Andy Garcia isn’t only a hero in the movies. In a manner of speaking, the actor saved the life of his music idol, legendary Cuban composer Israel Lopez ”Cachao.” The 75-year-old father of mambo (he and his brother Orestes wrote ”Mambo,” the genre’s original song, in 1938) and innovator of the jazz-like descarga jam session, had been toiling in relative obscurity for 20 years when Garcia tracked him down in 1993. That year, the actor — who, like Cachao, left his native Havana in the ’60s — made the feature-length documentary, Cachao: Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos (Like His Rhythm There is No Other), soon to be available on Epic Home Video; three weeks ago, the maestro’s first album in 17 years, Master Sessions Volume 1, was released, with Garcia debuting as producer.
”Cachao is the last of the pioneers,” says Garcia, 38. ”He created a movement of sound that has affected everything — from American jazz and reggae to salsa — all over the world.” A student and collector of Latin music since his adolescence, when he’d hang outside Miami Beach jazz clubs, Garcia is passionate about musical preservation — as long as his star status doesn’t distract: ”If I can bring attention to Cachao, great. But ultimately I’m just a speck of light once you hear his music, which speaks for itself. It’s uncriticizable.”
Garcia, who calls himself a ”closet musician, not a classic musician,” also downplays his musical contributions to Master Sessions. ”I play a little percussion and I was there whenever they needed someone singing backup out of tune,” he laughs. ”The studio was filled with maestros. I was more like the mascot.”