HOMENAJE: A Tribute to Orlando Marín

Orlando Marín is 80 years old and he and his timbales still speak with the gods.

The language Orlando speaks is mambo, a word originally from the Kikongo language of the Bakongo and Bandundu people of the Congo region of Central Africa. The word means “a conversation with the gods.” Mambo, the music, traces its roots back to slavery days, and the Kikongo language still exists in creole form in areas of Latin America and the Caribbean some three hundred years after the first Congo slaves were forced onto these shores.

Orlando has won two lifetime achievement awards, but tonight he is only interested in speaking the language of music. He leads the band on timbales like he has been doing for over 60 years. Only three mambo bandleaders are left from New York’s golden age of mambo, and Orlando plays the boxing ring at El Maestro on Southern Boulevard as if it were the famed Palladium Ballroom or the Ed Sullivan Show. Orlando plays like he truly is the last mambo king.

And, in the Bronx tonight, mambo is alive and well.

© Ricardo Muñiz. Published by permission in Centro Voices on 16 October 2015.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.