Orlando 'Cachaito' Lopez

Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez, considered by many to be the heartbeat of the Buena Vista Social Club, came from a Cuban family of at least 30 bassists. His nickname is derived from his uncle, bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. (Christina Jaspars / Nonesuch Records / June 18, 2001)

Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez, considered the "heartbeat" of Cuba's legendary Buena Vista Social Club for his internationally acclaimed bass playing, died Monday of complications from prostate surgery, fellow musicians said. He was 76.

Lopez, a founding member of the band brought together in the 1990s by American guitarist and producer Ry Cooder, died in a Havana hospital several days after surgery, said Manuel Galban, a Cuban musician who played with Lopez for decades.

"We have lost a great companion," Galban said.

Born in Havana in 1933, Lopez became an international sensation as part of the Buena Vista Social Club -- a group of elderly, sometimes retired, musicians who were living quietly in Cuba before Cooder brought them together and they became worldwide sensations.

"I will remember him as marvelous, both in his music and as a person," Galban, a guitarist, said by telephone. "He was extraordinary, affable, a great bassist."

Lopez died less than a week after he turned 76.

"I called him last week because it was his birthday and his voice didn't sound too good," said musician Amadito Valdes, who added that Lopez had undergone prostate surgery several days ago. "He was a person who was always sharing with everyone around him, very noble."

Lopez was considered by many to be Buena Vista's heartbeat and had played to international audiences as part of its touring company known for playing a mix of traditional Cuban rhythms.

But he was also a star in his own right. His groundbreaking debut album "Cachaito" won a BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music in 2002.

Lopez hailed from a family of at least 30 bass players, including his uncle, legendary bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. His nickname translates to "Little Cachao." His father, Orestes, played piano and cello in addition to the bass and was also a composer.

Lopez originally played the violin but switched to the bass after his grandfather urged him to take up the family craft.

He was a pioneer of Cuban mambo, and by 17 was part of a noted big band group known as Riverside. He later joined Cuba's national symphony. He also played with a band called Los Zafiros.

He gained international fame when Cooder brought him together with singer and guitarist Compay Segundo, pianist Ruben Gonzalez and singers Ibrahim Ferrer and Omara Portuondo to form Buena Vista. Later, director Wim Wenders released a documentary titled "Buena Vista Social Club," in which he profiled the musicians.

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