Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rumbos de la Rumba/Routes of Rhythm

I had previously alluded to a recording that had come out previously entitled "The Routes of Rumba". Berta Jottar reached out and asked if I could shed a little more light on the recording in question. Now I have heard the recording and it sounds great, but of course what else do you expect when you have Roman Diaz and Pedrito Martinez at the helm?

(Roman & Pedrito, Video Credit: bjottar)

(Pupy, Video Credit: bjottar)

Here is some great info regarding the CD:

The Project

Rumbos de la Rumba (The Routes of Rumba) is the result of my collaboration with music virtuosos Pedro Martínez and Román Díaz. It is a conceptual musical journey about Rumba’s performance culture understood as a set of socio-historical relations. Each track is located within a different psychic space to evoke a sense of walking in la Havana, or circulating in the African Diaspora, or feeling caught between love and conflict, between the secular and the sacred.

Soon after their arrival to New York, I saw Pedrito and Román performing at La Esquina Habanera, a well-established Cuban Rumba space in Union City, New Jersey. This project is their first recording in the U.S. as a duo elaborating the entire music in the Rumba guarapachanguera style. Most Rumba records are performed by established ensembles, or what is known as a “ven tú,” a jam session organized by invitation. This work however traces Pedrito and Román’s musical synergy.

I proposed six essential Rumba concepts to Pedrito and Román: dialogue, prohibition, conflict, seduction, Abakuá, éxodo and fragmentation. Pedrito and Román interpreted these concepts by arranging popular Rumbas and composing new ones. Both decided to interpret the fragmentation concept individually. Pedrito created his “Encyclopedia of the Drum,” a number performed with the batá drums—a double-headed set of three drums considered the “Ph.D.” of African drumming. His piece is a salute to Élegua, Ogún and Ochosí, Yoruba warrior deities, also known as the Orishas from Cuba’s Regla de Ocha (Santería) religion. While Pedrito’s “Encyclopedia” shows one of rumba’s spiritual precedents, Román deconstructed the concept of fragmentation into an eight-movement composition. “Fragmentacion” traces Rumba ethnic roots and culminates in a totality: “all of a sudden you are in a Santería ceremony, then all of sudden you are in a rumba, this is Havana.” (Román Díaz)

This project is also about Pedrito and Román’s encounter with the diversity of NYC rumberos. We invited Alfredo Díaz "Pescao" who arrived to the U.S. in 1980 with the Mariel Exodo. Pescao’s contribution was not only his voice and original compositions, but his witty sense of humor bringing the street and solar energy into the project, elements of el ambiente de la Rumba: El Brete (neigborhood gossip), Salud Estomacal (on culinary matters), and “El Monumento,” a tribute honoring Manuel Martínez Olivera “El Llanero.” Pedrito, Román and Pescao performed together these three numbers, creating a sparkling call and response dynamic necessary in a good Rumba. Thus this recording connects two Rumba generations in the Diaspora, Pedrito and Román’s, who were entirely raised in Revolutionary Cuba and departed during the Special Period, and Pescao and Manuel’s generation who grew up in-between the Batista and Castro regimes and left during the Mariel boatlift. Two migratory generations still connected through Rumba as their common denominator and epistemological framework.

Most recordings of Latin music do not emphasize attention to the quality and diversity of the tumbadora drum’s sound because drums are reduced to their rhythmic function. It is also known that the best Rumbas are when they are performed live and spontaneously. However, this recording was done in studio and most of the instruments (with the exception of tracks 3, 6 and 8) were recorded independently. Kamilo Kratc concentrated in the analysis of each drum’s color and sound texture in order to reproduce the melorhythm and harmonies resulting from their combination. Kamilo’s art was also to experiment with different microphones in order to obtain a recording that captured the sound closest to each drum’s natural sounds.

The sound mix was a collective effort. With Kamilo, I was particularly interested in the reproduction of the different drum sounds’ spatial relations. Pedrito and Román also participated in different mixing sessions, they work with the various sounds, their combinations and their drums diverse manifestations. This resulted in sound mixes that complemented each other, adding to each song our different moods and sentiments. The final sound mix was about Rumba’s polyrhythmic figures, to recreate the dialogue between the various drums and human voices. For instance, “when one sound is telling another sound that he has not much time left, that the Abakuá sound is coming.” (Román Díaz) Pedrito also pays particular attention to the choral harmonies; with Kamilo and Maribel they experiment with the creation of Prohibition’s chorus. This resulted in a totally different version of Protesta Carabalí, the song’s real name, a classic made famous by Pedro Fariña and Juan Campos Cárdenas “Chan” in Cuba.

Thus this project is invested in Rumba’s multiple trajectories and layers to demonstrate the presence of history and memory, as they conflate momentarily within Rumba’s contemporary sound, “lo antaño con lo moderno.” (Román Díaz) While Rumba is a highly intellectual, emotional and spiritual, it is also about street culture. Thus where there is rumba, there is controversy, gossip and poetic conspiracies.


This recording captures Pedrito and Román’s musical chemistry right after their arrival from Havana, thus documenting their unique interpretation of their generation’s sound, the Rumba guarapachanguera, a grass-roots music movement that emerged in the late 1970s and that introduced a different Rumba rhythm, the interplay of beats and rests, or what the rumberos call “silences.” The guarapachanguero style juxtaposes traditional instruments with the invention of new ones, for example the “raspadura” drums. Raspaduras are pyramidal wood box instruments which size determines their tonality. Marielito Manuel Martínez Olivera "El Llanero" baptized the guarapachanguero by naming it before his departure from Cuba in 1980. The rhythm, however, was actually invented by his neighbors and cousins, the López brothers, better known as "Los Chinitos," a Rumba family from La Korea suburb in Havana. Los Chinitos, Francisco Mora “Pancho Quito,” Jacinto Schull “El Chori,” and the ensemble of Yoruba Andabo were this musical movement’s precursors and Pedrito and Román’s direct influence.

The invention of the guarapachanguero’s new rhythm and drums is a key indication of Rumba’s improvisational nature, an acoustic elaboration that showcases Rumba’s experimentation based on a profound sense of polyrhythmic knowledge based on the clave (performed with two wood sticks or two different spoons) timing, and the necessary conversation among drummers, singers and dancers. Thus improvisation or inventar (to invent) is a great example of the rumbero idiosyncrasy: anything rumberos think becomes a Rumba lyric, anything the rumbero touches becomes an acoustic surface, and when the police arrives there are no drums on sight but wood trunks, suitcases and spoons.

Participating artist include, Pedrito Martinez, Roman Diaz, Alfredo Diaz "Pescao", Maribel Garcia Soto, Ileana Santamaria, Kamilo Kratc.

If you are interested, which you probably should be, you can buy "Routes of Rhythm" by clicking here.

1 comment:

Bongos not Bombs said...

This is a good CD. Kind of a different rumba CD which is nice. I've had it for a little while now.
The added videos are really fun.
I dig the intellectual approach taken during the pressentation and production of the recording. Adds a new dimension.