KAKO (b Francisco Angel Bastar, ’36, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico; d 29 July ’94 USA) Timbales, conga and bongo player/ composer KAKO got inspired from Salsa music history. Kako’s contribution to salsa music plays an important role in modern day’s Salsa music education. He was a popular Latin bandleader in the 60s, especially in New York, Puerto Rico and Panama. An introverted character, he began as a dancer in Old San Juan. As a percussionist he performed with Tito Puente, Arsenio Rodríguez, Belisario López (b 7 Oct. ’03, Cárdenas, Matanzas Province, Cuba; d 19 Nov. ’69, NYC; wooden flute), Mongo Santamaría, among others. He formed his own combo mid-’50s and made two 78s on the SMC label, joining Alegre Records ’58 (founded ’56 by Al Santiago) and among his earliest recordings on the label was the single ‘Tributo A Cortijo’ (Rafael Cortijo).
Kako became artistic director and general manager with the company and acted as Santiago’s advisor and talent scout, introducing him to Israel ‘Cachao’ López, 16-year-old Willie Colón and numerous other Latin artists. He was also an active session musician with Alegre and worked on recordings by Conjunto Típico Ladi, Johnny Rodríguez (older brother of Tito Rodríguez), Mon Rivera, Felipe Rodríguez and others. He made his album debut on Alegre with Kako y su Combo Vol. I ’61, the same year participating in the first of a series of celebrated albums by the Alegre All-Stars, directed by Charlie Palmieri. According to Palmieri: ‘…the Alegre All-Stars was strictly a descarga band…all head arrangements…patterned after the Cuban Jam Session recordings (seminal ’50s descarga albums)…comprised of Alegre talent like Johnny Pacheco, Kako, Barry Rogers, Chombo Silva and Dioris Valladares. Unlike the Fania All Stars which features vocalists, we featured instrumentalists. Our most serious problem was finding an intro and knowing how to end it’ (quoted by Max Salazar inLatin N.Y. magazine).
In ’62 Rafael ‘Chivirico’ Dávila (b 2 Aug. ’24; d 5 Oct. ’94 NYC; singer/ composer) sang lead vocals on both Kako y su Combo Vol. II and the classic Se Te Quemo La Casa by Orlando Marín and his orchestra. Dávila worked with many other artists and issued nine solo albums between c ’70 to ’78. In ’93 Chivirico toured Colombia with Orlando Marín’s four trumpet conjunto and on 4 July ’94 he and Marín performed with the Partially New Alegre All-Stars at a reunion concert at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. The following October, Chivi died of heart attack while watching TV.
In ’65 Kako recorded the classic Tributo A Noro in homage to his friend, the revered bandleader/ pianist/ composer Noro Morales, who had died the previous year. ‘We decided on the Noro project on a Saturday afternoon and started recording at 5 am Sunday,’ recalled Al Santiago. This entailed Santiago, Palmieri and Héctor Rivera (b 26 Jan. ’33 in Manhattan of Puerto Rican parentage; piano/ composer/ arranger/ bandleader/ producer) rounding-up an 18-piece ‘after hours orchestra’ (essentially the Alegre All-Stars) for Kako by collecting the musicians after their Saturday night gigs and ferrying them to the studio. Personnel on the album incl. Rivera and Palmieri, piano; Cachao, bass; Louie Ramírez, vibes; José ‘Chombo’ Silva, tenor sax; Osvaldo ‘Chi Hua Hua’ Martínez, güiro (gourd scraper); Chivirico Dávila, vocals; and Joe Quijano, bongo. Kako performed on The Alegre All-Stars Vol. 2 ‘El Manicero ’65, and Puerto Rican All-Stars Featuring Kako ’65, an early morning jam session recorded in Puerto Rico in Feb. ’63 featured members of El Gran Combo (incl. leader/ pianist Rafael Ithier); Mario Ortiz, trumpet; Chivirico, Johnny Rodríguez and Paquito Guzmán, vocals and Palmieri (singing chorus!). Kako also participated in The Alegre All-Stars Vol. 3 ‘Lost & Found’ andThe Alegre All-Stars Vol.4 ‘Way Out’ (mid-’60s).
He changed to Musicor Records for Live It Up ’67, with lead vocals by Panamanian Camilo Azuquita, produced by Al Santiago, it included some boogaloos, in fashion at the time. Also in ’68, Kako played on the Santiago produced descarga album, The Salsa All Stars on the Salsa label, featuring Palmieri, Ramírez, Cachao, Azuquita and Pupi Legarreta, and played conga on the collectors item Cuban Roots (on Musicor) by Brooklyn born trombonist/ arranger/ composer Mark Weinstein, another Santiago production, as was Kako’s parting-shot on Musicor: Sock It To Me, Latino!’68, with lead vocals by Kako’s brother-in-law Meñique (Miguel Barcasnegras, also a Panamanian), who later worked with many others and as a solo artist.
Kako played timbales with the Cesta All-Stars on the Latin jam session albums Live Jam Session (late ’60s) and Salsa Festival (early ’70s) on Joe Quijano’s Cesta Records label. Kako embarked upon a series of collaborations with notable Puerto Rican and Cuban artists: Lo Ultimo En La Avenida ’71 with Ismael Rivera; the classic Ritmos y Cantos Callejeros(early ’70s) with Rafael Cortijo; Siguen Pa’lante y Pa’lanteand La Máquina y El Motor (both early ’70s; latter reissued on Edenways ’97) with Afro-Cuban conga player/ singer Totico (Eugenio Arango). Kako ’74 on TR Records was produced and arranged by Louie Ramírez. In ’75 Kako sessioned on Azuquita’s Pura Salsa, the following year the two artists teamed-up on Union Dinamica. He reconvened with the Alegre All-Stars’ on their 17th anniversary album,Perdido ’77; in the late 70s he played bongos with the Machito band. Not ‘in’ with the powers that controlled the NYC Latin music industry at the time, Kako became marginalized and made his final recording appearances in the late ’70s/ early ’80s, guesting on albums by other artists and bands, like Adalberto Santiago and Típica 73. Kako continued to perform and put a band together in the early 90s with help from his son, percussionist Richie Bastar, and played in Florida. He was unable to perform with the Partially New Alegre All-Stars at a reunion concert on 4 July ’94, and 25 days later died of a heart attack.
By Pete Nater
|1993||Te Invita||Alegre All-Stars||Bongos, Main Personnel, Timbales|
|1968||Live It Up||Kako & His Orchestra||Composer|
|La Fama||Mac Gollehon||Timbales|