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Remembering Armando Peraza, An Afro-Cuban Percussion Giant

It's hard to imagine a musical career that included musicians as varied as Charlie Parker, Peggy Lee, George Shearing and Carlos Santana. But such was hand percussionist Armando Peraza's resumé after almost 70 years making music.

A boyhood friend of Mongo Santamaria, Peraza was part of the first wave of Cuban drummers to arrive in the U.S. in the late 1940s, bringing authentic Afro-Cuban rhythms to pop music and jazz. His last full-time gig was with Carlos Santana, with whom he toured and recorded for nearly three decades. Diabetes eventually made it too difficult for Peraza to travel, but he hardly rested on his laurels: He was a constant and beloved presence on the music scene in the Bay Area, where he had lived since the late 1950s. He died on April 14 of complications from diabetes, near his home.

His stylistic span, not to mention his virtuoso technique on bongo and conga drums, was jaw-dropping. Hear it for yourself on this five-song sampler of Armando Peraza's music.

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Felix Contreras
Felix Contreras is co-creator and co-host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.