainly Prado’s own Exotica suites Voodoo Suite (1955) and Exotic Suite for the Americas (1962), but it offers a good collection of tunes whose originals might ultimately make it a deal. Available on vinyl, on CD where it is coupled with 1956’s Mambo 3 A.M., and streaming/download versions. 


Exotica Review 492: Perez Prado – Mambo Mania (1955). Originally published on Feb. 24, 2018 at AmbientExotica.com.