Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rene Lopez II

(This great pic shows from left to right: Apache, Tito, Rene Lopez Sr, Rene Lopez Jr, and Ivan Ayala at front, Photo Credit: Mark Sanders)

A couple of weeks ago I was on the phone with Jose Rivera, and somehow Rene Lopez Jr name came up. I asked Jose if he could pass along “Renesito’s” (as Jose calls him) phone number, and of course Jose obliged. When I called Rene Lopez Jr., I was pretty excited, and mainly for 2 reasons. One, I had never spoken to Rene, except for a minute or two on a previous occasion, I knew he had a lot of information to share, and I am glad he was willing to do so. The other reason is that a couple of years ago I had the opportunity to interview his father, Rene Lopez Sr. So me interviewing Rene Jr kind of brings things in full circle (at least that’s the way I see it). Let’s start at the beginning shall we? (For simplification purposes I will refer to Rene Jr as simply Rene, and Rene Sr, as Rene Sr)

I had come to the conclusion that Rene was born in the NYC area. To my surprise Rene told me that he was actually born in the Philippines, on a naval base where Rene Sr was stationed. After spending some time in the Philippines, in San Francisco, and Puerto Rico, Rene and family move to NYC and settle in Washington Heights (around 150th and Broadway, where Rene’s mother Zuni is originally from). They would later move to the Bronx.

Rene had an early introduction to the world of latin music and percussion. He was given a small tack head conga when he was around 3 years old, and he even mentioned to have pictures of himself as a toddler with the conga in the stroller. As a young kid, Rene Sr’s involvement in the latin music scene of the day afforded Rene with many opportunities to observe and learn from various notable musicians. Rene Sr. started Rene off on conga. Rene mentions having never had a real “teacher” per se, but learned rather, from a variety of people. Rene credits Nicky Marrero with showing him some timbal, and Manny Oquendo with showing him some bongo. As far as congas he was influenced early on by the likes of, Jerry Gonzalez, Milton Cardona, Gene Golden, and Frankie Rodriguez among others. It’s safe to say that the Grupo Folklorico crew definitely had an early, direct influence on a young Rene. When they would rehearse he would be allowed to sit in at times and play with guys like Virgilio Marti and others. As far as rumbero influences, he mentions, Babaila, Totico, the whole Central Park Rumba scene, etc…

(Rene and Tony Rosa, Photo Credit: Allen Spatz)

The first time Rene went to a club, he went to see Eddie Palmieri at Casino 14. It just so happens that the tumbador at the time was non other than Francisco Aguabella, which of course had a deep impact on Rene. Rene Sr, would start to take Rene to the rumbas, and one place in particular where they used to have rumbas was Angelito’s on 113th st and Lenox Ave. After guys would finish their gigs for the night they would go to Angelito’s para rumbiar. Here is where Rene remembers seeing a great display of dancing performed by none other than the late Patato.

“You know how back in the day you had the broomstick with the horse’s head on it, and little kids would play like they are riding a horse. During a rumba they get the coro going, “So so, caballo so so, so so, caballo so so”, and Patato while dancing rumba takes a broomstick and started riding it like a horse.” (Rene Lopez II, 9/08)

Rene was fortunate to be in the right place and time where he could experience these particular events.

I asked Rene about the now-classic album “Totico Y Sus Rumberos”. He mentions that he was around 18 or 19 at the time of the recording. According to Rene, the recording is important because it’s a meeting of the “old and new”, so to speak. On one hand you have Puntilla fresh out the boat playing rumba like its being played in Havana in the 80’s, and then you have Totico who has been in the NY for a while already who is playing rumba like it was played in Havana in the 60’s. Not only that but you also have Puerto Ricans, African Americans, and Cubans playing together as well.

(Rene playing quinto at Armando's Rumba, also in this vid you have Jose "El Chino" Real singing lead vocals and Izzy Davila singing coro next to El Chino, Fernando "El Poeta is in the mix, and Willie is playing guagua at the beginning, Video Credit: Willie Everich)

Rene himself plays conga, guiro, in the world of bata he known as an “okonkolero”, meaning he specializes in playing the okonkolo (although he mentioned that he is continuously studying and developing his craft). Rene has his own group in the Tampa area that plays guiro, palo, bata, cajon, etc…

Here are the key members of his group:

*Humberto “Pito”
*Reggie Washington “Choco”

Rene himself plays drum and sings. (I forgot to ask him the name of this guiro group unfortunately). At times Felito Oviedo will sing the group. Also Ramin Quintana (used to play iya with Ilu Aye and bata with pretty much everyone in the NYC) plays with the group as well since moving to Tampa a couple of months ago. Rene was telling me that cajon is really popular now and that everyone is asking for a cajon ceremony. He told me the first cajon gig he got, he had two weeks to prepare and in those two weeks he actually had to make the cajones since he didn’t have any at the time.

Rene comes across as one with solid opinions about rumba:

“I have always been a believer of one thing; the rumba is 3 drums or less, tumbador, tres dos, quinto”.

He told me that there is a certain beauty in the simplicity of 3 or less drums, and that when you have groups playing a cajon, two congas each and such, something is lost. Those old Munequitos recordings where the tumba is conversing with the tres and vice versa, and the tres is conversing with the quinto and so forth…that is what it is about.

Rene told me to contact him anytime I wanted an honest opinion about the music. I think I will take him up on that offer so we can continue getting as much info out there as we can.

Thanks Rene.

(Rene Lopez Jr - conga, Video Credit: razalatinaperu)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to correct one fact in your story. Rene's mother, Zuni is from Carolina, Puerto Rico and moved to NYC in her early teens.