Sunday, August 17, 2008

GFYEN...still going strong...

(GFYEN Rehearsing at Boy's Harbor, Jorge Maldonado far left?, Abe Rodriguez, Gene Golden, Puntilla, Rene Lopez II, Pic courtesy of Jose Rivera)

The great thing about music is that when the music is good, it is timeless. Such is the case with Grupo Folklorico y Experimental Nuevayorkino. This group of renegades or pirates, whose concept really started in the basement of Andy and Jerry Gonzalez house in the Bronx, took the music and their concepts of traditional, fusion and modernity to a whole new level.

Their first album/recording "Concepts in Unity" has become a classic recording. It really has something for everyone, guajira, rumba, plena, guaracha, bata, even a mazurka thrown in for good measure. Their second album "Lo Dice Todo", has bomba, rumba, batarumba, guiro, son, y charanga. If you don't have these recordings I urge you to get them while you can, because as with any good thing, they will probably be hard to come by in the future. They both have great liner notes thanks to Rene Lopez well...being Rene Lopez. He has always put out a great product and you can see that with every "Montuno Records" release which has been put out. Record Mart (the legendary subway record store owns the rights to the music at this point I believe. So if any reissues are going to be done on this catalog, Jesse is the man to talk to).

Montuno Records1470 BroadwayBMT Subway Mezzanine,New York, NY 10036Tel: 212-840-0580, Fax: 212-768-3074 Jesse Masckowitz (President)

Grupo Folklorico was in my opinion ahead of their time. At a time when most NY based latin music was basically pushing the Fania "salsa sound", GFYEN was really making music for musicians as opposed to making music for the dancers (although if you ask me "Anabacoa", off their first album is as dance worthy as any mainstream salsa tune). They actually started out as "Conjunto Anabacoa", with their first gig being at Wesleyan University as a sort of "vente tu" type of agrupacion.

I won't go over too much info about GFYEN because there is already a great article on the web touching on the history of this group. (by Diogenes Ivan Riley for

As the above video suggests Rene got them back together not too long ago for a concert in Berlin. In the above video you get to hear Rene explain himself what the group is about, along with seeing clips of the concert in Berlin. If you notice, obviously this isn't the same GFYEN as before, there are new players, most notably, Tony Rosa (great conguero, batalero, guirero and so on, he plays not only in popular bands, i.e. Conjunto Libre but also plays guiros (bembe con chekere), bata and, rumba in the NYC area). Puntilla, along with Abraham Rodriguez are singing coro and lead respectively. Jorge Maldonado (of Libre fame) is singing coro and lead as well. He is one hell of a singer and great guiro player as well (i.e. actual guiro not chekere). If you can catch him playing with Libre (the play at SOB's at least once every couple of months), you are in for a treat. Out of the original members, there is Jerry Gonzalez, Gene Golden, Oscar Hernandez, Andy Gonzalez, and I think even Reynaldo Jorge (whom I think was a mainstay). Unfortunately Milton wasn't there, Chocolate, Willie Garcia and Frankie Rodriguez. I like to point out Frankie, since he was probably one of my favorite parts of those recordings along with the part he played in Jerry's first "Fort Apache" recordings. Like Rene Lopez told me, "Frank was such a big part of GFYEN, he absence will be felt."

GFYEN recently did a concert for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (I hate that I missed it especially since it was probably the last big concert of Puntilla's life). Here is the press release:

The Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert: Grupo Folklorico y Experimental NuevayorquinoSaturday, June 28, the Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert will take place at 6 p.m. on the Texas Opry House stage. This concert series, held each year during the Festival, pays tribute to the founding Festival director by honoring his colleagues, like-minded advocates and the tradition bearers they have supported. This year, the concert series will honor René López for his work with traditional genres of Latin music.
The concert will feature Grupo Folklórico y Experimental Nuevayorquino. Grupo Folklórico became legendary through its experimental recordings that brought together gifted, obscure elder musicians with deep roots in Puerto Rican and other Caribbean and Latin American communities and bright young musicians who would grow to master traditional musical genres. The group became a major innovator in various Latin and other music genres, and it continues to identify itself and its art as grounded in traditional community-based musical expression and community participation through dance, festivals and religious, mainly Afro-Cuban, practices.
This groundbreaking musical group, mostly from the south Bronx in New York, went on to establish new frontiers in Latin and American music. The group’s musicians reunite at this year’s Festival to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their three watershed experimental recordings from the 1970s.

(I wouldn't be surprised if Rene or the Smithsonian put out the live recording of this concert. One can dream right?)

Willie El Ruso sent me some great pics from the concert that were taken by Allen Spatz (great photographer who has photographed many a latin event, thats an understate in the least as I imagine his collection to be out of this world). In the first pic the rumbero on the left is none other than Rene's son, Rene Lopez jr. He is a great rumbero. Willie has some great home video of him playing tumba, quinto. He is part of a Bronx crew of rumberos that have been playing in the city since God knows how long. (I will be posting more information on said crew consisting of guys like Jose Rivera, Apache Rivera, Willie El Ruso, Angel Rodriguez, Ralphie Davila, Izzy Davila, etc...) His playing can be heard on a great recording titled "Son Primero". I am going to try and get more info on him as soon as I can. He also plays a mean quinto on the "Totico y Sus Rumberos" album as well.

(Rene Lopez II and Tony Rosa playing to me what seems like a Junior and a Skin on Skin conga, Photo by Allen Spatz)

(Gene Golden- Okonkolo, Orlando "Puntilla" Rios-Iya, Abraham Rodriguez-Itotele, I am thinking maybe some Sonoc bata, Photo by Allen Spatz)

(Jorge Maldonado-far left, Abraham Rodriguez, Manny Oquendo-bongoes, and Orlando Puntilla Rios, Photo by Allen Spatz)

(Andy Gonzalez with his famous muecas, Photo by Allen Spatz)

There is much more to write about GFYEN but if you ask me, listening to their music is the best explanation one can give. It has stood the test of time, and will continue to do so.

Below an interview I had with Rene Lopez in 03':

You can download off of divshare @

Thanks to Willie for sending me the great GFYEN pics, and for giving me the idea for this post...

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