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Chaino

The self-styled "percussion genius of Africa," exotica-era enigma Chaino was actually born Leon Johnson in Philadelphia in 1927; raised primarily in Chicago, the details of his early life are largely a mystery, although at some point he learned to play the bongos and began touring the so-called "chitlin" circuit of black nightclubs. During the mid-1950s he surfaced in Los Angeles, and with producer Kirby Allan entered the famed Gold Star studio to record a series of otherworldly jungle exotica LPs; the first, the 1958 Verve label release Jungle Mating Rhythms, featured not only a lurid fusion of African rhythms, primal chants and lusty moaning-and-groaning but also liner notes claiming "Chaino is the only survivor of a lost race of people from the wilds of the jungle in a remote part of central Africa where few white men have ever been...(he) could play seven or more drums at the same time, with such a blur of speed that you can hardly see his hands." In the months which followed, Chaino issued three more albums -- Jungle Echoes, Night of the Spectre and Africana -- each for a different label; on occasion, he also worked as a session musician, and even appeared in pair of feature films, Nighttide and The Devil's Hand. A notoriously difficult and eccentric figure, however, in time he and Allan parted ways, and Chaino's activities over the decades to follow remain unknown; with the resurgence of interest in exotica during the mid-1990s, his brother George Johnson discovered the percussionist's whereabouts and briefly brought him back home to Chicago. Chaino nevertheless resumed his nomadic ways soon after; following surgery to remove a brain tumor, he suffered a fatal heart attack on July 8, 1999. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi
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