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NYT: Eugenio Arango, Cuban-Born Musician Known as Totico, Dies at 76

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    THE NEW YORK TIMES February 1, 2011 Eugenio Arango, Cuban-Born Musician Known as Totico, Dies at 76 By BEN RATLIFF Eugenio Arango, better known as Totico, a
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      February 1, 2011
      Eugenio Arango, Cuban-Born Musician Known as Totico, Dies at 76

      Eugenio Arango, better known as Totico, a Cuban-born percussionist and singer who was one of the most celebrated figures in the drumming, dancing and singing culture of New York rumba, died on Jan. 21 in the Bronx, where he lived. He was 76.

      His death, in a hospice, was confirmed by his godson, the percussionist Carlos Sanchez, who did not specify the cause.

      Born on June 2, 1934, in the Los Sitios district of Havana, Mr. Arango was a dockworker who played in local rumba circles; he shipped out of Cuba as a merchant seaman in 1959, landing in Boston and then moving to New York City.

      He appeared on the jazz drummer Max Roach's 1961 album "Percussion Bitter Sweet," and with the Cuban flutist and violinist Pupi Legarreta's charanga group on the 1963 record "Salsa Nova con Pupi Legarreta." Later in the decade he recorded some of the most famous examples of rumba, the secular, percussion-forward Afro-Cuban music associated with street convocations and dancing — a sound that floats serene vocal melodies over interweaving drums.

      Mr. Arango was an important singer in this style, with a strong, lean, high voice. He is best known for his role in the album "Patato & Totico," released by Verve in 1968, which documented a historic arrangement of musicians: Mr. Arango and Carlos (Patato) Valdez sang and drummed in front of a group including the tres player Arsenio Rodríguez and the bassist Israel (Cachao) López, two of the most influential Cuban artists of the 20th century. That album also fed a social phenomenon in New York: the cross-generational and cross-cultural ritual of the rumba circles in places like Orchard Beach in the Bronx, Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, and Central Park.

      More and more through the 1960s, Afro-Cubans, New York Puerto Ricans and African-Americans convened on Sunday afternoons to play various kinds of rumba; the music united people of different backgrounds forming their own connections to Afro-Latin culture and history. When "Patato & Totico" was released there were few other recorded examples of authentic rumba played by Cubans in New York City. The record became a primary document of the rumba subculture, something to emulate and practice along with.

      "Any rumbero who was worth anything would have picked it up," said Mr. Sanchez, who started playing with Mr. Arango in 1975, usually for religious ceremonies. In a coming essay for Centro Journal, Berta Jottar, an independent scholar who writes about New York rumba history, calls the record a "national hymn" for the so-called Nuyorican generation coming of age in the 1960s and '70s.

      Mr. Arango played in some nightclub bands in those years and made a few salsa records with the Puerto Rican percussionist Kako Bastar, under the name Kako y Totico. But he directed himself, musically and otherwise, more toward Santería, the Afro-Cuban religion for which he made religious articles for altars and rituals — which he sold directly or through local botanicas — and in which he would eventually become a high priest, or babalawo. And he taught many younger drummers, particularly in the 6/8 rhythms of the ceremonial style called guiro.

      Another important album, "Totico y sus Rumberos" (1982), extended the model of "Patato & Totico," with the Cuban percussionist Orlando (Puntillo) Rios and a younger generation of Afro-Latin rumberos. The cover depicts the album's 11 musicians arranged around a lamppost near the Orchard Beach pavilion; inside are stately religious chants, rumba and a startling version of the 1962 doo-wop hit "What's Your Name," with drumming in Cuban clave rhythm.

      Mr. Arango's survivors include his wife, Zunilda Arango, and a daughter, Lazara Arango.

      August 14, 1981
      By Robert Palmer

      TOTICO Y SUS RUMBEROS. Eugenio F. Arango, with percussion, chorus and bass. Montuno Records, 1470 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10036. $7.98.

      TO many New Yorkers, summer music is the music people play on the front steps of apartment buildings and in the city's parks, music that usually involves one or two conga drums, some other percussion instruments and singing, primarily in Spanish. Some summer strollers and joggers consider street-corner Latin music a nuisance, but it has a rich history and is often a singular blend of the staunchest traditionalism and more recent influences. It is rarely recorded, and it has probably never been recorded as winningly as on ''Totico y Sus Rumberos,'' a new album on the Montuno label.

      Totico is Eugenio F. Arango, a native of Havana who has lived in New York for a number of years but still sings in the forcefully fluid style of the great Cuban vocalists. He most frequently performs music that derives directly from the rituals of Santeria, the African-derived religions that still flourish in Cuba, though he is also at home in more popular idioms.

      The ''rumberos'' he has assembled for his album include expert players of the bata, the Nigerian drum associated with Santeria rituals. But except for a couple of religious chants, the music is street-corner rumba, sung with much feeling and exquisite musicality by Totico and backed by a lusty vocal chorus and some exceptionally fancy percussion, with Andy Gonzalez's string bass added as an anchor.

      One selection on the album is a kind of summation of New York as the ultimate cultural melting pot. It is ''What's Your Name?'' the familiar rock-and-roll hit from the 1950's, and Totico and his producer, Rene Lopez, have given it a subtitle: ''Doo-Whop Bata Rumba.''

      They have taken the original rock-and-roll song, sung it in the street-corner style that is usually spelled ''doo wop,'' put a rumba rhythm to it and added cross-rhythms on the bata drums. The result is one of the most striking examples of New York summer music to be found on records. ''Totico y Sus Rumberos'' is available in many shops or or call Montuno Records, 840-0580. Robert Palmer
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