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Frankie Malabé


One of the most respected conga drummers I have known, Frankie Malabé was an innovator. Unfortunately, he was also plagued by problems of substance abuse until his death at age 53. So strong was was his following that the music community united to raise money for a liver transplant. He survived the operation but his lifestyle ultimately did him in.

When I went to sell Charlie Palmieri one of my early bongos--one of the few using bronze casting for hardware--Charlie brought them to Frankie for testing. Before I got into serious sound recording (around 1976), I would pick Frankie up at the bus terminal in Manhattan and bring him over to my house to do experimental recordings. He was creative, musical, and well ahead of his time. I very much regret that I've lost those recordings.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Frank performed and recorded with Pete Terrace, Tito Puente, Louie Ramirez, Willie Colon, The Allegre All-Stars, Tito Rodriguez, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, and Larry Harlow.

In his later years, Frankie was involved with the Drummers Collective in New York City. Here he introduced legions of non-Latins to Latin rhythms. The book/cd package that he wrote with Bob Weiner, "Afro-Cuban Rhythms for Drumset," stands as one of the best primers and historical references on the subject and contains excellent audio examples of Frankie's unique touch on congas.

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