Aguabella was born on October 10, 1925 and grew up in the drumming tradition of Matanzas in Cuba.
On May 8, 2010, Francisco Aguabella “El Tamborero de Cuba” passed away in Los Angeles, United States. Bravo and virtuoso percussionist of Afro-Cuban ritual music, Latin/jazz and jazz.
Of remembered links to Tito Puente’s band, Mongo Santamaría, Cachao López, Eddie Palmieri, Dizzy Gillespie, Frank Sinatra, Jorge Santana’s group “Malo” and his own “Latin Jazz Emsemble”.
In 1953 he emigrated to the United States and settled in California as an olu batá (bata drummer).
Batá drumming is a ceremonial musical style that plays an integral role in the African-derived Santeria religion practiced in Cuba, Puerto Rico and since the 1950s in the United States.
No other music of the Americas bears a more striking similarity to West African music than the batá. Its set of three double cone drums reproduces the Nigerian Yoruba drum set of the same name.
Many of the rhythms closely resemble their African prototypes, and the Afro-Cuban language of Lucumí, in which Aguabella sings, is clearly a derivation of Yoruba.
Prior to 1980, Aguabella and Julito Collazo were the only olu batá in the United States who had been initiated into a secret society of drummers designated to perform a very sacred type of batá known as batá fundamento .
The batá fundamento is an integral part of Santeria ceremonies in which an individual’s initiation into the religion cannot be consecrated unless he or she has been presented before this sacred ensemble.
Each year Aguabella builds a shrine for his patron saint, Santa Barbara (Changó), and plays music at a birthday party held in her honor.
It’s an all-day celebration for invited friends who are primarily but, not exclusively members of the Santeria sect “Santa Barbara knows it’s her birthday,” Aguabella said, “I know how she feels.
She feels happy if I honor her, I feel bad if I don’t so on St. Barbara’s day every December 4 whatever work I am doing today I don’t do for anyone, I love this saint very much and I promised her I was going to have a party every year.
Although Aguabella is widely respected for his sacred drumming he is also known for his virtuosity in the secular forms of Afro-Cuban music.
Choreographer Katherine Dunham was so impressed with Aguabella’s drumming that she invited him to join her company for tours of South America and Europe.
The most influential of Aguabella’s secular styles is rumba, a complex of several musical genres that evolved in Cuba in the early 20th century.
Rumba was the basis for much of the Cuban dance hall music that in turn helped shape American popular music through dance bands based throughout the United States.
However Afro-Cuban rumba bears little resemblance to the ballroom dance rumba that inspired Francisco. Rumba as Aguabella said is part of daily life for many Afro-Cubans, it doesn’t have to be a special day to play rumba, we could start a rumba here without a drum.
You could play it here or there on the wall, in Cuba rumba is 24 hours a day, we gather in a corner and have a glass of rum…. And someone says: Why don’t we play a little rumba? Some people touch the wall and someone else plays a bottle and maybe takes a cap off the bottle and ‘ca ca ca ca ca ca ca ca ca’ and the Rumba.”
Aguabella’s goal has long been to maintain the integrity of the tradition he so respects, while incorporating it into “crossover” music aimed at a wider audience.
It was his superior musical ability and commitment to tradition that led musicians such as Mongo Santamaria, Malo and Carlos Santana to bring him into their groups.
Aguabella lived in Los Angeles; where he continued to performand exert a great influence on Latin American music.