The origins of Malambo began in 1991, when group member David Mortara married a Peruvian and travelled from the UK to Peru’s capital, Lima, where he met and received some tuition from the master player of the Peruvian box-drum (cajón) Eusebio Sirio “Pititi”.
Greatly inspired, David returned to England, moved to London and began seeking out musicians among the Peruvian community who might know about this music. He joined in informal music making with several ad-hoc groups. One of these included a former dancer with the Conjunto Nacional of Peru (a dance troupe with international renown), Flavia Chévez. Flavia would often reminisce about her experiences in the group during the 1970s working under its seminal leader Victoria Santa Cruz. These stories intrigued David, especially those involving the “rediscovery” of musical instruments and practices that the troupe associated with their ancestral African heritage and an era of slavery in Peru.
In a quest to know more about the history and traditions behind this music, David began researching in the British Library and came across the Canadian ethnomusicologist William David Tompkins, who had completed a PhD dissertation on the Musical Traditions of the Blacks of Coastal Peru in 1981. David eventually tracked down Dr. Tompkins in Calgary, corresponded and the two became friends.
In the meantime, David taught himself how to read, write and speak Spanish fluently, continued with his research in earnest and made more trips to Peru, where he met and interviewed an acknowledged local expert on coastal musical traditions Guillermo Durand Allison and received tuition from venerable musicians, among them Pepe Villalobos Cavero. He shared his discoveries via electronic mail with Dr. Tompkins and other ethnomusicologists, among them Javier León Quirós and Heidi Feldman.
In mid-1999, David helped organise an educational event entitled Cajón y Bordón at King’s College London, showcasing Peruvian singer Susana Baca and her group following their concert premier at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This was the very first time a British audience had been exposed to so-called Afro-Peruvian music and the concert and event generated a lot of interest among the public, musicians and World Music aficionados.
It was at the event that David met and befriended musician Tim Sharp, who had just returned from teaching for four years at Colegio San Silvestre in Lima. A Guildhall School of Music postgraduate and a capable and passionate pianist, Tim would spend his evenings and week-ends in the musical clubs (peñas) of Lima, including Don Porfirio, where he would join the house band in accompanying the late great Abelardo Vásquez and other top performers on stage. Despite declaring their intent, David and Tim would not get the opportunity to perform music together until some years later.
David continued performing with other musicians, forming a group with guitarist Andrés Prado and double-bassist David Miles and another that included the well-known educator Barak Schmool. This latter group was called Malambo for a time – named after an old district of colonial Lima in which slaves were traded and that later became synonymous with music making and musician families.
In recognition of his research and dissemination activities concerning Peruvian musical traditions, in October 2002 David was offered an Associate Research Fellowship of CLACS, the Centre for Latin American Cultural Studies within King’s College London and he began giving public lectures and workshops. In 2004, he helped establish a material archive in the British Library concerning black musical traditions from Peru, containing field recordings and interviews conducted by William David Tompkins. A compact disc recording and 20-page booklet of illustrated scholarly notes (written by Guillermo Durand Allison and David) was published by the British Library Sound Archive and Topic Records in May 2005, entitled Los Cuatro Ases de la Jarana (Jarana’s Four Aces): Vocal duels from the streets of Lima. The CD consisted of a rare set of recordings made in 1958 of the lost art of ‘canto de Jarana’ – an important musical tradition from Lima. To promote the publication, in October 2005 David teamed up with Iain Mann, a postgraduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, to present a lecture and musical event in the Spanish Institute entitled Jarana From Peru.
In 2007, David reformed Malambo, having recruited the singer Juanita Euka (niece of the legendary musician Franco Luambo) via an advertisement she had placed on an Internet talent finding service. Although her parents are both from Congo, Juanita was born in Spain and lived out much of her childhood in Argentina. She therefore felt a close affinity for South America and a strong desire to sing music in Spanish from the region. During 2007, Juanita rehearsed with David and Carlos Leguía, a Peruvian bass player cousin of celebrated trumpeter and music professor Gabriel Alegria. The trio performed twice at the Edinburgh Cellars, a north London venue showcasing new musical talent.
After Carlos had to return to Peru to continue in Higher Education, in 2008 David introduced Juanita to Tim Sharp and the three agreed to start rehearsing and performing under the Malambo monicker. In 2009 they were joined by Adolfredo Pulido, a bass player from Venezuela who Tim knew through Caché, a salsa group in which both are members. Adolfredo is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston and studied under the eminent Latin bass player from Peru, Oscar Stagnaro.
With a fully rehearsed two-part set of songs, 40 minutes each set, Malambo are ready to perform in 2010!