Some families pray to God. In our family, we prayed to Mongo Santamaria.
When you grow up in a religiously and politically agnostic household like we did, you take your icons where you can get them. And the biggest of ours was Santamaria. Every Christmas morning my father would wake up before any of us, go to the living room, and put the 1965 Columbia album El Pussy Cat on the turntable, crank up the volume to “full blast” and the house would rock with the latin rhythms of the title track, a song the AMG calls “delightfully absurd”. I can think of no better way to start Christmas Day, and this is a tradition we’ll keep alive for generations.
Mongo Santamaria died Saturday at age 85 of a stroke. Rolling Stone says he was considered”one of the most influential percussionists of his generation.” PopMatters calls him “Cuba’s conguero extraordinaire.” On Christmas mornings we didn’t know any of that, of course; we just knew that our eccentric father with broad musical tastes was up to his hijinks again. And we revelled in it.
Mongo Santamaria will be missed.