Four of the original members (Santana, Garcia, Tellez, and Bean) were previously in a band called the Malibu's. The other three founding members (Abel Zarate, Roy Murray, and Richard Spremich) were in a band called Naked Lunch together.
Malo had a huge Top 20 hit single with the song "Suavecito" in 1972 that was written by timbale player Richard Bean, who initially wrote it as a poem for a girl in his high school algebra class. The song has been called "The Chicano National Anthem" and was arranged for Malo by Richard Bean, bassist Pablo Tellez, and Abel Zarate. Tellez and Zarate also received co-author credits on Suavecito. In addition, guitarist Abel Zarate gave Malo a distinctive two-guitar sound, with intricate harmony and dual solos the norm. The band featured full horn and percussion sections, in the style of contemporary bands Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago and others. Some of the best musicians in the bay area played in Malo, including Forrest Buchtel, Jr., Ron Smith, Luis Gasca, and Tom Harrell in the trumpet section. Malo's music also had a huge following in Central and South America, especially the songs "Chevere", "Nena", "Pana", "Cafe" and "Oye Mama".