Francisco Aguabella, Percussionist Who Crossed Genres, Dies at 84

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Francisco Aguabella, a Cuban-born master percussionist whose impeccable rhythmic sense and drive enriched the recordings and live performances of jazz, salsa and pop artists for five decades, died on May 7 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

The cause was cancer, said his daughter Menina Givens.

Mr. Aguabella's main instrument was the conga drum, on which he showed remarkable versatility. Of the scores of recordings on which he played, Paul Simons 1990 album The Rhythm of the Saints is probably the most celebrated. But he proved to be equally comfortable playing with Frank Sinatra at Caesars Palace or with the Dizzy Gillespie and Machito band at jazz festivals.

Born in the Matanzas province, Mr. Aguabella received instruction as a child in playing the sacred double-headed bata drum, often used in Santeria ceremonies. He moved to Havana in the late 1940s and worked in clubs there until the mid-1950s, when the American choreographer Katherine Dunham, who incorporated Caribbean rhythms in her work, brought him into her troupe and took him on tour to Italy, where he played on the soundtrack for the film “Mambo," starring Shelley Winters.


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