(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.