Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

September/October 2010: Allan Harris

Papa Mambo:
There Is No Other

Written by:

Here in Winnipeg, when someone says Papa Mambo, people know the music right away—it’s fun, it’s lively, it’s danceable, and it’s our very own. The big sounds of Latin jazz, salsa, and cha cha cha always get people moving, no matter where they are.

Chilean-born Rodrigo “Papa Mambo” Muñoz put his salsa band together in 1989 to play at parties. Over the past twenty years, Papa Mambo has showcased the talents of many of Winnipeg’s finest, including Walle Larrson, Will Bonness, Mira Black, Larry Roy, Gilles Fournier, Ken Gold, and Marilyn Lerner. The band is much in demand around Winnipeg, playing regularly at the Forks, the Art Gallery, Folklorama, the Jazz Festival—in just about every venue big enough to hold an 11-piece band. (And a few that can’t!) Papa Mambo has backed international names like Tito Puente and Jane Bunnett, and in 2005, the band collected fans across the country on the Canadian jazz festivals circuit.

Rodrigo is a great band leader. He knows exactly what he wants, and how to draw it out of people. One of the first things he told me when I started sitting in with Papa Mambo was that groove is the most important thing in music. The band is a machine, each person with his part, and together we produce this irresistible rhythm that makes people need to dance. No matter what, you have to be grooving, or you can just forget the rest. It took me a while to learn to play the clave (the basic rhythm behind all Latin music) while singing and dancing, and Rodrigo was very patient with me. Now I’m a full-fledged member of Papa Mambo, and love every minute of it. We get to play for dancers, which is what jazz musicians used to do—there’s no feeling like it!

Most people know Rodrigo as a percussionist since he plays timbales or congas with Papa Mambo. But he is also an accomplished classical guitarist, touring with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and performing with the Winnipeg Classical Guitar Society. Even when strumming away with a pared-down trio version of Papa Mambo or with Marco Castillo or Trio Bembe, his infectious groove is still there!

So what’s coming up for Papa Mambo? The band will be performing as part of Dance on Broadway and at the Jazz Under the Rooftop series in September, and with the Symphony Orchestra in January. A new salsa album is in the works too. Thats’s the thing about Papa Mambo—the groove is unstoppable!

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