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“METRO MAMBO: Latin Music in DC,” a free, six part series of concert-lectures on Saturdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, kicks off on November 28, 2009.  Jim Byers, a WPFW DJ, writer, and jack-of-all-trades, created the series and is hosting it with a different band and occasional guests for each event. The five programs in 2010 will focus on D.C.’s Latin music scene from the 1950s to the present.  Byers will also highlight African-American musicians from D.C. who became involved in the local Latin music scene.

But on Saturday in a special program “Mambo in Mexico” referencing the Museum’s new exhibit “The African Presence in Mexico,” Byers, with the aid of local combo La Leyenda (aka Orquesta la Leyenda), will address and demonstrate the often overlooked role of America’s Southern neighbor in the development of the Mambo craze of the early 1950’s.  Mambo is a Cuban dance music derived from the rumba and danzon in 4/4 syncopated time with a heavy accent on the second and fourth beats.  Byers will discuss how Afro-Cuban expatriates including Perez Prado, Beny Moré and Juan Bruno Tarraza ended up in Mexico after World War II and thrived amid that county’s ancient traditions and developing modern technology.  I e-mailed Byers for more details about Saturday’s session:

Washington City Paper (WCP): I had thought your presentation Saturday was going to have a D.C. Afro-Latin theme to it?

Jim Byers: The coordinator at the Smithsonian Anacostia had an extra ‘program slot’ available, and specifically requested whether I could start off with a program that referenced Mexico, to dovetail with their recently opened exhibit.  Hence this weekend’s “Mambo in Mexico”.  While it is off-topic from the series title, I’m actually very excited about this presentation as I’ve always been intrigued with the role of Mexico in the development of the Mambo craze.  Of course, a major focus will be the music of Perez Prado, the ‘leader’ of that movement.  Because he went so very commercial during the late 1950’s, the innovations and progressive nature of Prado’s early work is often overlooked today.  So this was a great opportunity to discuss those contributions, the circumstances in Mexico that nurtured Prado and other Afro-Cuban expats, AND some recording industry shenanigans in the U.S. that allowed an obscure Cuban bandleader recording in Mexico to slip into the U.S. market.

WCP: Are you doing a Powerpoint and/or other audio-visual presentation—-records, cds,photos, video…?

Jim Byers: There will be a couple of CD cuts, and I’ll have a couple of pieces of memorabilia, etc with me.  However, Ted David’s Orquesta La Leyenda will be on-stage with me DURING my 45/50-minute lecture, interjecting demonstrations of tipico Cuban vs. Prado’s Mexican style Mambo, etc.  A one-hour ‘dance party’ follows.

WCP: Have you done a lot of research for this presentation——books, online, talking with musicians or other record collectors—or is this based on knowledge you have gathered over the years from research and sources?

Jim Byers: I’ve ‘boned-up’ on a few details over the last month, but I’ve long been into the “Mexican school” of Mambo, so a lot of the research for this particular presentation has been an ongoing (life-long) process.  For example: back in the ‘90’s, I interviewed trumpeter Doc Cheatham, who toured Latin America with Perez Prado in the early ‘50’s, and recorded several classics with him.  I’ll be sharing some of those stories and insights.

WCP: Have you been to Mexico and particularly to any places you might be talking about?

Jim Byers: I’ve never been to Mexico.  However, this particular program is about investigating the impact of a specific era (1945 – 1953).  By the mid-1950’s Perez Prado – the prime instigator of the Mexican Mambo craze – had moved his base of operations to the U.S., Beny More returned to Cuba, and the ascendant NYC/Palladium scene took over as the primary ‘driver’ of world-wide Mambo/Cha Cha musical innovation and popularity.

“Metro Mambo”/“Mambo in Mexico” with Jim Byers and La Leyenda lecture and concert/dance, Saturday November 28  from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum,1901 Fort Place, SE.  FREE but due to the venue’s limited space, advance RSVP’s are required by calling 202-633-4866.