Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Felipe Garcia Villamil

(Felipe, Photo Credit: I forgot, sorry)

One of the lesser known (outside of the NY Rumba/Bata community of course) Cubans to hit NY in the 80's was none other than Matancero, Felipe Garcia Villamil. Felipe not only brought insight into how bata is played in Matanzas (as opposed to Havana which is of the majority in NY) he also taught various people during his time in NY. Felipe was living in the Bronx at the time.

The 2nd generation of his group "Emikeke" (which he started in Cuba) consisted of NY cats the like of Greg Askew, among others. A great piece of literature title, "Drumming For The Gods", by former student Maria Velez cronicled the life and times of Felipe and offered much first hand insight as well.

Felipe who is currently in California boasts long lineage, I posted an article that was written a while back, and another from Afrocubaweb.

For 78-year-old master drum-maker Felipe García Villamil, the drum is the heart and soul of Cuban music. "It's what you feel in your body," the Cuban-born drummer said in Spanish. "It's in the heart." Villamil performed with his Afro-Cuban group Emikeke at Long Beach's Museum of Latin American Art last month as part of a free event called "Canciones del Alma" or "Songs of the Soul." Aside from performing for more than 70 years, Villamil is also a master craftsman who makes his own instruments - a skill that's in his blood. Villamil was born in Matanzas, Cuba, to a family rooted in African traditions. His mother is the granddaughter of drum makers from Oyo, now the country of Nigeria. At age five, Villamil inherited his first set of drums from his Nigerian great-grandfathers. They were bata drums - double-headed and shaped like an hourglass. Villamil says the various styles of Cuban music are largely influenced by Spanish and African traditions. During the flourishing of the sugar industry in the 19 th century, thousands of African slaves flooded the Caribbean country, bringing their drums, music and religious practices. After Cuba abolished slavery in 1886, the African groups maintained their cultural traditions. Popular Cuban styles of music in which an African influence can be heard include bolero, cha-cha-chá, charanga, conga, habanera, mambo, rumba and Son Cubano. "It all comes from Africa," Villamil said. Villamil immigrated to the United States in the 1980 s and now lives in Los Angeles, where he has an ensemble with his sons Ajamu, Miguel and Atoyebi, and daughter Tomasa. In addition to his children in the United States, he has 16 children in Cuba. In 2000, he was honored with the National Heritage Fellowship for master folk and traditional artists, a one-time only award presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Villamil says he feels lucky to live in the States and share the music of his homeland. He continues to perform live shows, teaches and lectures on the art of Afro-Cuban performance traditions. "I'm married to my music," the artist said.


Obal Ogun, Tata Nganga, Isu Nekue, Olu Aña , Olu Iyesa, these are some of Felipe Garcia Villamil's titles from Matanzas, Cuba, where he was born into a family deeply rooted in African Cuban traditions. His mother, Tomasa Villamil, is the grand-daughter on both sides of Yoruba drummers/drum-makers from the city-state of Oyo in present-day Nigeria. His father, Benigno Garcia Garcia, was an adept in Palo Monte, a spiritual tradition of Kongo derivation, and also in the Abakua fraternity, a men's society brought to Cuba from the Calabar region along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.
From his Yoruba great-grandfathers Mr. Garcia Villamil inherited a set of bata drums, and he has been initiated not only as a drummer, but also as caretaker of these ritually prepared drums. He is a master of the Iyesa drumming and drum-making tradition, brought to Cuba from the Yoruba city-state of Ilesha and actively maintained in the Cabildo de San Juan Bautista in Matanzas, Cuba, since the mid-19th century. The Iyesa drums created by Mr. Garcia Villamil are almost certainly the only Iyesa drums in the United States. He has created bembé drums, another instrument of Yoruba derivation rarely seen in the United States, and performs as a master drummer in all the Yoruba-Cuban traditions, including the guiro ensemble.
Mr. Garcia Villamil performs as well the sacred and secular rhythms of Kongo derivation and the rhythms of Abakua. He has been described as completo, a complete percussionist, as he is also a master in the Matanzas style of rumba and comparsa, known for its unique sabor (flavor). Mr. Garcia Villamil is also a master singer in all these traditions, as well as a ritual artist who creates, not only drums, but altars, ceremonial objects and exquisite beadwork.
In Cuba, Mr. Garcia Villamil founded and directed the ensemble, Emikeke in the 1970s. The group performed all over the island as well as internationally, and their recordings have been collected by aficionados of African Cuban music in the United States, Latin America and elsewhere.
Since 1980, Mr. Garcia Villamil has been in the United States. He now lives in Los Angeles where he has established an ensemble with his sons, Ajamu, Miguel and Atoyebi, and his daughter, Tomasa.
Mr. Garcia Villamil teaches, performs, gives lecture - demonstrations, and works as a spiritual leader and ritual artist in the Los Angeles area. Since his arrival in the United States, he has shared with many people his profound knowledge of African Cuban performance traditions which synthesize song, drumming and dance, incorporated into systems of moral and philosophical guidance and healing based in a deep reverence for nature and for those who came before.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Trials and Tribulations of the Ukranian Conguero

I have been mistaken for El Acheloo, Un Tipo Feo, La Hara, Un Camaron, The Po Po, The Man and 5-0 on many ocassions. In fact I have walked into some blocks in Loisaida back in the 80s to a chorus of "Bajando." Those of you who have had a brush with the lifestyle will of course recognize the warning. Now this is a double edged sword. Both a blessing and a curse. I am sure it has prevented me from being robbed or worse but it has also garnered much unwanted attention. This is a story of some of that kind of attention.
My compay Angel Rodriguez had a steady gig with a piano player named Saeed Dupree at a club/bar called the Gallery which was located between 152 and 3rd on B'way in Manhattan. The club has been gone for years, another footnote in the musical history of the city. I get a semi panicked call from Angel telling me something had come up and he needed me to cover the gig for him that night. I happened to have been free, knew the bands book and could use the money so I agreed. The best thing was that Angel had left his drums in the club so all I had to do was bring myself. He explained to me that the drums were in a closet at the foot of the stairs in the basement. For some reason, I got to the club early. In fact it turned out to be to early. I was the first member of the band to arrive yet no one at the club was expecting this White guy to come strolling in.
Without hesitation, I went to the staircase but couldn't help notice that I had the full focus of the 8 or 9 people who were in the club. There were about 5 guys in suits and each one looked a little meaner than the other. As I descended the staircase I became aware that three of them had followed me down..their hands inside their suit jackets in an ominous way. When I get to the bottom of the stair case I see a room across from the closet and hear the clatter of what sounded like those old cash registers every bodega seemed to have. When I look inside...there are three guys (they were mean looking as well) seated at a big table..with three adding machines and a small mountain of money piled in the middle of the table. It was at this point that I said to myself, "Holy Shit."
I raised my hands and turned to confront my escort and began to explain as quickly as possible what the hell I was doing there. I went to the closet, pulled out one of Angel's drums and began to play in a way that would have made Mongo proud. Well...they all looked at each other and busted out laughing and after awhile I nervously joined them in the laughter. I was slapped on the back, apologized to and was bought several rounds of drinks as my facial expression (when I saw the money) became the topic for the evening. By the time the rest of the guys from the band showed up, we were old friends, me and the mean guys that is. Saeed asked me if everything was cool and I just said, "you don't wanna know."
I found out later on that this club was "Un Punto" a drop for the numbers banks in the neighborhood. The proceeds of the days activities would be counted there and hits paid off. Not long after that..the Gallery was firebombed, a victim of a struggle over control of the numbers racket in Harlem. The gig went well, I had a good time and called Angel the next day and I cursed his ass out as we laughed.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


A Merry Xmas/Kwaanza/Hannukah and a Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas

I just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Its been a nice ride so far, and I know Willie would agree in saying that its definitely better to give than recieve, so I hope everyone has enjoyed our humble offerings so far. Much more to come.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bambula 12/27

Monday, December 22, 2008


I just read this off a conga E Group (congaplace.com). Jorge is out in the NJ area, plays with some of the cats out there plus he was a Castle Hill regular as well (among other places).

Djoniba Dance & Drum Centre in NYC is closing next week
by jorge on Sat Dec 20, 2008 2:30 pm

One of the great cultural institutions in NYC, Djoniba Dance and Drum Center, is being forced to close next week, primarily due to the economic crisis. DDDC is the one of the largest multi-ethnic drum and dance cultural center in the world. There are classes in a variety of West African and East African dance styles, djembe drumming, and a huge variety of dance styles reflecting many different parts of the African diaspora, including Afro-Caribbean, Capoeira, Samba, Afro-Cuban (Yoruba/orisha, Congo/palo, Arara, rumba), Afrocuban popular (Son, Timba, Rueda de Casino), Haitian, Hip Hop, Mambo/Salsa, Reggae, Katherine Dunham technique, and others. DDDC has provided free classes to thousands of children in NYC. Yesenia Selier Fernandez, who recently arrived from Cuba, just started several months ago teaching the AfroCuban classes, continuing the tradition of some of the great AfroCuban dance teachers in NYC, including Xiomara Rodriguez, Rita Macias, Danys Perez "La Mora", and Felix Insua "Pupy". We had just started playing bata for every AfroCuban class, with Skip Burney, Barry Duke, Diosvany, Guayacan, Barry Cox, Maximo Valdez, Susan Rapalee, and others playing and singing.The main reason for the closing is a recent decrease in students, largely because of the economic crisis. Many people have lost their jobs, others have less job security, less disposable income, and less free time. In addition, there was a rent increase that the Centre is unable to cover from current revenues. As one of the drummers who has been playing on and off for the AfroCuban classes over the past 10 years, I have seen this decline in students from packed studios with 20-40 students for every class 5 and 10 years ago to 15-20 students in the largest classes and 2-10 students in the smallest classes recently.With this closing, about 55 dance teachers and drummers will lose their jobs, and thousands of adult students and hundreds of children will lose their access to studying with some of the greatest African based drummers and dance teachers in the world. Drummers and dancers in NYC (and visiting from around the world) will lose one of the most diverse and important African diaspora cultural institutions in the world, and the rich opportunities for cross fertilization among all these different forms of drumming, dance, and song.

Here is the website, which also has yesterday's press release on it: http://djoniba.com/about_dec08.html

We will try to find a smaller, less expensive space and rebuild the Centre, but it will take years of hard work and sacrifice. Donations of skills including fundraising, construction, database/outreach/marketing, as well as direct financial contributions are being sought. AfroCuban drumming, dance, languages, and religions survived "tiempo de España" for many years, and most recently survived the economic and human devastation of the "special period" in Cuba in the 90s, so I am sure the culture will survive the oncoming recession / depression. In fact, many aspects of these African diaspora based cultures have evolved as powerful tools to help people survive hard times. Even so, we all need to be aware that we can't just take cultural institutions like Djoniba for granted. They require ongoing hard work, sacrifice, and nurturing by those of us who are the bearers of these cultural traditions for the next generation.Ache, Alafia, Paz, Shalom, Salaam Aleikum, Peace

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Scorpion and Carmen

To go along with Ralph's bio, I just received a photo from Scorpion. Here he is at an outdoor bembe with his wonderful wife Carmen (con sus elekis de Yemaya) Scorpion is looking directly at the camera. I played with Scorpion for several years. We were without a doubt, one of the busiest groups in NYC during those years.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


(Totico, Photo Credit: Metangala, Marty Cohen)

Here's a cool shot of a 29 year old Eugenio "Totico" Arango singing at the Palladium back in the day.

Gon Bop

Here is a great photo of Max Garduno, tambolero mayor with his good friend Mariano Bobadilla, master craftsman of the Gon Bop drum. The photo was taken in 1968 in the backyard of Gon Bops Bunker Hill factory in downtown Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the Max Garduno archives.

June 26, 1999 Armando's Rumbacera

I remember that evening as being hot as all hell. Folks were embobao from the heat. It took the rumba awhile to get going but once it did it was "sal del medio hay viene el tren." Angel Rodriguez and Jose Rivera are on claves, yours truly is on guagua, "Yambu" Monsanto is on quinto, Armando Costales is on tumbadora and our elder statesmen Jorge Tapia, is on tres golpe. El Chino Venezulano is singing Gallo and Pacheco is to his left and Victor Montanez is to his right singing coro along with several others. Jorge Tapia is a Central Park original. That particular meeting place has been the scene for rumba since the early 60s. Tapia was there from the earliest times. Here he is in his early 70s still holding it down.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Alma Moyo - Tomorrow !!!

If I were in NY tomorrow, there would be no question as to where I would be, $5 bucks!

Anibal Tejada aka Scorpio

When I was first interested in learning chekere I somehow got in contact with a guy by the name of Scorpion who was living in Atlanta. Scorpion told me he had a group that plays guiro, aberikula, palo, and cajon and that if I wanted lessons that I was welcome. Fast forward a couple of years and Willie plays me a tape where he is rehearsing some Santo songs along with Angel Rodriguez and a cat named Scorpio. They were practicing three part harmony/wording and they sounded pretty good.

Anibal Tejada aka Scorpio/Scorpion, from El Barrio, has been singing for many years and he has sung along with some of the great singers and drummers of yesterday and today.

Alafia Abures, my name is Anibal Tejada, my Ocha name is Obairawo/King Of The Stars, but I'm better known by my nickname Scorpion. I am a Nuyorican born and raised in Spanish Harlem NY. I was crowned Shango on June 22nd 1979 in West New York, NJ by Margie Morales Omirelekun and Rafael Rojas/Chango Lade/Ibae. My line is from the Pimientas. My mother in Ocha is Yemaya Achaba. I am also Tata Nkisi/Siete Rayo from the house of Sarabanda Cortalima Brillumba Kongo Los Igualitos which is headed by Santiago(Chago) Lopez.
I am a Akpon/Singer of Lukumi and Palo. I started singing and playing in 1974 with Stephen Lloyd. Then I played shortly with Orlando(Puntilla)Rios, Alfredo Coryude, Milton Cardona, Totico, Teddy Holliday, Lazaro Galarraga, Hector "El Flaco" Hernandez, Felito Oveido and Cuquito Olivares.
In 1986 I started my own group called Grupo Alafia. I have played in almost every major Lucumi house in Manhattan, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Some of my drummers in NY included Ralph Davila, Tito Cepeda, Pedro Ithier, Willie El Ruso Everich, Angel Rodriguez, Apache, Adetobi, Luis(Yambu)Monsanto and Raul/Medio Mundo/Ogun Anya/Caraballo(Ibae).
In 1990 I moved to Tampa Fl. There I started another guiro group with Pedro Ithier/Ochaweye from the Piranya clan. In 2003 my family and I moved to Atlanta GA where we currently reside.
Since I've been in Atlanta I have sung and played Guiro, Cajon and Bata/Aberinkula and Fundamento with Luis Carrerra/EfunDei, Juan Raymat/El Negro,Bill Summers/EshuBi and Sekou Alaje/OshunLaiwo.

* too bad I don't have any pics or video of Scorpio at this point and time, but maybe that will change.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview With A Rumbero......

There can be no doubt of Armando Costales' passion and deep abiding love for La Rumba. This passion went past the playing of the music into construction of some of it's instrumentation. Armando was nothing if not generous with his knowledge and friendship towards those who embraced the rumba as did he. His "Rumbacera" as he called it lasted in the same location for just over 20 years. During that time such notables as Jorge Tapia, Eloi Marti, Eugenio "Totico" Arango, Daniel Ponce and Los Munequitos made their way to 182nd St. and Amsterdam Ave. to participate in Armando's rumbas. In the winter Armando made his home available so that the flow would continue on a weekly basis. Armando died about 5 years ago at the age of 55. La Rumbacera never did recover from his absence and soon after become part of the city's folkloric history. I knew Armando for most of those 20 years and my life was enriched by the relationship. I was able to catch Armando with some free time one evening and let him tell some of his story. Also present was Victor Montanez Jr., son of the famous Plenero featured on the Grupo Folklorico Y Experimental Nuyorquino's first album. As was his nature, Armando shares with us some of his techniques and tricks in making instruments and what got him into it in the first place.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Our friend Geordie (Guagua) in SF, sent me a pic of some brand spankin' Skin on Skin drums that were made for him by Jay Bereck, in upstate NY. I can imagine Geordie's excitement opening those boxes so close to Christmastime. They are some classy Cherry wood congas, and according to Geordie they are pretty light. Props to you Geordie for choosing to buy drums from a true artisan.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Pa' La Calle Otra Vez.......

Several scenes from Armando's Rumbacera are featured in this video. All the usual suspects are in attendance.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Barry Cox

(Barry, Max, Mark, Photo Credit: Mark Sanders)

Unfortunately for me, I have never had the pleasure of sitting down with Barry in person. I have talked to him over the phone but nothing substantial. I have dealt with him enough to surmise that Barry is one of those rare, "salt of the earth" kind of cats. Usually I am a pretty good judge of character. But wait, thats not what the post is about. Sure, Barry is cool people, but let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

The way I look at things, as far as the NYC rumba scene is concerned there are the players that can play well, and you can count on them being at the rumba, and then there are those that make the rumba happen. Barry and his cohort Max Valdez are the latter. This particular duo has been singing together for quite some time, and as someone once told me, "when Barry and Max are at the rumba, they never let it get boring..." Couple this with the fact that Barry has done extensive research on rumba and music as a whole, while also sharing his findings and documents wholeheartedly, and we have just the kind of guy that we need in this particular scene. I believe (beyond a shadow of a doubt) that if it weren't for guys like Barry Cox, rumba in the city would have given way to street jamming a long time ago.

So I asked Barry a couple of questions about why he does what he does, and here is what the man had to say.

1. Barry you are out of NC, how did you eventually make your way to NY?
uff that's a very long story...not sure i want to go into that one

2. What/whom got you into the whole Afro Caribbean (Afro Cuban) drum scene?

Another long story but...I had grown up listening to hippie rock, like Dylan, the beatles, the stones, hendrix and pink floyd, then I got into the velvet underground and for a long time for me the Ramones were just it. Plus Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, B-52s. That sort of thing. I was also really into Prince and the Time, I saw them on the "1999" tour. But that whole pop scene started to lose steam for me around the mid 80's when I moved to Chicago and started getting into brazilian music, bossa nova mostly, and other stuff what is now called "lounge" or exotica, like martin denny, yma sumac, etc. I was always going to thrift stores and digging up old records, all kinds of stuff, old easy listening stuff, what they now call "world music," basically anything that wasn't rock music. I never got into "salsa" though, never had much appeal for me.

I was living in Wicker Park, which at the time was a pretty rough latino neighborhood, mostly Puerto Rican and some Mexican. One day I was leaving my house and some mexican neighbors were having a party in the front yard and just blaring this amazing music. I stopped and managed in what little Spanish I knew to ask them for a cassette copy of that music. ( I think at first they thought i was going to complain.) Anyway I came back the next day to get the tape, which turned out to be Perez Prado. Well that set me off for many years, he was my idol. I always had kind of a penchant to look into the roots of the music I was listening to, so I got the older recordings of Perez Prado with Beny More and that was when I really seriously started getting into cuban stuff. Beny More just blew me away. ONe of the greatest talents of the 20th century. Then I started getting into son, those Sextetos Cubanos recordings form the 20's and 30's reissued on Arhoolie never left my stereo for years.

At the time I had a girlfriend who was a classical percussionist, and she was also into african drumming but wanted to get more into latin. A friend of hers told us about The Caribbean Music and Dance Programs Summer Workshops started up in the 90's at La ENA by Lisa Maria Salb, Deborah Rubenstein and Melissa Daar (?). So we went on a 2 week trip around 1994, and it changed my life. But I didn't really even get into rumba that much then, I bought a tres on that trip and then moved to Austin Texas, where I started up a septeto called Son Yuma, which caused quite a stir around there, it was very popular. We even went to Santiago and played at the Casa de La Trova there, a real honor. This was a few years before the whole "BVSC" crap. I hated that whole thing.

3. How did you get started singing and how did you and Max meet?

There were a few drummers around Austin I would get together with occasionally, to try to figure stuff out, and I don't know, I just started singing rumbas out of boredom mostly, buncha guys sittin around playing kun-KIN - KIN - kun for few hours and...When I first started listening to rumbas I thought of it mostly as drums, with some singing going on, but then I just started paying more attention to the songs (mostly on the munequitos rumba caliente CD, but also carlos embale "rumbero Mayor" and the Real Rumba compilation on CoraSon), and I just decided that for me the spirit of rumba was really in the songs, the singer and the call and response...

Anyway, I always had kind of a knack for imitation and also for harmony, I think it was all those years of listening to the beatles, I used to be able to sing along with paul's part or John's part pretty easily. I had also taught myself portuguese by singing along with João Gilberto records (many of his records came with lyric sheets), I had always sung in the rock bands I was in and also in Son Yuma, so it was a pretty natural thing. Then when I got a copy of the Orisha/Rumba anthology, I was on my way.

I met Max pretty soon after I moved to NY, in 1999, the muñequitos were in town, and were giving a dance workshop in a space in Williamsburg that Xiomara Rodriguez was using. Her son Michel Sotolongo was playing batá and I started talking to him, he said he had a group that was getting together there, and that I could come to rehearsals if I wanted. And that's where I met Max.

Turned out we worked near each other, in midtown, and we would get together after work almost every night and walk downtown, practising songs, from 45th street to Houston, where I would get on the train and head back to brooklyn.

This guy Frank Bambara started having a rumba at a place on Rivington called The Saint, Gene Golden was playing there, with him, and Papo Pepin, and Chino was singing, sometimes Manuel El Llanero, sometime Abe Rodriguez, but they didn't have a coro. So max and I started going and doing the coro, then they started letting us sing songs.

4. How important is one's knowledge of the history of the artform (i.e., rumba, etc…)

For me it's essential, but i guess that's just my nature. When I was thirteen and I loved the stones version of "You Got To Move" on the Sticky Fingers album and saw it was by Mississippi Fred McDowell, I ran out and bought a Fred McDowell album. I just like to have that context...especially for people who didn't grow up around it that kind of thing is really important.

(Union Guarachera, Photo Credit: Mark Sanders)

5. How did Union Guarachera start and what players made up the group?

There was a guy who used to live here named Esteban, he was from Argentina, we used to see him at the classes at djoniba, and soon after 9/11 when nobody was going out he somehow got this bar owner in the village to have a rumba there, I think it was on wednesday nights. It was on Macdougal street, called the Wreck Room and it used to be the famous Gaslight. Esteban was trying to get like a group together to play there, so to try and promote it I did some flyers and just made up the name "Unión Guarachera"...but there was a bit of tension, some of the drummers wanted to do all kinds of afro-cuban stuff, like palo and bembe and all that, but me and max just wanted to do rumbas all night.

I feel like a lot of people are into "drumming" in general but aren't really into rumba in particular, so they get bored easily, they want to try out some new rhythm they just learned, or whatever. They don't get used to or develop an appreciation for the rumba repetoire, so they get tired of playing 3/2 after a half an hour. But to me if you can't do that you don't love rumba. I think drummers should know as many songs as possible, even if they don't ever sing, they should still be familiar with the melody and the phrasing of at least the most common rumbas, so they know where to place all these licks they are always learning.

But so anyway Esteban went back to Argentina, I guess the other guys got sick of us just wanting to do rumbas all the time, and so we started bringing drums and people started showing up, mostly from uptown, but also Skip Burney, Alberto Quinto, Mark Sanders. It started to be quite a scene. One night Horacio El Negro Hernández was there ( he didn't play though) then an other night some of the muñequitos stopped by a gig and then it was just wild, but they sold the bar a few weeks later, which was fine with me, it was starting to get out of control...

6. In your opinion is the Central Park scene as important as it might have been 10-15 years ago?

Honestly for me Central Park was kind of a let down. My main knowledge of it had come from Robert Freidman's 1978 article "If you don't play good they take the drum away", which talked a lot about the dynamic of the rumba with respect for the elder and better rumberos, the constant evaluation going on, etc. But by the time I got there 20 years later it seemed that had kind of fallen by the wayside, I guess Giuliani had stopped it for awhile, and by the time it started up again it just sort of became a free for all, and also the singing was very poorly developed, just people doing coro after coro, and mostly santo coros too, not rumba coros. Manuel was good but he was getting older, it just wasn't like it used to be

7. How did you get started with the blog "Vamos a Guarachar", was it just on a whim, or was it something that you wanted to do for some time?

That started up when I realized I kind of had a pretty good collection of not-readily available rumba audio and video recordings, and was thinking maybe other people had some too, and we could all share with each other and expand our collections. The rumba/afrocuban scene had always had a kind of "Deadhead" approach to allowing recordings being made of live performances, with the understanding that they would not be sold but only shared among the community, so I felt like the time had arrived that that could be done via the internet rather than through casettes and VHS. I saw what guys like Loronix and all that sort of "sharity" blogspot crowd had been doing so I wanted to see how it worked with rumba.

Soon after, Patrice Banchereau contacted me from France and he has been a great help and inspiration and has really done a lot to make the blog what it is.

hope that helps...


One last note, Barry wanted me to add the following,

I did want to add something in there though, about Max. He was the guy who really taught me about singing with clave, how to listen for that. And also he was a big help with the cancionero rumbero, he was giving me song lyrics he had learned and I would ask him to help with parts I couldn't figure out or had wrong, we spent hours and hours on that stuff. So he was a huge help to me in lots of ways.
Patrice too, he had found the pdf version before we ever met and he took it to cuba and went over all the lyrics, especially with El Gato, to check them.
If you want to see some videos of Barry and Max in action, click here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Always respect your drum.

Make sure that others respect your drum as well. Now there are those who may disagree with this philosophical point of view...alla tu. The drum has an inviting surface for those inclined to want to put their beer bottle or sheet music on it. Some will turn it into a regular dinner table. The Tito Puente restaurant on City Island in the Bronx had LP congas as stools at its bar. People put their behinds on the drum. I have had serious falling outs with people disrespecting my drum and teach any one who cares to listen to not allow it. I'm going to tell a story to illustrate my point. You can make of it what you will, but this happened and I witnessed it.
July 4th was rapidly approaching when I got a call from an old squeeze named Rona. She had hooked up with a fairly wealthy guy who was interested in throwing a July 4th bash on two houseboats he owned and moored at the 79th St Boat Basin off the West Side Hwy in Manhattan. This was very much for the well heeled and I became interested because I had never been on the dock despite having lived in the city all my life. She explained to me that the party was on but she knew that his group was more of the stand around and talk Wall Street and drink cocktails type of folks. She wanted a PARTY. So she convinced him to let me invite 25 friends to make sure it was a party. I had a bit of a reputation back then. I went to my hang on Brook Ave and 139th St. and got my peeps together and it was on. Of course, I invited four rumberos so we could play some drums along the Hudson River.
Well the party was slammin.' There was a cat in a tux serving drinks from a well stocked portable bar...the kitchen was popping as two chefs cooked steak and lobster...all you could eat. Needless to say, by 3pm most folks were embalao and dancing up a storm on the roof top of the bigger house boat. One of my friends had commandeered the DJ table and folks from all over the pier came over. In fact a schooner, which was heading up to West Point from Lower Hudson's Bay heard the music, saw the action and dropped anchor to join us. Rona was ecstatic as was her old man and his guests. They got right into it with us.
After awhile folks took a break and we pulled out the drums to do our thing...it became difficult to play because as ships went up and down the river..the wakes they generated would rock the houseboat and one drum almost wound up in the drink. We decide to lay the drums down and chill. So here we go. I have a very good friend named Angel Berrios. He was six sheets to the wind and feeling no pain at this point. My drum happened to be near where he was sitting on the deck floor and he began to rub his feet on the skin. I said Angel...that is definitely not cool...you are disrespecting the drum. His reaction caught me by surprise. He got very indignant, telling me it was just some wood and skin and what was I worried about. I realized that this was basically the booze talking and dismissed it and told him that he really needed to check himself. He got pissed and said "I'm gonna get something to eat." As he was climbing down the ladder which led to the kitchen or galley as they call it, a huge tanker was making its way down the river...a serious wake emanating from its rear. Angel arrived at the kitchen as did the first wave at exactly the same time. A pot of boiling water waiting for more lobster to be added slid off the stove surface and caught him on both feet. I heard him scream and everyone turned to see what had happened. I quickly went down to survey the damage and the blisters were already beginning to form on his feet. He looked at me...completely sobered by the pain and said "Don't say it!" Only he and I knew what we were talking about at that point. Well it took several weeks for him to heal after spending that evening in the hospital. Pure chance, instant justice, spiritual intervention; you be the judge. Respect your drum and make sure others do as well.

Los Afortunados tienen su propio son!

As part of Mappy's birthday bash at the Taller....Los Afortunados showed their range of talent by playing an Afro Cuban Son. The crowd grabbed space on the dance floor and the party was on. Courtesy of AAA videos.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NY Times, Central Park Rumba article, 96'

In my never ending search to document as much information about NYC rumba as I can, I came across this old NY Times article. It mentions the late Morty Sanders (ibae), Iwao Sado (from Puntilla's crew), and of course Eddie Bobe. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

by Mirta Ojito
published: August 31, 1996

Directions to a Sunday party: enter Central Park near the Dakota on West 72d Street and walk through Strawberry Fields past the John Lennon memorial. Right about there, if the wind is blowing a certain way, you'll hear the insistent call of the drums. Tum-taca-taca-tum.
Follow it.
There, by the side of the Lake, you will find a piece of Cuba, or of its music, which for many of the drummers and listeners who gather here every Sunday is the same.
''This, and nothing but this, is the essence of being Cuban,'' said Arturo Cuenca, 40, a painter who left Cuba six years ago and now lives in Manhattan. ''I didn't know that in Cuba. I learned it from a distance. Here, with these drums.''
These drums have lured Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans -- and just about anybody who cares about rumba -- to Central Park for a long time. They offer free weekly entertainment for New Yorkers of a certain sensibility. And more importantly for some, they offer what many immigrants are perpetually searching for: a whiff of home, a space where people ask not what country you come from, but what town.
It is here, perhaps more than in any other place in New York, where many Cubans feel at home. This is the one corner of the city where they encounter old friends, enjoy homemade Cuban food, and effortlessly revert to rapid-fire Spanish.
''I have found people here that I hadn't seen for years,'' said Rosa Nieses-Torres two Sundays ago. ''I come here as much as I can. I was born and raised in the old part of Havana, where this sort of thing was an everyday event.
''Coming here is spiritual for me,'' said Ms. Nieses-Torres, a college literature professor who came to New York from Cuba in 1979. ''It's an act of remembrance; a ritual.''
It starts with the music.
The drummers begin arriving shortly after noon.
Eddie Bobe is one of them.
Mr. Bobe was born 36 years ago in Puerto Rico to a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, and the beat of the drums ''is in his blood.''
''I'm following a tradition, that's all,'' he said, wiping the sweat from his brow with an open palm. ''For me, it's a cultural expression, a way of defining who I am, because rumba means people. The instruments alone can't do it. You need to have people to have rumba.''
Before long, a crowd has gathered.
Mothers with babies in strollers sit on the green benches. Young couples share an old blanket on the lawn. Old men respectfully stand by the drums, waiting for the first cue to join in the chorus. Food vendors peddle their dishes: pasteles and tamales from Puerto Rico; cod fritters and rice with chicken from Cuba. A man sells beer out of a brown plastic bag packed with ice.
The drums attract a mixed crowd: the die-hard rumba aficionados, the tourists who stop to take yet another picture of New York City life (some make awkward attempts to follow the rhythm with their hips) and the nostalgic types who come not just for the music but also for a slice of Caribbean warmth and camaraderie in the land of McDonald's and rock-and-roll.
And then there are the curious passers-by who stay for so long that eventually someone hands them an instrument. There seems to be a silent command behind the friendly gesture: here, you make music, too.
It happened to Iwao Sado, 48, a sushi chef who came to New York from California 11 years ago.
As Mr. Sado tells it, he was walking in the park one day when he heard the sound of drums. He followed it and came upon a group of people singing in Spanish, a language he is now trying to learn. He became fascinated by the music's rhythm and timing. An electric bass player in Japan, Mr. Sado had never been as deeply touched by any other music.
''Something happened inside of me,'' he said. ''It just totally transformed me.''
He started taking lessons from Mr. Bobe and others and soon got a chance to play for the Central Park crowd. The music led him to Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion practiced on the island and increasingly abroad. Mr. Sado recently made a trip to Cuba, where he officially joined the religion.
Nowadays, ''El Chino'' -- a term that Cubans and Puerto Ricans use to describe anyone with Asian features -- plays the drums next to some of the most experienced musicians in the park.
Nobody here seems sure how these rumba Sundays started. Some say it started spontaneously 80 years ago with a group of friends who wanted to play drums outdoors. Others recall a day in May 14 years ago when a group of Latinos, looking for a place to continue to party after a big parade, settled on this specific spot in Central Park and started a tradition.
Morton Sanders has another version. His, he insists, is the true story.
Mr. Sanders, a retired architectural designer who is 75, said he became immersed in Cuban culture after a series of trips to the island in the 1940's and 50's. He had gone to Cuba for the first time on his honeymoon and was immediately smitten with the island's sensuality and contagious joie de vivre.
For $35, he bought a drum and hired a private instructor. He returned to his Manhattan apartment and practiced until his fingers were calloused and his palms no longer hurt.
Eventually, accompanied by two friends, Mr. Sanders took his drum to a fountain in Central Park where Latinos, mostly Puerto Ricans born in New York, used to gather. That was 30 years ago.
With his blond hair and blue eyes, Mr. Sanders wasn't immediately accepted, he said. Undaunted, he took his music someplace else. He found a bench he liked next to the boat lake under the shade of a big old tree. And there, with his drum and his friends, Mr. Sanders began to play for fun.
Intrigued by the music, the Latinos who had shunned him soon followed. Since then, Mr. Sanders said, musicians and fans have got together every Sunday, from spring to fall, in the same spot.
In 1980, the gatherings received an unexpected jolt when Cubans who had arrived in the Mariel-Key West boat lift began appearing.
The Cubans, most of them blacks from economically poor but culturally rich Havana neighborhoods, brought new energy and authenticity to the gatherings.
Rumba, which is not a rhythm, but rather a concept that means to party, was born in Cuba more than a century ago. It is regarded as the first musical expression of Cuba's nationhood, said Rene Lopez, a Puerto Rican record producer who lives in New York.
It began with the black Cubans who had moved to the cities from rural areas. Influenced by Spanish music, but emotionally tied to their traditional African rhythms, they took elements of both and created a new sound.
Although the sound is distinctly Cuban, it has traveled the world.
It was popularized in the 1940's in New York's biggest nightclubs by performers like Chano Pozo and Miguelito Valdes, who used trumpets and other musical instruments to make it more palatable to American dancers. Yet rumba can be played on just about any surface, from a wooden box to an upside-down dresser drawer. Most often, it is played with at least three drums, a set of claves (sticks), a lead singer and a chorus.
In the early 60's, Mr. Lopez said, Puerto Ricans played drums on the rooftops of El Barrio. Eventually, they took their music to local parks, but the police used to chase them away and confiscate the drums.
''They said it bothered the neighbors, but nobody believed them,'' Mr. Lopez said. ''They just weren't ready for us, didn't understand us.''
Today, Mr. Sanders said, the police do not bother the Central Park crowd, though it can get rowdy at times toward the end of the day. Sometimes, there are too many people, maybe even one or two who have had too much to drink. There have been fights, often over who gets to play the drums.
But most Sundays, by early evening, the party has become a huge family picnic. Budding friendships are cemented with a drunken hug and a promise to call. Old friends agree, once again, to keep in touch. A shirtless man gently touches a baby's forehead and asks the gods, his gods, to bless him.
The drummers, perspiring from hours of intense pounding, get up to leave, already making plans for the next weekend.
Mr. Sanders is one of the last to go. ''I have had such good times here,'' he said. ''I don't want to stay away. I have told my wife that when I die I want her to throw my ashes in this lake. That way, I'll always be close to the music.''

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yemaya - Los Afortunados

Here is another great clip from the "AAA." This Afortunados performance at "El Taller Latino Americano" was obviously the place to be on this particular night. They ran the gamut from Yoruba to Rumba to popular (i.e. Son). When Willie told me that Alfie hooked him up with the tape from this night I was pretty excited as I didn't really know what to expect but I knew it would be good. So far we have posted clips showing Los Afortunados doing guiro, bata, rumba tap (with Max Pollack), rumba, and we even put a clip showing the great Abraham Rodriguez singing a rumba number in English as I always wanted to see him do. I'd like to thank Alfie for contributing greatly to the blog and hopefully she will soon be able to post directly.
This particular clip shows Los Afortunados tocando para Yemaya. Abraham is at the helm singing the akpwon part, and Emilio Barretto, Fernando Taboada, Izzy Santiago, Victor Jaraslov are singing the ankori part. The late Michael Rodriguez (ibae) is playing a steady, yet tasteful okonkolo, Brandon Rosser (whom I am very glad to have on tape playing) is laying down a nice segundo and of course Felix is playing a mean caja. If you notice Felix's wife, Susan is dancing for Yemaya. Susan is very humble, yet very knowledgeable of not only her craft (i.e. dancing) but also the history behind the drums and the people that played and so forth.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Abraham Croons @ Mappy's Birthday

Abie and I share another passion...we are Doo Woppers as well as percussionists. In this video we hear Abraham Rodriguez take a classic tune from the American Songbook and put it to guaguanco. This is a AAA video.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More from Mappy's Birthday party........

Just when they thought it was over, just when everyone was ready to call it a night...a Rumba broke out and the festivities continued at least a little while longer. An AAA video.

Another, this just in....

So if you can make it to see Ilu Aye tonight @ Bronx Museum of the Arts on the Concourse that would make for a great Friday night, its free and almost guaranteed to be a great show.
But then Felix tells me about another event taking place this Sunday at the Brecht Forum on the West Side. I called Barry to confirm and its official. Barry just posted it to his site, so check it our here. Apparently this is turning out to be a pretty good weekend for folkloric music in NY.

(Puntilla, Photo Credit: Herencia Latina)

Los Afortunados @ the Taller Latino Americano 6/1/01

The occasion was Mappy's birthday and she had chosen Felix Sanabria and Los Afortunados to provide the entertainment. I was honored to do a few numbers with them. This video shows the group playing a "Guiro" for Oshun. An extremely versatile group...we will be presenting videos of them playing rumba in its various forms, Bata, Bembe and Son. From the "AAA." Willie...

Of particular distinction is opportunity to see Felix Sanabria's padrino/babalawo, Oluo Siguayu Gerardo Taboada Fernandez (in the cream shirt with white hair between Emilio and Abie). Buffy Drysdale is dancing for Oshun. Felix is playing caja, and Emilio is singing the akpwon part. Victor Jaraslov (blue shirt), Izzy Santiago are included in the ankori section, and our very own Willie is sitting in on chekere. Ralph...


"AAA" will be our designation for videos provided by the Alfie Alvarado Archives

Thursday, December 4, 2008

How's this for a Friday night......

As I have mentioned on these pages before, a group of us who had become buddies while attending a class at City College all shared this passion for Afro-Caribbean music in its many forms. The great thing about this group, which included Mike Mena, Alfie Alvarado and myself as the main stalwarts, was the research each would do in finding new venues to explore. Around 97-98 a little Cuban spark plug of a woman had begun a Latin Jazz/Folkloric live music series at a place called the Taller Latino Americano. Her name is Mappy Torres and you will see her in action in future videos. The facility for this non-for-profit organization located on the South East corner of 104th St and Broadway in Manhattan, rapidly became the in place to go to hear the cutting edge Latin Jazz musicians, many of which had recently arrived from Cuba. Stellar performers such as Yosvanny Terry and Dafnis Prieto were seen by American audiences for the first time in that humble space provided by the Taller. The concerts were held in a room perhaps 400-500 square feet in size. One corner was dedicated to the stage area for the performance. There were an assortment of couches, chairs and stools to sit on. Nothing matched and that was the best part. It was like being in your living room and having a great live band playing for you and your family and friends.
Soon after the Taller got rolling, the newly renovated Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History, opened to rave reviews for its design. Dubbed the Rose Center, the Museum began a Jazz series called Starry Nights in which some of the true luminaries in Jazz were featured in this wonderful setting. It was common to find people like Ray Barretto, Dave Valentin or Danilo Perez playing the room. So here we were, Friday night in NY....Starry Nights, two sets of music between 5:30PM and 7:30PM and Mappy's kicking off about 10PM. What to do with those extra 2 1/2 hours; El Malecon! Now the Rose Center is on 81 St. and Amsterdam and the Taller, 104th and B'way. El Malecon is on 97th St and Amsterdam Ave. Now we never use these pages to really plug any establishments, but for the sake of this tale, I'm going to plug the Malecon. It is perhaps one of the finest restaurants, featuring Caribbean cuisine, in the city. The place is small but lively, the service is great, the food is even better and a wonderful time is always had by all.
Several videos, one featuring Ray at the Rose Center and another featuring Mark Weinstein at the Taller have already been posted in the blog. Expect much more in the future. These Friday night outings of ours lasted for several years and we were thrilled by many spectacular performances by a myriad of artists of the highest caliber. The Taller has long since ceased their series and Starry Nights continues in an abbreviated form. We were lucky to catch it in its hey days. Willie

This just in...

Greg "Peache" Jarman

As you know one of the reasons Willie and I started this blogsite was to highlight those drummers that haven't really gotten their due. There are various drummers whose talents exceeds many of the "known" drummers of today but for some reason they have been overlooked. In the East Coast Afro Caribbean drum community there has always existed a very strong African American presence, since the beginning. If it weren't for guys like Gene Golden, Pablo Landrum, Robert Crowder, Don Alias, Chief Bey, Babafemi, etc...where would we be?

This actually made me think of more recent players and singers such as Skip "Brinquito" Burney, Oludara Bernard, Brandon Rosser, Canute Bernard (ibae), Amma McKen, Fela Wiles, Victor Jaraslov, Emory Damon, and others whom are among the community of players that are not necessarily of Spanish descent or even of African American descent for that matter. But why should that make a difference? It didn't back then and it doesn't now. So that said...

Greg "Peache" Jarman

I've talked to Matthew Smith a couple of times about how he got started making congas and bata. One of the guys that helped Matthew in terms of checking and getting the measurements right for the bata he was trying to make was Peache. There has been a Philly drumming scene for quite some time, and various drummers have come out of the area. I found a little biographical information on him at the Folklore Project. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Greg "Peache" Jarman first learned conga drumming from Robert Crowder and Garvin Masseaux in Philadelphia. He played with many local Latin bands here and went to California during the peak years of African Cuban drum culture, where he studied and played with Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aquabella, and others. Aquabella was especially known for batá; Santamaria was a famous congero from Cuba who came to the United States in the 1950s, from Cuba, before the Cuban dance and culture craze hit.
Much of the music that became commercially successful was far from roots traditions. Yet many artists continued to school themselves in the more "undiluted" African Cuban sounds and rhythms and this was Mr. Jarman's approach. He returned from California with expertise on batá drums and the religious culture surrounding them and continued to develop the structure of batá drumming here. Mr. Jarman has been involved with African-based percussion for over 35 years and continues to study and play West African, Haitian, and Cuban styles. He performs widely with Latin bands and has played with many well-known artists including Santamaria, Cal Tjader and Willie Bobo.

Mr. Jarman has been a member of Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble since about 1969. He was an original member of Philadelphia's Traditional African American Drummers Society, a group dedicated to the preservation and continuation of African hand drumming in the city. Since about 1995, he has been part of the Spoken Hand Society, a group consisting of four percussion ensembles: Brazilian (led by Tom Lowery), West African (led by Daryl "Kwasi" Burgee), North Indian (led by Lenny Seidman), and Afro-Cuban (which Mr. Jarman himself leads). The Spoken Hand received a 1998 Rockefeller grant to pursue cross-tradition compositions, and they were featured at Atlanta's National Black Arts Festival in July 1998.Mr. Jarman is deeply involved in the spiritual dimensions of the drum. He is also a gifted teacher and has been giving lecture-demonstrations and classes at churches of various denominations, schools, youth programs, and penitentiaries for over 25 years. Sometimes, along with other drummers, he plays on street corners where all can hear. He has been teaching in the Folklore Project's artist in residence program, and has performed, with Kulu Mele, at "Philly Dance Africa." In June 2000, he was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts.

More info to come...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Late one night en el Barrio, 117th Street

A rumba is like a living thing...it has ebbs and flows....it is fed by the passion and energy of the drummers...the singer can manipulate it to great heights or tranquil lows...no chorus, no rumba...the waves are actually palpable....this video is a good example of this phenomenon.

(Beatriz - tumbador, Michael Rodriguez (ibae) - tres dos, Rene Lopez II - quinto y cajon, Ivan Ayala - vocals, Video Credit: Willie)

Quien te manda?

Who knows why we are drawn to the drum. We rumberos live to play and play to live, it's really that simple. I have dedicated a good portion of my life to the tambor, made many sacrifices, but what I received in return cannot be put into words. Allow me a moment to wax poetically, QUE VIVA LA RUMBA! Willie Russian Rumbero/Documentarian

Monday, December 1, 2008


Here are several scenes from Armando's Rumbacera, which was held almost every Saturday, for 20 years, on 182nd St. and Amsterdam Ave. The videos progress from a warm up session to a full blown rumba as people arrived and added their voices or playing abilities to the mix.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"Perdon" - Anya Ade

Here is a clip that Felix put up on youtube. I believe it took place after his presentacion of his fundamento "Anya Ade", at Julia de Burgos. If you look carefully, Pedrito Martinez is on quinto and singing, Bembesito is standing up to the right, Emilo Barreto is sitting on the left next to Ramin Quintana. It looks like Jonathan may be on tumbador, and Abi Holiday is on tres dos. Abraham Rodriguez is singing duo along with Wilfredo "El Jabao" (ibae). Nicky, Mikel Sotolongo, and Pepe Calabaza (ibae) are around the circle, and it looks like Obanilu is playing guagua. If you notice to your right there is a man and woman dancing, the "man" just happens to be the late Canute Bernard (ibae) and the woman is non other than Ileanna Santamaria (Mongo's daughter). Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bomba @ Lincoln Center 8/25/01

Soon after Maestro Tito passed away, a tribute was held in his honor at Lincoln Center. Part of the show was dedicated to La Bomba, a group of rhythms and dance from the island of Boriquen. Tito Puente was the quintessential Nuyorican. As such, it was befitting to pay homage to this musical form. Felix "Jovan" Romero and Xiomara Rodriguez are the featured dancers. Louie Bauzo and Greg Askew play barilles de Bomba.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving....What we have always needed

Someone in the White House who understands us.....HAHAHAHAHAHA...Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sandy Perez Class - SF

(Sandy demonstrating a bembe part, Photo Credit: Geordie)

Ever since Geordie mentioned taking classes with Ramon "Sandy" Perez, I have been bugging him to send me some pics. Sandy probably plays one of the best quintos (if not the best) on the West Coast. I hope the guys in SF know how lucky they are to be able to sit down with such a player (I know Geordie does). If you didn't know, Sandy comes out of the much respected Villamil family tree and it goes something like this. (Info from Afrocubaweb.com)

Ñobla Cardenas, a babalawo and Omo Oggun who came from Oyo, capital of Yorubaland, tierra lukumi

Mauricio Piloto, a musician who also came from Oyo

Juan Villamil, son of Mauricio Piloto, married Tomasa Cardenas,daughter of Ñobla Cardenas

Alfred Villamil Cardenas

Julia Gonzalez Villamil married Felix Tapanez

Pedro Pablo "Pello" Tapanez Gonzalez, founder of the cabildo Zarabanda Briyumba Congo, percussionist, founder of Afrocuba de Matanzas

Edubije Villamil, daughter of Juan

Armando Matinez Villamil

Vasilio Villamil(Chango Dele), son of Juan

Fernando Villamil

Regina Villamil, daughter of Juan

Osvaldo Carmita (omo Obatala)

Cukita Augustina "Tinita" Villamil, daughter of Juan married Francisco Herrera ("Pancho Camaján")

Juana Herrera Villamil

Jesús Gonzalez Herrera

Daniel Elias Alfonso Herrera (master percussionist, teacher)

Oldani Alfonso Isquierdo (percussionist, Rumba Caliente)

Sara "Mima" Herrera Villamil (Afrocuba, wife of Francisco Zamora, director, Afrocuba)

Elias Villamil Cardenas (he didn’t take his father’s name)

Reynaldo "Naldo" Gove (Afrocuba)

Juan Carlos Gove (Afrocuba)

Israel Gove Villamil

Sara (Mima) Gove Villamil (singer, dancer with Afro Cuba married to Francisco "Minini" Zamora Chirino)

Olga Gove Villamil (only true child of Octavio Gove Tuscano, Tinita’s 2nd husband - the rest just took his name)

Eugenio Herrera Villamil

Dulce Maria Herrera Villamil married Pedro Morales

Lazara Morales Villamil

Luis (Luisito) Cansino Morales (percussionist with Los Muñequitos, formerly with Afro Cuba de Matanzas)

Lazaro Herrera Villamil

Laudelina Herrera Villamil married Filomena Perez Domínguez

Ana Perez (singer, los Muñequitos, omo Babaluaye) married Cipriano Nilo García Alfonso

Luis Enriques Garcia Perez (percussionist, Rumba Son, omo Obatala)

Ramón García (Sandy) Perez (percussionist, was with Afro Cuba now in US, omo Oya)

Jurien García Perez (percussionist, singer, dancer, was with Los Muñequitos, now with Afro Cuba)

Yasmani Alfonso Perez (son of Ana and Jesus Alfonso Miró, percussionist (quinto) with Los Muñequitos) singer, dancer, percussionist since age 3

Yurien (Obba Ile, Varadero)

Danilo Perez Herrera (percussionist, quinto, Muñequitos)

Danilito Perez Fernandez (formerly of Afrocuba, now choreographer for los Reyes del Tambor)

Maria Dolores (Dolores) Perez Herrera (singer, Afro Cuba)

Omara (translates, teaches English)

Dolores Regla (Paula) Perez Herrera (dancer with Afrocuba, omo Ochun, married Israel Berriel)

Israel (Puchito) Beriel Perez (percussionist with Afro Cuba de Matanzas, omo Elegua)

Teresa Perez Gonzalez

Teresa (Teresita) Dome Perez (dancer, singer, was with Afro Cuba, now in the US)

Odali Fuente

Tomasa Villamil, born in 1901 (recently deceased at age 97, daughter of Juan, 4 descendants in Rumba y Son) married Bernino García Beba

Teresa Pollero Noriega (Conjunto Foklorico) Claridad

Felipe Garcia Villamil (founder of Emi Keke, now in CA, where he teaches and plays)

Betina García Villamil (singer, Afro Cuba)

So if you are in the SF area and want to learn from "la mata" so to speak, then, "ya tu sabe".
Here are the details:
Sandy Perez - Afro-Cuban Percussion Workshop - (762 Fulton Street San Francisco) 8-10pm Thursdays $20

Thanks Geordie for keeping it going.
**Sandy also teaches a class in Berkeley at the La Pena Cultural Center at 1:15-3:00 on Saturdays.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bambula 11/29/2008

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eddie Bobe

A couple of weeks back I established contact with Eddie Bobe. We talked for a few minutes but since he was on his way to the studio, we couldn't really talk. He is currently working on a Nigerian/Cuban Bata project and it will feature the late great Puntilla (ibae) in probably one of the last recordings that he participated in.

(Eddie Bobe - iya, Photo Credit: Eddie Bobe)

I asked Eddie how he came up learning these traditions and here is what he had to say:

I basically learned the Folklore on my own. Rumba y Bata at the time in NYC, there were not a lot of players as there are now on the scene. It was a small circle and there was only a few old recordings that served as a musical model. We learned from each other and older players who had fragments of the vocabulary. It was a reciprocal study and learning experience. I was Frankie Malabe's protege so I came into the scene with an expansive musical sense. Julito Collazo brought the Bata Drums here to the US in the 50's, there was no Internet and limited access to information at the time so there were a lot of drummers with only the "A,B,C'S" until we aquired the other few pieces to the Rumba -Bata puzzle as tapes, books , clips, came into play. In the mid 70's Rene Lopez recorded Afro Cuba de Matanzas and others and brought back the tapes and they spread amongst the small Drumming -Rumba community. This gave us an opportunity to listen, study, dissect and internalize more of the musical vocabulary, then in 1980-81 Puntilla and other great Rumberos such as Manuel "El Llanero" who brought more of the Xyz's. We had some incredible rumbas and jams in the late 70's in Central Park and across the city before their arrival.

But before that, we were experimenting with the information that was around. The NYC Rumberos of my generation were just the right balance and blend in terms of the US development and evolution and understanding of Rumba and Bata folklore, because we used our own minds and had the talent when it came to interpreting the music correctly since we weren't born in the magic surroundings ofthe solares it was in our blood and conciousness. It's a complex subject because as the music is uniquely re-interpreted on many dimensions here in NYC or wherever it is played (in Puerto Rico, or the west coast) its rebuilt on misconceptions because of lack of information. So it becomes a new form stylistically wherever it travels. You could have 10 people watch the same movie or read the same book but your going to get 10 uniquely different interpretations on the same subject as it was also reinterpeted in Cuba from Spanish and African elements and became a new music and dance form there.

That's the paradox of information. Its a human abstraction codified with tradition, laws, religion and culture. So information, technique, musical aesthetics and sensibility are relative to that context.

Rumba & Bata are always in a state of flux. Everything in this dimension is imperfect and incomplete because everything is constantly evolving and developing, as the Rumba takes or adds on new musical characteristics.

*more to come from Eddie...

Anya Ade, Ilu Aye

Check out these vids that I found on youtube. I believe Nicky put these out there. The second one is a gas.

Ilu Aye, Cajon Espiritual

Anya Ade

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jonathan Troncoso

A conversation with Willie the other day sparked the post at hand. We usually end up talking about the cats that comprise Ilu Aye (I hope at this point you haven't gotten sick of hearing that name) but we do so for good reason. One, they at the forefront in the NYC musical scene when speaking of Afro Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican Roots music. And two, they are humble. This in itself is a rarity as I know many besides myself can attest to.

One of the main problems surrounding groups such as this is that the testerone level becomes so high that groups eventually disband for numerous reasons. It seems that Ilu Aye has stuck together and the key members are in for the long haul (let's hope).

Which leads us to our latest profile: Jonathan "JBlak" Troncoso.

To say that Jonathan can play is an understatement. Not only can he play, but he can play well and he seemlessly fits in with whichever groups he plays with. This fluidity has allowed Jonathan to not only become a first call percussionist but has also allowed him to play with most if not all NY's folkloric groups. He can sing, dance, he plays a mean caja to bembe and let's not even mention what he can do on a balsie drum.

(Jonathan on tambora, Photo Credit: Harold M Martinez)

Here is some info regarding Jonathan (taken from his myspace site):

Jonathan “JBlak” Troncoso, was born into a family of musicians (including grandfather Bienvenido Troncoso - the well-known composer) in Los Mina - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1982. Jonathan was inspired to be a musician at an early age by his father, Domingo Troncoso, a percussionist. At the age of five, he picked up his first instrument, "la tambora", and amazed his family and neighbors. Jonathan’s ease and fluidity with the instrument had been learned observing his father, a professional musician. Shortly thereafter, Jonathan began playing guira and later, bongo. Versed early on in playing percussion for popular music such as merengue, bachata, and salsa, Jonathan began playing professionally as his father’s young protégé. His musical life changed and interests shifted when Jonathan moved to New York City in 1992, at the age of 10.

Displaced by the move to New York and fascinated by the presence of live percussion on New York City streets, Jonathan began training in Afro-Cuban and Afro-Dominican traditional percussion with Manolo Mota, his first teacher in a foreign land. By 2000 Jonathan was invited to join Claudio Fortunato y Los Guedes, a well-known ensemble of Afro-Dominican traditional musicians dedicated to preserving the Dominican traditions of “los palos” for sacred and popular functions. Increasingly, Jonathan was drawn to the pulse of street-side rumbas throughout New York and began to embrace Afro-Cuban musical traditions as eagerly as he embraced the musics of the Dominican Republic. At once, he had become a child of the Hip-Hop generation in New York City, where he performed Spanish Hip-Hop and Reggeatón. As much a student of professional musicians and traditional masters in New York, as the streets, Jonathan was a sponge for culture - a characteristic that broadened his musical horizons and inspired his study and later, mastery of several instruments in the Afro-Caribbean musical traditions.

Driven by his familial influences and the teachings of numerous other master musicians and percussionists, including David Oquendo, Roman Diaz, Pedrito Martínez, Pupi Insua, Felix Sanabria, Ernesto Rodriguez and Boni Raposo, Jonathan has dedicated himself to the African musical traditions of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and most recently, Puerto Rico. As an emerging professional musician, Jonathan is known for playing a range of Afro-Caribbean genres, including, palo dominicano, Afro-Cuban rumba, bata, palo, and abakuá rhythms, and is presently studying Afro-Puerto Rican bomba y plena, two genres he embraced while collaborating with Puerto Rican percussionists Nicholas Laboy and Obanilú Allende. Influenced by the dynamic interaction between his peers - namely, young Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians in New York - Jonathan co-founded Grupo Ilú Ayé (previously known as La Yuma) in 2003, a ground-breaking group of Afro-Caribbean percussionists dedicated to preserving and promoting the sacred and popular drumming traditions of the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Jonathan is respected for his versatility and willingness to learn and experiment with fusions of different genres and rhythms. This versatility has propelled him to the stage with several well-established folkloric groups, including Raíces Habaneras, Felix Sanabria’s sacred bata ensemble Aña Ade, and folkloric troupe Los Afortunados. He has also freelanced with groups such as Oriki Omi Odara, Yerbabuena, Palo Monte, La 21 División and Alma Moyo. He continues to collaborate with musicians and noted musical ensembles throughout New York City. Jonathan’s career continues to expand to new venues and outlets. In early 2005, Jonathan was featured on NBC’s Third Watch, with Aña Ade.

Jonathan lives in the Bronx where he continues to collaborate with local artists, and broaden his own creative pursuits.)

Jonathan w/ Los Munequitos de Matanzas, Photo Credit: Barry Cox)

(Matthew on cachimbo, Jonathan on caja, Danny on mula)

He has recorded with:

Ben Lapidus - "Vive Jazz"

Smithsonian Folkways - "Quisqueya en El Hudson"

*top pic, Credit: Harold M Martinez

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fundacion Cultural Bayahonda, Vol. 1 (1997)

The great thing about groups like Ilu Aye, is that they offer the listener an opportunity to broaden their musical horizons. I am without a doubt a self professed rumba nut. I can listen to rumba, bata, guiro and other Afro Cuban musical forms all day long. I can also listen to bomba, plena, latin jazz, and some mambo. Up until recently Dominican Roots music was totally off my radar. For some reason I just slept on it big time. With help from friends, Danny Diaz, Ramon Ortiz, and groups like Ilu Aye, I have been trying to play a little catch up.

Ramon Ortiz passed along a recording by the name of "Bayahonda". I was so grateful since I had no congo, palo, salve, gaga in my collection. Upon first listen I was completely in awe of the energy and technical proficiency of the drummers and singers. This is some heavy music and you haven't been to an Ilu Aye performance, then you need to check them out because when they break out the balsie drums and panderetas, watch out!

Fundacion Cultural Bayahonda, is basically an agency dedicated to the preservation, study and cultural development of Afro Caribbean art forms, (in this case Dominican Roots and some fusion). Here is the groups' purpose (in Spanish).

La Fundación Cultural Bayahonda es una institución sin fines de lucro concebida como un espacio plural y democrático, basado en la diversidad cultural y en criterios de participación colectiva .
La misión principal de la Fundación Cultural Bayahonda es de aportar a la revalorización de nuestra identidad y a los procesos de transformación social mediante la articulación de diferentes propuestas artísticas y culturales.
Su objetivo superior es aportar a la reconstrucción de nuestra identidad cultural mediante la revalorización de las distintas manifestaciones populares, dadas a nivel comunitario, regional y nacional y contribuir a los procesos de transformación de nuestra incorporando a la vez una perspectiva de genero y una opción de desarrollo articulada a la cultura y generar mayores niveles de calidad en las propuestas artísticas y de gestión cultural alternativas dentro de una opción de desarrollo viable y sostenible.

(Click on the following link for some sound samples)

So if this music moves you as much as it does me, you can get your copy by clicking on the pic above.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Siento una voz que me dice..... Are Iye O!

I have been trying to build up my rumba repertoire, and although I do not consider myself a singer at all, when I get together with the guys and we play a little rumba without lyrics, it kills me, so I'll usually work up the nerve to sing a verse or two and bring a coro in, just so things sound halfway decent. If its one thing that I have learned about the rumba is that it is comprised of 3 necessary ingredients: Drum, Voice, and Dance. Without this triumvirate you are just jamming. So I have been trying to learn as many rumba "standards" as I can. "Donde Vas, Mulato, Donde Vas", "El Kikiriki", "Palo Quimbombo", and "Malanga". So as I am singing "Malanga" again and again, while playing guagua, I start thinking, "Why not try and do a little research on the legendary rumbero, Jose Oviedo "Malanga".

Now Malanga, along with other rumberos such as, Chaborro, Andrea Baro, Mulense, Roncona, Pancho Mumba, Macho, have been canonized to the point where at times we may not even believe they existed as humans, but rather the legends they portray in the songs in which they are mentioned. But lets dig a little deeper shall we?

A quick google inquiry dug up the following, written by Maria del Carmen Mestas.

His body stopped moving and his soul departed to only god knows where. His eyes were still open and a fine line of blood left his mouth. José Rosario Oviedo, the best timbero ever had just enjoyed his last pleasure of rumba.
The day before he had had a weird dream: a faceless woman was taking him by the hand and leading him along a path of silence. He woke up and the vertigo made him feel as his bed was a ship about to sink. He looked out the window and the cold wind brought shivers down his spine: little by little he managed to get on his feet. It had to be that way. That was going to be a great day. His friends were waiting for him to watch him dance and he had to show them that he was still the king, the chosen one by the rumba goddess.
On his way to the party he ran across an old man who told him: "Malanga, don’t go. Go back home. This is not your day." The dancer laughed and his small teeth shone in the dark. He turned away and kept moving toward the challenge.
Before he got there he stopped and tapped the rhythm in his mind. He also rehearsed a few steps of Columbia, an exclusive dance for men, even when Andrea Baró and Chichí Armenteros became famous Columbia female dancers. He pretended to bat a homerun, then to bullfight a fierce bull ready to run him over, and finally to fly a kite willing to escape in the blue sky.
The party had already begun. Chenche and Mulense, with their usual skills, gave a magnificent dissertation to the audience. Then, José Rosario, who was never the first to come out, danced and danced to everyone’s joy.
Short and fat, but with quick moves, Malanga challenged gravity with a bottle over his head looking up the sky. Then, he produced several sharp knives from his waist and, with a unique, violent, and feverish dance, he stole a big hand from the audience. Then he had fun, cracked a few jokes, and strolled with proud amongst the women present at the party. He had a glass of cheap aguardiente in his hand.
Suddenly the great timbero dropped the glass and took his hands to his aching stomach. His look seemed lost in the distance. His legs weakened and then he fell heavily to the floor. Someone asked, "Malanga, Malanga, what’s wrong, bro?" The rumbero wanted to answer but his words wouldn’t come out. Then he died.
Who was the murderer? Whose hand dropped poison or ground crystal in the glass? Was it a broken-hearted affair? Was it vengeance? Was it the rivalry of another rumbero? Or maybe politics? Believe it or not, Malanga had enemies due to his increasing support to the liberal party, of which he was a political sergeant. Everyone gave his or her version of the facts. However, the truth was never known. It remains as buried as the famous rumbero.

Some people say he was born 5 October 1885, in La Esperanza estate, Alacranes. Others say he was born in Sabanilla del Encomendador, in the properties of a wealthy landowner named Oviedo, near Unión de Reyes, Matanzas. He was the son of an unknown father and Francisca Funciona or Pascuala Oviedo.
There are no pictures of him, only the spoken portrait of those who met him.
He was a nice guy. His face was marked by chickenpox. He had big eyes. He was nicknamed Malanga when he was a kid. He was a black guy who danced and played rumba very well.
People say that in Guines, Havana, he had a group of fans who would always come to watch him dance in the porticos of Café La Lombilla, where he often came to dance rumba. The businessmen of the café appreciated it so much that even gave him a commission because he drew many clients to the place.
He would often travel to Ciego de Ávila to the sugarcane harvest. There is a story that reflects his vocation for rumba. One day someone came to the fields looking for him. He was needed urgently. But he was nowhere to be seen. Then someone asked: Why don’t we play some rumba? And if fact, he showed up in seconds hoe in hand.
It is believed that he became so famous that the Club Atenas, and exclusive place for black intellectuals in Havana, welcomed him in their premises because of his dancing prodigies.
Before his involvement in the Guerrita de Agosto, the dancer had founded the Union de Reyes’s Timberos club, who followed him around the country.
In the 1920s he had a strike of bad luck. His daughter Bernarda died one month after she was born, and later he broke up with his wife Federica Crespo.
Even when his death might have happened in Ciego de Ávila, some people say it happened in a shantytown in Ceballos, Morón.
An old musician of the times, Cecilio Campanería -Campana Naveró-, ascertained that Malanga and a group of rumberos were invited by Chenche and Mulense to travel to Morón "to have a ball," but everyone "smelled a rat" and declined. Only the ever defying Malanga went looking for death. He paid no attention to his friends’ warnings. He wouldn’t listen to anyone.
"I saw him depart on that one-way trip. I insist it was envy, Chenche and Mulense’s envy. That poison was in their hands."
Where is Malanga’s body? That’s another mystery. A gravedigger who met him back then is sure he didn’t bury him in the Ciego de Ávila cemetery. Then, if he did die there as so many people claim, where was he buried? Or maybe his body was secretly buried to avoid a police investigation? Was it really a murder?
Research hasn’t shed any more light over his death, which shocked rumberos and friends alike. It is known that it happened in the 1920s, maybe in 1923, and that the Unión de Reyes mayor, Ramón González Quevedo, allowed a three-day feast as tribute to the great timbero. There is a park in Unión de Reyes called Parque de la Rumba José Rosario Oviedo, and musicians play their conga drums there to keep Malanga’s flame alive.

So while the purpose of "Sentimiento" remains to highlight rumberos, bomberos, pleneros and Afro Caribbean percussionists from the NYC area, It would almost be criminal not to mention some of the early pioneers whose influence has definitely stood the test of time. Thats all on Malanga for now, but if you want to do more research on the Cuban rumberos of yesteryear you need to check out: (These are the cats that are really tackling the Cuban side of things)

Esquina Rumbera (Barry Cox' Site)

Conjunto Folklorico Nacional Blog

La Rumba No Es Como Ayer