Renowned percussionist Sabu was born July 14, 1930, in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City. At a young age, Sabu discovered his fondness for drums and percussion by banging on cans in a street band, before playing in mambo and jazz bands at the age of 11. The young percussionist's big break came in 1948 when he joined Dizzy Gillespie's last big band, and Benny Goodman's outfit a year later. Sabu was also a member of the original Joe Loco Trio, a group that many point to as recording the very first mambo recording in the U.S., and also performed on Broadway alongside the like of Xavier Cugat, Tony Bennett, and Sammy Davis Jr. During the mid-'50s, Sabu recorded with another renowned percussionist, Art Blakey, as the duo specialized in both African and Latin rhythms, before forming his own quintet in 1957 and issuing the albums Palo Congo, Safari, and Sorcery.
But by the end of the decade, Sabu had developed an addiction to heroin, which eventually proved detrimental to his career -- at one point he turned his back completely on music and ran a strip club in Baltimore. But his musical exile didn't last for long, however, as the '60s saw Sabu join Louie Ramirez for his Jazz Espagnole release, as well as a Sammy Davis Jr. film in Puerto Rico, before setting up a permanent residence in Sweden and marrying. Sabu continued to record and perform throughout the '70s as he worked with the Radio Jazz Group of Stockholm, in addition to numerous records by other Scandinavian and European artists, formed a new group, New Burnt Sugar, and published a book of conga exercises. On January 13, 1979, Sabu died from a gastric ulcer.