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Al remembers his friend Kako

Column: The Other Side Of The CD

by Al Santiago

Another musical giant leaves the planet. My buddy and compadre Kako died Friday July 29, 1994 at 4 P.M. of a heart attack at the age of 58.

Kako, who was born in Old San Juan, P.R., was unique — a master percussionist whose conga playing may have surpassed his talent at the "tins." His sense of humor: he loved to tease people, one of his life-long running gags was to approach a serious looking stranger and tell him he had something dangling from his nose.

After playing with Alfarona X and Arsenio Rodriguez, Kako started his own combo in the mid-fifties. In 1956 he entered my Casalegre Record Shop and autographed a photo for us and requested that we put it on our photo gallery wall. Two years later Kako joined my Alegre Records as a recording artist. One of his first recordings was Tributo a Cortijo. He eventually became not only my constant companion, but my advisor and talent scout. Kako introduced me to 16 year old Willie Colon, Cachao and many other prominent musicians, composers and bandleaders. He was co-leader of the "Alegre All Stars" along with Charlie Palmieri, Louie Ramirez and myself.

Kako was an impeccable dresser, a lucky gambler (he loved dice) and a great dancer. We both needed little sleep and would go dance hall and nightclub hopping nightly. We would drop into at least 3 or 4 clubs a night, listen to the bands and make plans for upcoming recording sessions. Kako's Tribute to Noro LP was a classic as is the LP Ritmos y Cantos Callejeros with Cortijo and Chivirico. We decided on the Noro project on a Saturday afternoon and started recording at 4 a.m. Sunday. Kako had a talent for finding new upcoming musicians-- Roy Roman, Dick "Taco" Meza, Marty Lazaar, Cortijito, etc. He didn't lag behind in finding new singers either ---Meñique (his brother-in-law) and Azuquita are examples.

My four children and Kako's three became hanging out buddies. We would take them everywhere...Las Villas, Madison Square Garden, World's Fair, and even after hours clubs.

I am not ashamed to admit that, according to the circumstances, I was Kako's chauffeur, valet, band boy, secretary, treasurer, bank, roommate, — oh, and on occasion, saxophonist. But, he in turn not only advised me on personnel but, if need be, he would also pick up Casalegre orders from record distributors. We helped each other in our different positions. Our families merged on weekends. I remember eating in Kako's wife Yolanda's mother's house very often. I was also an over-night guest at his mom Doña Eugenia's many times. His brother-in-law Moreno and I became close friends. I even drove Kako's brother Jr. to his honeymoon.

We had many funny and crazy experiences together because we both believed in enjoying life. One experience I'll never forget was the following: in the early '60s Kako was going to P.R. with his band. The night before the trip he held a rehearsal and, as I did frequently, I attended. Kako's musical director trumpeter, Luis Cafe, wrote a new arrangement and they were going over it. At the mambo part, something was wrong and I immediately stopped the band and told Cafe, "Luis those harmonies are clashing." He smiled and went to his trumpet case and pulled out a gun. We later found out he purposely wrote the chart wrong to create a problem, because he did not want to go on the tour. Anyway, you should have seen the band scatter and run and hide. Mon Rivera was already at Prospect station. Well three guys stayed behind...Cafe aimed the gun at my stomach standing only about 6 feet in front of me. I don't know why I was not scared...crazy I guess...Then I realized that Kako was to my left side and bongo player Manfrediz was on my right side. I talked Cafe into handing me the gun and was proud that Kako and Manfrediz had stood by me. We later found out it was only a starter pistol but so what...we didn't know that when it happened.

The night before Yolanda gave birth to Richie, who would be my Godson, Kako and I climbed the pool fence at Jones Beach and slept on some beach chairs. In the morning, we went to the World's Fair (1964). At one point, Kako called home and was told he was a father for the third time. Kako did not know his new son would follow in his footsteps and play timbales professionally. Kako was not a saint, he had his faults, but he was (to me at least) a great friend. Rest in peace compadre, we'll always remember you.

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