Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rumba University of the Streets

(Johnny Conga and Willie Everich in 1973 @ 149th st on the Grand Concourse, Photo Credit: Willie "El Ruso" Everich)

In 1972 I embarked upon my percussion journey. I had acquired several teachers most important of which was "Trap" or Johnny Conga as he prefers to be called these days. JC lived on Walton Ave near 166th St and Mulally Park, the rumba university, was several blocks away. His day time gig at that point was Mental Health Worker, a position with NYC's HHC. One of his colleagues was one Luciano "Chano" Rodriguez who was also an accomplished percussionist and artist and lived on Jerome and 165th St; directly across the street from the park. Phil Newsome, timbalero with Harlow at the time also lived in Chano's building as did percussionist/artist and one of the ORIGINAL founders of El Museo Del Barrio and the Taller Boricua, Adrian Garcia.

(Left to Right: Adrian Garcia, Willie "El Ruso" Everich, Amanda Everich, Johnny Conga, the late Chano, Photo Credit: Willie "El Ruso")

Just west, up a long flight of stairs, a group had taken over a building and claimed it for the people. They also included many percussionists and artists as well. They represented the African American presence in the park and included such players as Yomi Yomi, Balogun, Akinsele and Dafadi among others. These drummers travelled the world as members of the reknowned Chuck Davis Dance Company. They introduced me to Djimbe. Many of the members of this collective would go on to help found Oyotungi Village . They were the very first I saw play Bata (at the Studio Museum in Harlem) and DunDun, the talking drums . Other visitors to the park included Eloi Marti, older brother of Virgilio, Tapia, Osorio (who would become conguero with Charanga 76) and Henry Fiol of Saoco fame. Chano's apartment became a Mecca of percussion with many jam sessions lasting for hours as everyone honed their skills and fed their heads. I myself spent many hours there playing and listening to my teachers who were tough but fair. If Chano's apartment was the Dean's office then Mulally was the classroom where rumba and other rhythms were played just about every night. Chano was also in possession of a vast music collection that afforded plenty of research material. For someone wanting to learn to play, Mulally provided an opportunity that you would be hard pressed to recreate. It was without a doubt the Rumba University of the Streets and I am one of the extrememly lucky alumni.



(Mullally Park, Bronx NY)

4 comments:

JohnnyConga said...

I want to personally THANK Willie for the trip down "our" memory lane..We had at one time actually jammed in Chano's apartment almost everynight for a whole year. I remember one time at least 13 people jamming in his living room in his 8th floor apartment...the neighbors weren't too appreciative, I must say...some had actually moved Out OF the buidling because of us jamming for hours on end...UMM the good 'ol' dys...keep the Rumba Alive!..."JC" Johnny Conga...

Sentimiento Manana said...

thanks for the post JC...we have alot more stuff to share, so stay tuned...and to all others stayed tuned to JC's radio show (the link is on my links sheet)....

CongaDR said...

Very nice to hear about the early days in NY.

Keep up the good work!

Tony

Sentimiento Manana said...

Thanks for checking Tony, more to come.