Bassist, composer, Cuban music figure, master of the tumbao, inventor of Latin jazz, fine-tuner of the charanga, Israel López "Cachao" Valdéz was born in Old Havana, into a family of bass players. He grew up in the house that Jose Martí used to live in.
He started at 8 on bongos, and was playing bass by age nine accompanying silent films. He received classical training and as a teenager joined Orquesta Filharmónica de La Habana, which included guest conductions by Stavinski & Villa-Lobos. He stayed thirty years with the orchestra.
Along with his brother Orestes "Macho' López, he composed thousands of songs in the '30s-50s as part of Orquesta Arcaño y Sus Maravillas. They developed the danzón into mambo, writing the OG "Mambo", as well as composing "Chanchullo" (which became "Oye Cómo Va"). He also played in José Fajardo's group in the '50s.
The famous 1957 descarga jam sessions led by Cachao virtually created the blueprint for modern salsa and Latin jazz. He went to Spain in '61 and then the US a couple years later where he became the hottest bassist in NYC for Latin music. Among his regular gig stays were with Machito and Candido.
He played on many mambo, jazz and salsa sessions and in his long career played with Bola de Nieve, Tata Güines, Kako, Bebo Valdés, Patato Valdés, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Rodriguez, Gloria Estefan, Hubert Laws, Dave Pike, Tito Puente, Chico O'Farrill and so many more.
He spent a lot of time in Las Vegas in the '70s, playing in hotels and nightclubs before hanging in Miami for much of the '80s. In '89 actor Andy Garcia produced some sessions that helped bring him back into popular focus. In 2000 Cachao premiered a huge project, Mambo Mass, which combined classical, opera and Afro-Cuban music. He went on to release several acclaimed records and won a bunch of Grammys before passing away. He was the uncle of another famous musician, Orlando "Cachaito" López, bassist for Buena Vista Social Club and others.