We had a great time the other night at Ashkenaz, one of the best local venues for world music, just north of Berkeley. It has a long history as a club and was an important venue in the 60's.
The show was a benefit to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Peoples Park, the famous place of 60's protest near the Berkeley campus.
At one point, the entire country was fixed on this little park, the protests that defined a generation, and the clash of differing American cultures. This was about Vietnam, social welfare, community self determination, the separation of rich and poor, and police brutality among other concerns. The debate continues, and its not difficult to see the same theme in the world bank/imf protests of today.
The bill: Funky Nixons, Wire Graffiti, Marimba Pacifica, with Wavy Gravy mcing and doing some spoken word/story telling.
It was so fun to be a part of this fund raiser, as I was a one year old kid when the park was founded. But have always had a connection to the event, somehow.
Hadley Louden's band, Marimba Pacifica, had a few of the lead players drop out at the last minute. So he threw in a Rumba tune to mix things up, called Rick and I up to play.
We did a slow guaguanco. I was on Tumba, Ruskin Vaughn on Segunda, Hadley on Piano, Yaya on Quinto... Hadley wanted to play a smooth kicked back Californian groove, like a Yambu without a care in the world... yea, its somewhat of an oxymoron, but the sound he was after worked beter with the band.. Ruskin wanted to play up on it like a Cuban, Yaya was also trying to speed things up... and i was in the middle trying to make peace by playing just up enough while trying to groove. At one point, Ruskin is looking at me like, push it man! and behind him Hadley on Piano saying slow it down, behind me Yaya trying to get clave up tempo.. funny.
After, we were in the green room with the cats from Funky Nixons and had the most hilarious time.. these guys were cracking me up. These cats were sharp. .. quality comedy.. that was too fun.
One of the cats in the band, pictured in back to the right of this pic, is actually the mayor of Albany! He was a crack-up and we couldnt tear ourselves from the entertaining conversation, till they had to go on.
I didnt know his ax, but I expected him to rip on guitar or something... but he was rocking the cow bell! yea man! I can just see this band performing as teens in the thick of it.. back in the day.
Fun to be a part of it, as I was born late in '67. For some reason, I feel like an honerary hippy!
Irish Rick brought his set of Cedar Bauers i helped him piece together. The set completely rocks.. so fun to play.
As far as the players of said instruments... we are sorting out a few things, as far as how we can make a more solid thing out of the new group of cats. Most of the additions, like myself, are not always the best players in the house, so it makes for a few awkward situations from time to time.
But somehow, and with the experience of a few heavies playing with straight, grooving parts.. we were all able to get the best sound with the players at hand. Its always amazing how well it all works out. I guess that's why the 9th anniversary is coming up soon. (BBQ, PARTY to be announced!)
Later in the day, the heavies came out, as usual, and really played well. Javier Navarrette, Trevino Leon, Pili Martinez, John Santos, Yaya Maldonado, Hector Lugo and the rest of the gang.
Yaya, Hector, Santos, Orlando singing some really fun tunes... mixing it up.
Hector has some great material, and he's really going for it, as far as learning the songs, etc.
I really appreciate his quinto playing. He has a really clean style.. very well thought out. He has a new project, i hear the heavies are laying tracks for.. not sure when its being released, but I will post it here when it does. It should be fat, with many of the biggest names of the bay on the recording.
Anyway, at the rumba, these cats from LA came to check out the scene and play for us.
I was giving him a hard time for asking me for the quinto, just as i sat down to play. I just wish they would give it a listen, then take the drum... That being said, if I knew who the cat was, and knew he wanted to play, I wouldnt have been sitting at the quinto.
I didnt catch their names, but word is, the cat ripping on quinto was Francisco Aguabella's cousin. He played some sweet licks, ripping it up. He had an unusual, but tasty style.
so.. I waited, and caught a super sweet wave...
I sat down on quinto with John and Javier, Yaya singing a Yambu that I will always remember. John and Javier are the most solid two players one can ask for... anywhere in the entire country... the two best cats to lay down a super solid, and gracefully tasty Yambu.
I can tell you, it was like the bombing the fresh powder shoots of Utah.. carving up the cleanest set at mavericks.. way more fun than nailing a 3pointer at the buzzer.. these moments, I adore.
Anyway, the session was packed and successful, the 9th year running.
Yaya has really to be commended. In fact, he should be eligible for some community arts award or something. The cat really has made a huge contribution to the art form and culture of Rumba in the Bay. Im going to look into it.. perhaps there is a way to nominate him for something.... he needs to be recognized for this incredible long run of La Pena Rumbas.
It really has been a fine work of management, on Yaya's behalf. Trying to keep the heavies happy with quality rumba, keep the new blood flowing in, while keeping those who cant play from messing things up.... all that while playing clave and singing... ;)
At times, Yaya will stop everything and say.. I dont know what to say man... someone gives a wink to someone.. players shuffle in and out.. it starts again and works fine, usually. Not a big confrontation or 'call out' on the offending 'rumbero'. Its masterful, actually.
He quells the overexcited and under experienced with well timed mini-speeches about 'this is not a practise session, if you cant play rumba, listen and sing coro'... the usual montra. I bet he has given that speech around 100 times in the nine years. Thanks from all of us, Yaya, we know its a pain in the ass.
All in all, that session was sweet, here is the master quintero Pili Martinez on his favorite ax, the quinto cajon.... Pili has the fattest technique, with crisp, biting slaps on this wooden box of a beautiful instrument. so fun to watch, as it would tear my chops up if i played like that... yea... as if.
I developed the initial stages in rough draft, naivete included.
Its like a family tree, only the family is the entire Afro-Cuban musical tradition.
Yes, we all know we wont be including everything, as much is not available to the uninitiated. But this project will be created to be edited. The hope is that the project will be a good start to a graphic understanding of the peoples and thier specific musical traditions, in Cuba from 1970 to today, religious or recreational.
It's easier to illustrate graphically... some day soon, I'll post a picture of the tree in its raw form.
I know this is going to stir up some people who think no-one but Cubans should be doing work like this, or there is something clearly wrong with someone of European decent doing a project like this..
Remember people, this project will be yours. The intention is to attract many people with varied knowledge and expertise to further develop this into something useful to future generations.
so, what is this thing... this tree....
Starts with mother Africa... then to the geographic regions (ie Congo, Yorubaland, etc.), then peoples in general(Yoruban,Efik, for example), then traditions (Abakua, Arara, etc.), then specific rhythms, dances and songs.
Imagine a tree, with Africa at the top, and various rhythms at the bottom (Yambu, AraraMase etc.)
Then, imagine a page on your computer, with the entire tree on one screen.
So, you can zoom into any section of the tree... say Comparsas from Santiago de Cuba, for example, and you see a page with links to video, maps, historical information, pictures, audio, references, etc.
Or, say you zoom into just the Dehome section.. you will see information about the people, their traditions in general (Arara, for example) Pics, video, etc.
It would have to be in Flash, or something... Im going to have to find a developer who needs conga lessons!
I do think this would be a great thing to leave our future generations. I know I'd be stoked to use it, as a student of this musical tradition.
Its a tack head from the 40's, all mahogany, light and dark.
Most of these drums are mahogany and fir, so its rare and very nice to see that this one is all mahogany.
It has a relatively new skin on it and sounds great. It is round, as you can see from the pics.
It is a full 35.5" tall! Its a tumba and very very rare.
In the old days, they played them with a strap over the shoulder.
In over 10 years of collecting, repairing, buying and selling congas across the country.. Ive never even seen another like it, let alone one that is fully functional and looks so good. The conga is almost 70 years old! very cool. $150
Here is a fat set of three Bauer congas that used to be for sale. (Sold from this blog)
These drums are some of the best production congas ever made, with incredible dry crisp slaps, and fat tones full of bass and no ring. They almost always came with very nice skins, that complement the material and shape of the drum.
You cant find a nicer set of congas, and these days, it would be very hard to find a set for sale, used or new.
The Brazilian Cedar is just about the nicest sounding material i have ever played. And due to the exchange rate these days, they are not available in the US, short of the remaining stock at espiritodrums.com (tell Ken i said hello!)
They are 10.5, 11.5, 12.5" respectively with the traditional hardware (very cool). All three drum are said to be in near mint condition.
The sessions roll on, and the rumba was in full swing this sunny spring Sunday.
After some lazy Californian Rumba, of the non-cuban variety, the heavies came out to play.
After some time in hiding, Yagbe Oline came out to sing and play.. nice to see the Maestro out on the town, and back in the loop.
Pili Martinez, Chris Flaco Walker, Yaya Maldonado, and a few others laid down some fat rumba - smiles on their faces, ripping it up for us all.
Carlos Aldama and his wife came by to join in the fun. It was so nice to see the two of them.. they look great together, with bright smiles, confident and kind.. such great people.
Carlos sat down and played quinto for us.. so blessed to see him play, once again. Thanks, Chango l'ade for the picture!!
(yes the camera on my phone sucks.. i have yet to pick up a new camera..)
At one point, I was playing tumba, with Pili playing second and Yagbe singing.
Somehow the groove wasnt developing and Pili looks to me and says.. 'push it!' Yea, i wasnt having a very good day, and it was probably me.. but the europeans are the first ones to get called out, even though it is often other players who are not holding their parts.
I kick it into high gear, pushing the feel... the cata was lagging, and its just wasn't working.. so, this cat from Cuba, a dancer, asks to play the drum, so i stand up and let him play, like.. go for it man, good luck with it...
What's the deal with Cuban dancers thinking they can play.. just dance man, let the players play. He is such a great dancer. Next time, i wont be so quick to give up the drum.
Yaya gave me a 'talking to' last week regarding me giving up the drum to singers and dancers... 'just play man, you play beter than most of them, dont let them bump you off'
Im fine with being replaced if Im not making it happen.. take the drum, cool with me.. ...take it if you can play it..
After the session at La Pena, Mejail La Brada, the heavy singer and rumbero from Havana, asked Irish Rick and myself to join him at a ceremony in Richmond.
It was a Violin for Oshun, a ceremony where violin is played to the orishas... a very cool experience to witness.
We played after the violin, and pumped out some Rumba at break neck speed, while the house rocked in celebration.
Sr. La Brada, or Miggy, as i call him, has such nice people in his family. We are so lucky to have him as a dear friend. We were welcomed as brothers, and fed like kings!
The menu was half Cuban, half Mexican - screaming Carnitas and hand made tortillas!! Thanks for the wonderful grub and the loving hospitality!
Anyway, its always fun to work these gigs, as i feel like we are directly contributing to the tradition.. Its so cool to be a player in this setting.. it feels like the Orishas are backing you up with fat Coro!
So, somehow, the rumbas at La Pena are not as powerful, as far as learning.. i just need to enjoy the time, and look at it like the fun time it is.
Ive been in such a 'work' mode there, working hard to understand and perform this incredible music. As for now, i simply need to woodshed, and continue to work on the songs.. playing clave/cata and singing.. I have a feeling this next year may bring some fat new chops.
Sometimes it seems as though we are wondering aimlessly through the expanse of this tradition, learning bits and pieces that seem random... then something happens to remind you... its all seeping in and all the work will pay off, in some fat realization to come.