Francisco Aguabella

Francisco Aguabella

Francisco Aguabella
Born (1925-10-10)October 10, 1925
Matanzas, Cuba
Died May 7, 2010(2010-05-07) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Genres Jazz, Latin jazz
Occupation(s) Percussionist
Instruments Batá drum
Years active 1950s–2000s

Francisco Aguabella (1925–2010) was an Afro-Cuban master percussionist whose career spanned folkloric traditions, popular dance bands, and jazz. He was born in Matanzas, Cuba on October 10, 1925 and died in Los Angeles, California on May 7, 2010.


  • Biography 1
    • In Cuba 1.1
    • In the United States 1.2
  • Discography 2
    • As leader 2.1
    • As sideman 2.2
  • Filmography 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In Cuba

Aguabella was born in Matanzas, Cuba. He demonstrated a special aptitude for drumming at an early age, and was initiated into several Afro-Cuban drumming traditions, including batá, iyesá, arará, olokún, and abakuá. Aguabella also grew up with rumba.

The first thing you hear when you wake up in the morning is the drums. It’s a national sport, as important as baseball. You see a bunch of guys on the street, and someone will start clapping his hands, or tapping out a rhythm on a Coke bottle with the bottle cap. Then they’ll be pounding on wooden crates, or a wall, or splashing in the puddles of water dripping out of an old air conditioner, or playfully tapping on somebody’s head. You can’t escape the rumba—Aguabella (1999).[1]

In the United States

In the 1950s, he left Cuba to perform with Katherine Dunham in the Shelley Winters film Mambo filmed in Italy. After touring with Katherine Dunham he came to the United States and performed and toured with Peggy Lee for the next seven years. Francisco Aguabella is one of a handful of Cuban percussionists who came to the United States in the 1940s and 50s. Other notable Cuban percussionists who came to the U.S. during that time include Chano Pozo, Mongo Santamaria, Armando Peraza, Julito Collazo, Carlos Vidal Bolado and Modesto Duran. During his long career Aguabella performed in Europe, Australia, South America, and all over the United States (including the White House). Francisco enjoyed an extensive music performing and recording career and delighted many audiences with his masterful and powerful rhythms.

Francisco performed with many great jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Eddie Palmieri, Cachao, Lalo Schifrin, Cal Tjader, Nancy Wilson, Poncho Sanchez, Bebo Valdes, Carlos Santana, and numerous others. Francisco was honored to receive numerous awards including the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Durfee Foundation's Master Musicians' Fellowship, and recognition by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. He is featured in the documentary, "Sworn to the Drum" by filmmaker Les Blank, and is featured in a documentary, "Aguabella," currently in production, directed by actor/filmmaker Orestes Matacena (The Mask, Bitter Sugar). He has also appeared with his ensemble on television programs including the Orlando Jones Show on FX.

During the 1970s he was a member of the Malo.[2] Francisco was a widely recognized master conguero and bata artist, a caring and knowledgeable instructor. In 1992 he won a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Aguabella was a faculty member at the annual Explorations in afro-cuban dance and drum workshop hosted by the Humboldt State University Office of Extended Education in Arcata, California. He lived in Los Angeles, California where he taught Afro-Cuban drumming to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Aguabella died in Los Angeles on May 7, 2010 of a cancer-related illness.[3]


As leader

  • 1977: Hitting Hard (Epsilon)
  • 1993: Oriza: Santeria Religion Afrocubana (Cubop/Ubiquity Records)
  • 1999: Agua de Cuba (Cubop)
  • 1999: H2O (Cubop)
  • 2002: Cubacan (Cubop)
  • 2002: Cantos a los Orishas (Pimienta Records)
  • 2004: Ochimini (Cubop)

As sideman

With The Doors

With Gil Fuller

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Bobby Hutcherson

With Lalo Schifrin

With Paul Simon


  • 1954 — Mambo
  • 1985 — Sworn to the Drum: A Tribute to Francisco Aguabella (directed by Les Blank[4])


  1. ^ Aguabella, Francisco, Inter. J. Poet (1999). “Francisco Aguabella: Sworn to the Drum.” Web. Drum Magazine Online.
  2. ^ Allmusic Malo overview
  3. ^ Los Angeles Times obituary
  4. ^ Les

External links

  • Official Website of Francisco Aguabella
  • Francisco Aguabella DRUM! Magazine Interview