Conguero/Bata Master, Francisco Aguabella, lost his battle with cancer last week at the age of 84. The highly talented performer had established himself as a sought-after musician whose passion for hand drumming reflected his original and daring style. Over the years of his successful career, he had been asked to share the stage with many iconic artists such as Frank Sinatra, Carlos Santana, the Doors, Peggy Lee, Tito Puente, and Poncho Sanchez, to mention a few.
Aguabella was born on Oct. 10, 1925, in Matanzas, Cuba and started playing the bata drum at age 12. He moved to Havana in 1947 and eventually started performing at one of the leading nightclubs where he was first discovered. He left Cuba in 1950 to perform with Katherine Dunham in the Shelley Winters movie Mambo filmed in Italy, and then moved to the states where he became a cornerstone of the Afro-Cuban jazz scene.
He has been honored with countless awards including the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment For The Arts, the Durfee Foundation's Master Musicians' Fellowship, and recognition by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. He became an instructor to undergraduate and graduate students at UCLA and will be featured in a new documentary, Aguabella, directed by actor/filmmaker Orestes Matacena (The Mask, Bitter Sugar), which is currently in production.
Francisco Aguabella was an inspiring musician who will forever be remembered as a master conguero and bata artist, a patient and knowledgeable instructor, and of course, a loving father and grandfather.